Last Epiphany A/Transfiguration

Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for Feb. 19, 2023 (Last Epiphany A/Transfiguration)

First Reading: Exodus 24:12-18

The gradual revelation of Jesus as Messiah, which began last month with his baptism by John in the Jordan, draws to a close as Transfiguration Sunday concludes the season of Epiphany.

The Transfiguration

The Transfiguration (1308-1311), tempera painting on wood altarpiece by Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255=1319). National Gallery of London. (Click image to enlarge)

Midway between Christmas and Easter, we will now turn toward the penitential path of Lent. Sunday’s readings show us the awe and fear of humans encountering the divine. Our first reading from Exodus describes Moses going up Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments from a fearsome God cloaked in clouds and fire. This scene is a surprising contrast with the verses that came just before, in which Moses, Aaron and the leaders of the people apparently dine and drink with a more accessible divine being.

Psalm: Psalm 2

Earthly kings may have wielded vast temporal power in biblical times, but even they must submit with fear and trembling to the mightiness of God, King of Kings. So sings the Psalmist in Psalm 2. Those who would seek to break away from God’s power and that of God’s anointed, the Messiah, will earn only divine derision and terrifying rage. God’s anointed, however, will be set on the holy hill of Zion – site of the temple. Then these verses of anger and divine threats turn to a note of promise: Happy are all who take refuge in God.

Alternative Psalm: Psalm 99

In verses that hark back to Moses and Aaron following God’s sign through the desert and receiving God’s law, this hymn of praise shows us an image of God as a powerful king, before whom the people tremble and even the earth shakes. But this is a fair God, who may have punished the people when they were evil, but who also answered their prayers and rewarded them. This is a forgiving and kind God who provides equity, justice and righteousness.

Second Reading: 2 Peter 1:16-21

Here’s something to know about the New Testament’s Letters of Peter: The Apostle Peter didn’t write either of them, and this one was probably written 100 years or more after the Crucifixion, long after Peter’s death. Still, it opens a window into the second-century church, when believers were trying to understand why Jesus had not returned as soon as they had hoped and prayed. All that they have heard about Jesus is true, the letter insists. Speaking in the first person as Peter, it reminds them that Peter himself had been present at the Transfiguration. Trust in God, it urges, and wait for the dawn and the morning star.

Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9

“This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased.” In almost identical words, we heard the voice of God coming from above to declare Jesus his beloved Son at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan at the beginning of Epiphany. Now we hear it again at the end of Epiphany in the Transfiguration. We see Jesus meeting Old Testament prophets on a mountaintop, glowing in dazzling light, revealed to the apostles Peter, James and John for the first time as both human and divine. The three, witnessing all this, are terrified to hear the voice of God, but Jesus reassures them with a loving touch and, for the first time, speaks of his coming resurrection.

Epiphany 6A

Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for Feb. 12, 2023 (Epiphany 6A)

First Reading: Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Our Lectionary readings for recent Sundays have followed a consistent theme: In the Gospels we are hearing Matthew’s account of Jesus’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.

Moses Shown the Promised Land

Moses Shown the Promised Land (1801), oil painting on panel by Benjamin West (1738-1820). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. (Click image to enlarge)

In our Hebrew Bible readings we have glimpsed the roots of Jesus’s wisdom in God’s firm commandments to be righteous, to care for the poor and the oppressed; the widow, the orphan and the stranger in our land. Our first reading shows Moses instructing the people at the end of their long journey in the desert, as they prepare to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land. They hear the core of the covenant at Sinai: Follow God’s commandment to be righteous, and inherit the land. Defy God’s commandments, fail in that covenant, and – as the prophets will foretell – lose the land and die.

Alternate First Reading: Sirach 15:15-20

In this optional alternative for the first reading we hear a passage from Sirach (also known as Ecclesiasticus), one of the books known as Apocrypha that were originally written Greek, not Hebrew, and that come at the end of editions of the Hebrew Bible that choose to include them. Consistent with the day’s other readings, it sums up God’s teaching in brisk, memorable advice: We are given free will. God does not force us to keep the commandments – we may choose either fire or water – but God, all-knowing and wise, does not wish us to sin.

