Mormon Lectionary Project: Easter Evening

MLP

MLP

Mormon Lectionary Project

Easter Evening

Isaiah 25:6-9 (KJV), Psalm 114 (KJV), 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NRSV), Luke 24:13-49 (NRSV), Mosiah 5:7-9, 3 Nephi 15:9-10

The Collect: Heavenly Father, who gavest power to Thy Son, Jesus Christ, to rise in resurrected glory on this holy day: let our hearts be changed through faith in His name so that we of Thy latter-day Church may live as spiritually begotten sons and daughters of Christ, adopted through Baptism in His name, that we, as disciples of Jesus Christ, may live and serve Everyman as though he were Christ, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with Thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Felix Mendelssohn, Psalm 114 Op. 51, “Da Israel aus Ägypten Zog” (1839)[1]

* * *

The Resurrected Christ brought this universal message to the people described in The Book of Mormon:

9 Behold, I am the law, and the light. Look unto me, and endure to the end, and ye shall live; for unto him that endureth to the end will I give eternal life.

10 Behold, I have given unto you the commandments; therefore keep my commandments. And this is the law and the prophets, for they truly testified of me.

This mirrors the intimate teachings that the Lord shared with his gathered disciples in Jerusalem soon after his Resurrection. When he appeared to two of them as they walked on the road to Emmaus and “their eyes were kept from recognizing him” (Luke 24:16, NRSV),[2] Jesus took the time and effort to expound the law and the prophets to them, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures” (Luke 24:27). The disciples, apparently, hadn’t really understood that Jesus would fulfill all these things, that “He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it” (Isaiah 25:8, KJV).

Maynard Dixon, The Forgotten Man (1934)

Maynard Dixon, The Forgotten Man (1934)

In contemplating this episode, my mind turns to Ronan’s thought-provoking sermon “Jesus = Everyman” to English teens at a school assembly several years ago:

For Christians, the resurrection of Jesus is a foundational story. But there is something disturbing in the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. If Jesus was raised from the dead, why did he no longer look like Jesus? Why did the disciples not recognise him? The account leaves Christianity open to a most worrying accusation (and the idea that they were prevented from recognising him doesn’t really solve the problem): maybe the man didn’t look like Jesus because he wasn’t Jesus. Maybe he was a decoy and the resurrection is a fraud.

If any of you grow up to be New Testament scholars you will learn the term “Criterion of Embarrassment.” Simply put, it is used to suggest that the more a story runs counter to the message of the narrative, the more likely it is to be true. If you were inventing the story of Jesus’ resurrection, you would not want to subvert your efforts by including difficult, embarrassing details. Thus the tale of Jesus’ changed appearance is likely to be true because you wouldn’t include it otherwise.

Now, if Jesus had the power to raise himself from the dead, surely he had the power to choose the appearance of his resurrected body. Why, then, did he look different? (Different enough that Mary Magdalene also didn’t recognise him.) The answer may lie in an earlier parable in which Jesus teaches that if we are to serve him we must treat others as if they were him. Jesus deliberately disguises himself as the Everyman so that we learn that he is every man, or could be.

It’s even more radical than that: Jesus is the executed criminal and thus equally the murderer, the thief, the terrorist. If you can love them as you love Jesus — and you cannot tell from their appearance that they are not, in fact Jesus — then you become what Jesus wants you to become: changed.

The change begins with a fledgling, childlike faith that “our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7, NRSV). Believing this, one must also believe that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets — that they all testified of Him and that he is the promised Messiah. This was his message for disciples gathered in Jerusalem who had nervously heard of the encounter on the Road to Emmaus:

44 Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’ (Luke 24:44-49.)

Exercising this heart-changing faith, we repent, bringing forth the fruits of true disciples of Christ, and then follow his injunction to be baptized in his name, thereby becoming adopted into his family as his sons and daughters:

7 And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.

8 And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.

9 And it shall come to pass that whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God, for he shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ. (Mosiah 5:7-9.)

Prophecy is then fulfilled in us as well. It was all academic until the Resurrection. Now, it is real. May we ever live as His spiritually begotten sons and daughters, that His light may lead us forward as we learn and live His law!

* * *

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square, “He Is Risen,” comp. Joachim Neander, lyrics by Cecil Frances Alexander, performed March 31, 2013

————————–

[1] See also the wonderful 1539 setting of Psalm 114 in the Genevan Psalter, the Goudimel homophony:

The Resource Center for the Genevan Psalter, Psalm 114

The entire Psalm-poem reads as follows in the NRSV:

God’s Wonders at the Exodus

1 When Israel went out from Egypt,
   the house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
2 Judah became God’s sanctuary,
   Israel his dominion.

3 The sea looked and fled;
   Jordan turned back.
4 The mountains skipped like rams,
   the hills like lambs.

5 Why is it, O sea, that you flee?
   O Jordan, that you turn back?
6 O mountains, that you skip like rams?
   O hills, like lambs?

7 Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord,
   at the presence of the God of Jacob,
8 who turns the rock into a pool of water,
   the flint into a spring of water.

[2] I really love the narrative of the Road to Emmaus — how the depressed disciples walked and spoke with the Resurrected Christ not realizing who their companion was and incredulously asked Him how it could be possible for Him not to know of the tumult in Jerusalem over the last week, the Holy Week that we’ve just celebrated:

17 And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ 19 He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ 25 Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:17-35, NRSV.)

Comments

  1. Jason K. says:

    This is beyond perfect as the conclusion to our Holy Week celebrations. Thank you so much! The reminder to serve all is a wonderful reminder at the beginning of a new week.

  2. This was absolutely beautiful, John f. I can’t tell you how much I’ve appreciated this project. Thank you to all involved!

  3. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks, John. There are a lot of threads in this post that I have come to cherish, many explicated by friends here over the years. Your presentation has added to that in a very moving way.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,573 other followers