Daily Devotions for Easter Week

Monday, April 13, 2020Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21; Colossians 3:5-11

Christian tradition has made much of Ps 118: it is one of the most quoted of all the Psalms in the New Testament. It includes sayings that you will recognise:

The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

This is the day the Lord has made let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; for his steadfast love endures for ever.

The early church read Psalm 118 as a prophetic witness to the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Verses 5-13 are a cry for God’s help amid difficulties, but the verses selected strike a note of jubilation and affirmation of God’s deliverance and goodness.

The Exodus passage is the dramatic story of the deliverance of the Israelites through the Crossing of the Red Sea. That the first Christians celebrated this story as a ‘type’ of the deliverance we have found through Jesus can be seen through such passages as I Corinthians 10.1-6. As we celebrate the Resurrection, we see it reflected in the OT stories of God’s deliverance.

Colossians 3.5-11 follows on from the passage on Easter day about our lives being ‘hidden with Christ in God’. It is an exhortation to renewed living and contains in vs 11 a saying strikingly similar to Galatians 3.28 – but it does not include the gender inclusivity found in Galatians.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Exodus 15:1-18; Colossians 3:12-17

For the Psalm, see Monday.

Similar to the Psalm, the Songs of Moses (Exodus 15.1-18) and Miriam (Exodus 15.20-21 – part of yesterday’s reading) are poetic celebrations of the deliverance of the Israelites through the crossing of the Red Sea (yesterday’s reading). Although placed on the lips of Moses, vss 13-18 look forward to the hand of God establishing the Israelites in the Promised Land.

Colossians 3.12ff is further ethical exhortation as to the shaping of Christian life.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Joshua 3:1-17; Matthew 28:1-10

For the Psalm, see Monday.

Joshua 3 is the crossing of the Jordan by the Israelites under Joshua’s leadership. Although it took place over forty years after the crossing of the Red Sea this is presented as a recapitulation of the same deliverance – the intention of God is clearly stated (vs 7) to show that the Lord is with Joshua just as he was with Moses.

The Matthew description of the resurrection follows Mark with some further details added. One significant element is the presence of guards at the tomb, reflecting the plotting of Mt 27.62-66 and the bribery of 28.11-15. This is consistent with Matthew’s tendency to show the Jews in the worst possible light around the events of both the crucifixion, and the resurrection of Jesus (see Mt 27.25). Given the persistence of anti-Semitism in (so-called) Christian societies, it is time we recognised and rejected this tendency in Matthew’s telling of the story.

Thursday, April 16, 2020Psalm 16; Song of Solomon 2:8-15; Colossians 4:2-5

Psalm 16 is a song which rejoices in the benefits and outcomes of faithfully serving the Lord. There are hints (especially in vss 4-6) that the singer is a priest (administering blood offerings, refusing to take the names of other gods on my lips, ‘the Lord is my portion and my cup, you hold my lot’). Perhaps he was tempted to abandon his calling and serve another god but overcame the temptation? Vs 6 is particularly poignant. If the singer is a priest, the ‘boundary lines’ that have ‘fallen in pleasant places’ were the boundaries in the land set up after the Conquest under Joshua (see yesterday’s reading): but those boundaries have actually denied him any allocation of ancestral land – he lives on the offerings given by the people in the Temple. He accepts and affirms this in the second half of the verse: ‘I have a good inheritance!’ Such an interpretation makes other parts of the Psalm very significant: his rejoicing in ‘the holy ones in the land’ (vs 3) and the closing words of calm assurance and confident repose (vss 7-11).

The Song of Solomon (or the Song of Songs) is part of the Wisdom literature. It is an extended love song sung by two lovers, assisted by a chorus of friends. It has long been treated allegorically as referring to Christ and the Church. This passage has been headed Springtime Rhapsody, and its inclusion in Easter week probably reflects the allegorical reading of Christ and the Church as the lovers, and that Easter in the northern hemisphere is a spring festival.

Our eagle-eyed readers will have noticed an interruption in the readings from Colossians: whatever happened to 3.18-4.1? These verses are a version of the ‘House rules’ underpinning every household in the ancient Roman world. Vss 3.18, 20 and 22 were the accepted rules of the time, and the urging of wives, children and slaves to submit to their respective ‘betters’ might have been why this passage was not felt appropriate for the joy of Easter week! Note however that vss 3.19, 21 and 4.1 were the quite radical Christian re-balancing of household relationships addressed to husbands, fathers and slaveowners! Vss 4.2-5 continue the ethical teaching about how to live as Christians.

Friday, April 17, 2020Psalm 16; Song of Solomon 5:9-6:3; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

For the Psalm, see Thursday.

More romance and tender loving comes with another passage in the Song of Solomon (5.9-6.3). (See Wednesday’s notes for context.) Here, the ‘friends of the bride’ ask her why her man is so beloved (vs 15.9) and in vss 10-16 she tells them. In 6.1 the friends ask ‘where has he gone?’ The bride’s reply (vss 6.2-3) can be interpreted poetically – or (if one reads the symbolism of the ‘flock’ and the ‘lilies’ in other parts of the Song quite carefully) might be interpreted as a euphemistic reference of a more intimate nature. Either way, it is one of the great descriptions of love in world literature.

I Corinthians 15.1-11 Paul rehearses the ‘official tradition’ of the Resurrection and how it was attested. Vss 1-2 outline its foundational status for Paul and his readers. Vs 3 proclaims that this is ‘as of first importance’ and outlines what may have been a very early creed (vss 3b -7?). An important part of this creed is the recitation of the appearances of the risen Christ in order (vss 5-7). Not to be outdone, Paul adds his own name to the list ‘as to one untimely born’ (vs 8) and then balances this audacious claim with a confession of his own unworthiness (vs 9). This passage is a window onto the earliest Christian structuring of the Resurrection tradition and is the foundation on which Paul then builds his rich exploration of the meaning of Resurrection (vss 15.12-58!)

Saturday, April 18, 2020Psalm 16; Song of Solomon 8:6-7; John 20:11-20

For the Psalm, see Thursday.

After the richness of the last two readings from the Song of Songs, this final reading rises above the intimate yearning of the lovers’ passion for each other, to a profound and poetic statement of the power of love, its enduring quality and the nature of commitment.  In a few brief lines the poet explores love through the metaphors of the seal (with all of the legal implications of the seal in the ancient world), the ‘fierceness’ of the grave, an out-of-control fire, the vastness of the ocean, the fury of the flood, and the powerlessness of all the wealth in the world in the face of love! 

John 20.11-20 introduces the lovely vignette of Mary Magdalene meeting Jesus outside the tomb after she mistakes him for the gardener. I have always heard here a strange echo of Genesis 4 – where our distant ancestors took on the roles of shepherd and gardener, with tragic results. Mary mistakes the Shepherd for the gardener, but when he calls her by name she recognises Rabbouni! (Teacher!) and perhaps recalls the teaching of the Good Shepherd, who was also the Lamb of God.

The last two verses (19-20) present Jesus appearing to the disciples in a locked room. In the verses that immediately follow this, John gives an alternate version of the gift of the Holy Spirit – given not at Pentecost but on the evening of Easter, in that locked room, through the simple acts of blessing and breathing. This a powerful metaphor in a time when the law of the land prevents us from breathing upon one another, because all manner of thing can be transmitted through such a primal gesture!

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