Psalm: Psalm 119:1-8

Psalm 119, the longest of all the Psalms, devotes its 176 verses to a consistent message: God’s decrees, God’s law and teaching given in the Torah, are wonderful, and following them brings joy. The ideas that the Psalmist expresses in these first eight verses of the Psalm will continue throughout. They echo the covenant between God and Moses at Mount Sinai: Those who follow God’s teaching and walk in God’s ways will be rewarded. The Psalmist calls on God’s help to stay steadfast in following this teaching, and begs in turn not to be forsaken.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 3:1-9

We continue working through the opening chapters of First Corinthians this week, listening in as Paul writes pastorally to a bickering church that has split into factions. In last Sunday’s portion Paul might have seemed to be praising the Corinthians for a spiritual maturity that enabled them to understand the ways of God that aren’t so clear to those less mature. But now Paul makes it clear that the Christians of Corinth have a long way to go. Their quarreling factions show that they aren’t ready for spiritual food, Paul warns, adding that we are all God’s servants. When we work together, God uses us to build and grow.

Gospel: Matthew 5:21-37

In the Sermon on the Mount, which occupies three full chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, we learn much about discipleship, the hard work of following Jesus toward the Kingdom of God. Last Sunday we heard Jesus assure the crowd that he did not come to change the Law and the Prophets (that is, the Hebrew Bible). But now he begins interpreting the Law – as rabbis do – in new and challenging ways. Considering the commandment, “Do not kill,” Jesus says to go beyond that. Not only must we do no harm but we must even respond to our enemies in peace. We are not merely bound to not commit adultery, but to treat women with respect. We must do more than simply avoiding false witness: We are called to be honest, be true, say exactly what we mean!

Epiphany 5A

Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for Feb. 5, 2023 (Epiphany 5A)

First Reading: Isaiah 58:1-12

Two important ideas run through Sunday’s Lectionary readings: righteousness and light. “Righteous,” in biblical understanding, may not mean quite what we think it does in modern times.

Sermon on the Mountain

Sermon on the Mountain (1896), oil painting on canvas by Károly Ferenczy (1862-1917). Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest. (Click image to enlarge)

It speaks of God’s call to God’s people to practice justice, as Isaiah insists and as Jesus, too, asks of us; by going beyond mere fasting and ritual practice to stand against oppression, feed the hungry, house the homeless, clothe the naked. Righteousness will heal our souls and light up our lives, as the light of Epiphany that shines in the deep winter darkness will illuminate the way of our God.

Psalm: Psalm 112:1-9, [10]

Sunday’s Psalm portion, titled “Blessings of the Righteous,” echoes Isaiah’s call: The righteousness of those who follow God and delight in God’s commandments will endure forever. Those who are gracious and merciful, who deal with others generously and act with justice, the Psalmist sings, will “rise in the darkness as a light for the upright.” By living justly, we become an example for others and show the way to God.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 2:1-16

We continue our journey through the opening chapters of 1 Corinthians, listening in as Paul offers pastoral guidance for the quarreling community. He turns their thoughts toward humility, reiterating the advice that – even if following the crucified Jesus may make us appear foolish to the world – in fact we share God’s secret wisdom. The Holy Spirit gives us new life through Christ.

Gospel: Matthew 5:13-20

Sunday’s Gospel picks up in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, just after Jesus has given the crowd the Beatitudes, promising God’s kingdom to the poor, the hungry, the thirsty; those who mourn, the meek; the humble, and all who are persecuted and oppressed. Now the crowd hears that, as God’s people, they are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. With that comes the responsibility to let the world see God through your good works. Jesus says he has not come to change God’s law that calls us to righteousness: Love God, and love our neighbors as ourselves. But in fulfilling the law, Jesus will show us new ways. We will hear more about that next Sunday in the next verses of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus counts the ways: “You have heard that it was said … but I tell you …” That which was old becomes new again in Jesus.

Epiphany 4A

Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for Jan. 29, 2023 (Epiphany 4A)

First Reading: Micah 6:1-8

How are we called to walk in God’s way, and what does that look like? Listen for wisdom on this question through Sunday’s Lectionary readings, culminating in the Beatitudes in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

Sermone della Montagna (Sermon on the Mount)

Sermone della Montagna (Sermon on the Mount, 1481-1482), Fresco by Cosimo Rosselli (1439-1507), Sistine Chapel, Vatican City, Rome. (Click image to enlarge)

In our first reading we hear the prophet Micah, who prophesied to the people of Judea and Samaria as they faxed an existential threat from Babylonia. Micah imagines all humanity standing before God like a defendant in a trial, pleading our case before the almighty Judge. God “has a controversy with us,” the prophet warns, reminding the people that God has done so much for them since bringing them out of Egypt to the promised land. How are the people to respond? Not with burnt offering or sacrifice, but, in Micah’s memorable words, simply by doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God.

Psalm: Psalm 15

Who among us can claim the high honor of living in God’s sanctuary? The Psalmist’s instructions bear a marked resemblance to Micah’s prophecy: Those who do right, speak truth, don’t slander or reproach and do no evil, comes the reply. Those may dwell in God’s tabernacle and abide on God’s holy hill. Honesty, kindness, and love of neighbor all make a difference. The way we live matters.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Paul, continuing his lecture to the quarreling factions in the church at Corinth, repeats the verse that concluded last Sunday’s reading: Jesus’ death on the cross – a horrific form of execution reserved by Rome for the worst criminals – “is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Yet, Paul goes on, God chose this way to celebrate the weak, the poor and the despised and to shame the powerful and the strong. This comes to us through Jesus, who gives us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption.

Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12

Ah, the Beatitudes! Jesus’ loving verses in the Sermon on the Mount are central to Christian thinking, so much so that it is easy to hear them with more affection than deep reflection. But beatitudes – a Scriptural genre found also in Psalms and Proverbs – reward deeper thought. In eight quick phrases, Jesus turns the world upside down: The poor are blessed, not the rich. Mourners, the meek, the hungry; the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the oppressed win God’s blessing. This should come as no surprise to those who follow Jesus and remember the words of his mother’s song: “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”

Epiphany 3A

Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for Jan. 15, 2023 (Epiphany 2A)

First Reading: Isaiah 9:1-4

Swirling snow and bitter chill remind us that this is January, the depth of winter for us. Yet Epiphany draws us to the light of hope that calls us to join Jesus in “proclaiming the good news of the kingdom.”

The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew

The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew ( 1602-1604), oil painting on canvas by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1573-1610). Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London. (Click image to enlarge)

Gracious light shines through Sunday’s Lectionary readings. In the first reading, the Prophet Isaiah speaks of hard times as Israel’s northern lands of Zebulon and Naphtali have fallen to the powerful Assyrians. The nation’s fate is in doubt, but the prophet foretells that God’s light will banish the darkness. In words familiar from Handel’s Messiah, he foretells a world of bounty and joy as the people who walked in darkness will have seen a great light.

Psalm: Psalm 27:1, 5-13

God indeed is our light, the Psalmist exults. God is our stronghold and our salvation, so there is nothing to fear. This is not just a happy-clappy song, though. The verses remind us that bad things can happen even in the lives of God’s people. The people face adversaries. They are threatened by armies of enemies. Sometimes it even feels as if their own parents have turned against them. But we pray with them that God will hear us, love us, protect us and keep us safe.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:10-18

Last week in the opening lines of Paul’s first letter to the people of Corinth in Greece, we heard Paul greeting this beloved community fondly. With that out of the way, he now gets to right to the point: He has heard that this small church is falling into disunity. Its members are quarreling over both doctrinal issues and leadership. Paul counsels them to remember that baptism brings the community together in unity in Christ. The very ideas of God resurrecting a crucified criminal and offering salvation to all through Christ might sound like foolishness to those who haven’t found Christ, he says. But this is what saves us through the power of God.

Gospel: Matthew 4:12-23

The public ministry of Jesus begins. Grieving the murder of his cousin John, Jesus steps up. He leaves his home in Nazareth to go to Capernaum, a larger city on the shore in Galilee (the ancient region of Zebulon and Naphtali that Isaiah invoked in the first reading). Jesus is starting to gather crowds and preach as John had done; he repeats John’s words, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Matthew, who often reaches back to the Old Testament to find texts that can be interpreted to show Jesus fulfilling Messianic prophecy, lifts up the Isaiah passage that we hear in Sunday’s first reading. Then Jesus calls four fishermen to follow him. They eagerly drop their nets and follow as he preaches, teaches, cures and heals, leaving old Zebedee behind to mend his departed sons’ nets and tend the abandoned boat.

Epiphany 2A

Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for Jan. 15, 2023 (Epiphany 2A)

First Reading: Isaiah 49:1-7

On the second Sunday after the Epiphany, the Gospel appointed for the day offers us another perspective on the baptism of Jesus, a very different approach from the Gospel according to Matthew that we heard last week.

The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew

The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew (1607)m , oil painting on canvas by Ludovico Cardi, known as Cigoli (1559-1613). Palatine Gallery, Uffizi Galleries, Florence, Italy. (Click image to enlarge)

Before we get to the Gospel, though, the first three readings present other approaches to the notion of waiting for God with faith and hope. Our first reading gives us another of Isaiah’s four visions of the Suffering Servant, a figure that the prophet understood as God’s savior coming to lead the the people back to Jerusalem from their Babylonian exile. This once despised figure, the prophet foretells, will rise up and extends God’s saving power to all the nations, to the ends of the Earth.

Psalm: Psalm 40:1-12

Like the people in Isaiah’s time who waited in exile for their servant savior, the Psalmist waits with patience and faith for God to act. Although surrounded by too many evils to count and blinded by iniquities until his heart fails, the Psalmist remains firm in the hope that God’s faithful, steadfast love will eventually bring mercy, deliverance and safety. We mustn’t trust in evil spirits or false gods, the Psalmist reminds us, but find our joy in trusting God, against whom none other can be compared. God requires no sacrifices or burnt offerings, but responds to our faith with compassion and love.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Paul sets the tone for his first letter to the church at Corinth in these introductory verses, a friendly greeting that offers insight into all that follows. The congregation in Corinth was a small and troubled community, divided into quarreling factions, each with its own ideas about Christian practice and which leader to follow. Paul begins by reminding them that they are joined with all Christians who call on the name of Jesus as Lord. Through this faith they have already received gifts that have made them strong, Paul says. He urges them to hold on to those gifts and be steadfast as they wait for Christ’s coming, an event that many in those days hoped would happen within their lifetimes.

Gospel: John 1:29-42

Last week in Matthew’s account of the baptism of Jesus, we heard John the Baptist ask why Jesus shouldn’t be baptizing him rather than the other way around. Now in John’s gospel we hear another approach to this sticky question: Why would a sin-free Jesus need to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins at all? The answer comes not from Jesus but from John: He has been baptizing others in hope that the Lamb of God would be revealed. Now he has seen the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove and remaining on Jesus, showing that this is the Son of God. Then the first disciples, seeing all this, recognize Jesus as the Messiah and start to follow him.

Epiphany 1A/Baptism of our Lord

Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for Jan. 8, 2023 (Epiphany 1A/Baptism of our Lord)

First Reading: Isaiah 42:1-9

The season after Epiphany now begins and will continue until Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent on February 22.

The Baptism of Christ

The Baptism of Christ (1510-1520), oil painting on oak by Joachim Patinir (c.1480-1524). Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria. (Click image to enlarge)

The Gospel stories of the Epiphany season tell us about events that reveal the divinity of Jesus, beginning this Sunday with Matthew’s account of John baptizing Jesus in the Jordan river. In Sunday’s first reading we hear the prophet Isaiah’s call to Israel in exile. The prophet expresses an idea that we will find reflected in the baptism of Jesus: God who created all things will choose a servant to lead them, the “suffering servant” who recurs at several points in Isaiah. God will send the people out as we are sent out in baptism, living out a covenant to be a light to the world and to bring righteousness to all the nations.

Psalm: Psalm 29

Have you ever sat on a porch with a mixture of fear and awe, watching a fierce summer thunderstorm pass by with lightning and thunder, wind and rain, whipping the trees around and whistling through the branches? Even towering oak trees seem to whirl, and large limbs come crashing down. It’s no wonder that the Psalmist chose to portray God’s power and glory as a massive storm that strips the forest bare. And yet, at the end, the people shout “Glory,” hailing God’s power and peace.

Second Reading: Acts 10:34-43

Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, tells the good news of Jesus, starting with his baptism by John when God anointed Jesus with power through the Holy Spirit. Then in quick summary he recounts how Jesus healed and cast out spirits, was executed on the cross and raised again, and finally commanded his disciples to preach and testify that Jesus Christ is Lord, the Messiah. This passage gains context from those that come just before and after: At the invitation of Cornelius, a Roman centurion, Peter has come to his house and for the first time evangelizes to Gentiles. Then, after this speech, Peter and the apostles baptize Cornelius and all his household. They become the first Gentile family welcomed into the new church.

Gospel: Matthew 3:13-17

All four Gospels tell the familiar story of John baptizing Jesus in the Jordan, while the Holy Spirit comes down as a dove to declare Jesus the son of God. Only in Matthew, however, do we hear what seems an obvious question: Why would Jesus need to repent or be baptized? John declares that Jesus should be baptizing him, not the other way around. But Jesus insists, asking John to baptize him “to fulfill all righteousness,” echoing Isaiah’s call to go out in righteousness to be a light to the world and bring justice to all the nations. John complies, and then Jesus comes up from the water to see the Holy Spirit descending like a dove, while a booming voice from Heaven declares that Jesus is God’s beloved son.

Last Epiphany C/Transfiguration

First Reading: Exodus 34:29-35

Radiant light shines through Sunday’s readings for the Feast of the Transfiguration, and Moses appears in all four of them.

Transfiguration of Christ

Transfiguration of Christ (c.1487), oil painting on panel by Giovanni Bellini (c.1430-1516).
National Museum of Capodimonte, Naples, Italy. (Click image to enlarge.)

Take a closer look, and find a consistent emphasis on God’s covenant with the people to follow God’s commandments to love God and our neighbors. In the first reading, we see Moses bringing the commandments down the mountain, his face transfigured in light by his encounter with the Holy One.

Psalm: Psalm 99

This mighty ancient hymn envisions God as a powerful king receiving loud chants of praise. In the temple in Jerusalem, images of two cherubim – scary angels depicted as lions with wings and human faces – were placed atop the Ark of the Covenant to serve as God’s throne. The Psalmist understands God as no petty tyrant but a mighty ruler who demands justice, holding the people to their covenant call to love their neighbors and care for the widow, the orphan and the stranger in our midst.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

In his second known letter to his congregation at Corinth, Paul recalls the Exodus story about Moses coming down the mountain with his face shining. Invoking the the image of the veil that Moses used to conceal his transcendent glow, Paul turns it around to express the idea that Jesus “unveils” God’s covenant in all its shining glory. For those who believer in Christ, Paul says, the veil is removed and they can see the image of God as if reflected in a mirror by the Holy Spirit. Be truthful, Paul urges the believers in Corinth. Do not hide behind a veil, but be steadfast and bold.

Gospel: Luke 9:28-36, [37-43a]

Jesus and his apostles Peter, John and James go up on the mountain to pray. Suddenly Elijah and Moses join him, and Jesus’ face and clothing shine in dazzling light. The three, the Gospel says, were talking about Jesus’ departure (or exodus in the perhaps significant Greek original), which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Then a cloud forms around them and God’s voice is heard, repeating the words that God spoke from a cloud at Jesus’ baptism in the Gospel for the first Sunday of Epiphany: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” Jesus and the terrified apostles come down from mountain, and life returns to what is normal for Jesus: He astounds the crowd by casting out a child’s angry demon.

Epiphany 7C

Thoughts on Sunday’s Lessons for Feb. 20, 2022 (Epiphany 7C)

First Reading: Genesis 45:3-11, 15

Love without boundaries and live as God would have us live. Love your enemies. Turn your other cheek. Do not judge. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

St. Luke writing. Ancient Byzantine icon.

St. Luke writing. Ancient Byzantine icon. (Click image to enlarge.)

Throughout Sunday’s readings, culminating in another passage from Luke’s Sermon on the Plain, we are called to listen for God’s desire that we forgive even those who have hurt us. In Sunday’s first reading, we learn that Joseph, even after having been sold into slavery by his brothers, has risen from that challenge to become a chief advisor to Pharaoh. Now Joseph’s brothers, fleeing famine back home, arrive in Egypt, where they find Joseph in his new, powerful position. The brothers are terrified, fearing revenge But Joseph forgives them, just as God forgave the wrongs of their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Psalm: Psalm 37:1-12, 41-42

Trust in God and do good, we hear the Psalmist sing. Don’t worry about evildoers. Don’t be jealous of those who do wrong. Those evildoers will wither like grass, but those who follow God’s ways will receive their heart’s desire. Throughout this portion of Psalm 37 we hear parallels with Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Plain: Be patient. Don’t strike out in anger. These things only lead to evil. Trust in God, rather, knowing that the meek shall inherit the land. Wait for God with patience and confident trust. Follow God’s ways and be rewarded.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:35-38,42-50

Paul moves toward the conclusion of his extended reflection on resurrection and how it works. In a typical Pauline form, he sets up an opposing question about what kind of body the resurrected will have, then shouts “Fool!” at this imagined debate opponent. Using metaphors of seeds and sowing, he points out that seeds of grain cannot come to life as plants unless they first die by being buried in the earth. Just as God then gives each kind of seed its own body, so it is with resurrection: Our physical bodies perish, but what is raised cannot perish. Adam, the first human, came from dust, but Christ, like a second Adam, came from heaven. In resurrection we will bear his image.

Gospel: Luke 6:27-38

Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Plain becomes even more challenging as the teaching of Jesus reverses our expectations. Last week we heard the blessings that will come to those who suffer, and the woes that await those who revel in riches. Now Jesus poses the difficult, counter-intuitive challenge that we must love our enemies and do good to those who hate and hurt us. We are to do to others not as they do to us but as we would want them to do to us. Then Jesus emphasizes that this Golden Rule is not to be followed with any hope of reward: “If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same,” he says. “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.”

Epiphany 6C

Thoughts on Sunday’s Lessons for Feb. 13, 2022 (Epiphany 6C)

First Reading: Jeremiah 17:5-10

Easter is late this year, April 17, so Ash Wednesday doesn’t come until March 2. The extra weeks that this leaves after Epiphany offer readings that we only occasionally hear.

Poverty and Wealth

Poverty and Wealth (1888), oil painting on canvas by William Powell Frith (1819-1909). Private collection. (Click image to enlarge.)

This week we’ll hear Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, which is a little more edgy than Matthew’s familiar Sermon on the Mount. The rest of Sunday’s readings also offer nutritious food for thought. For our first reading, in a division that might remind us of Luke’s blessings and woes, Jeremiah separates the cursed – who turn from God to trust in mortals and must wither and die – from the blessed, who trust in God and will be deeply rooted and nourished like plants near

Psalm: Psalm 1

The Psalmist, too, seems to divide all humankind into two parts in this, the first of the 150 Psalms. Echoing the covenant that God gave to Moses and the people at Mount Sinai, they sing praise for righteousness and its rewards while warning about the dangers of following the ways of the wicked. Using metaphors that echo the thoughts of Jeremiah in the first reading, the Psalmist promises delight for the righteous, who will thrive and bear fruit like trees planted near water. Not so for the wicked, the verses continue. They will be doomed like chaff that the wind blows away.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:12-20

In the closing chapters of First Corinthians, Paul continues working out his theology of salvation through Christ’s resurrection. Writing at least a generation before Mark (the first of the Gospels), Paul’s words offer us a glimpse at the ideas evolving in an infant Christian community whose oral tradition went back to the adult ministry of Jesus less than 20 years earlier. Paul challenges those who doubt that Christ’s resurrection means that we, too, are freed from the fear of death. If Christ was not raised, Paul says, then our faith has been in vain and our sins have not been forgiven. But in fact, Paul insists, Christ was raised from the dead; he is the first fruit of all who die and will now live again.

Gpspel: Luke 6:17-26

We read this version of the Beatitudes from Luke’s Sermon on the Plain three years ago when Easter also fell late, but before that it hadn’t come up since 2007. It’s unfortunate that we hear it so seldom, as its contrasts with Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes from his Sermon on the Mount give us plenty to think about. Having spent the night on a mountain in silent prayer, Jesus comes down to a level place and talks to his just-chosen disciples and a huge crowd of followers. His series of beatitudes take a more edgy tone as he follows a series of blessings with a series of woes. Blessed are the poor – the actual poor, in contrast with Matthew’s “poor in spirit” – the hungry, those who weep and those who are reviled. Luke shows Jesus also declaring woe to the rich, those who are full of food and wealth, those who laugh as they receive constant praise. Listen for this liberating preference for the poor and downtrodden throughout this year of Luke.