We are called to re-member what affirms our membership in a newly whole and holy creation.
Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary—Year C by Tom Mundahl
Reading for Series C: 2012-2013
The Resurrection of Our Lord/ Easter Day
Acts 10: 34-43
Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24
1 Corinthians 15: 19-26
Luke 24: 1-12
In, with, and under the increased volume of familiar hymns sung to trumpet accompaniment, texts for The Resurrection of Our Lord/ Easter Day resonate with world-changing yet sturdy hope. This celebration of the “first fruits” of new creation even guides our hope and intensifies our commitment to creation-care rooted in God’s surprisingly “steadfast love” (Psalm 118: 1-2).
We begin with the initial offering in a series of “first lessons” from the Acts of the Apostles, a demonstration project modeling the new community based on new creation. Peter experiences a vision of a ‘large sheet’ coming down, lowered on four corners. “In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air” (Acts 10: 12). When a voice is heard saying, “ Get up, Peter, kill and eat,” he is perplexed by this command to dietary uncleanness until he is summoned to the home of the Gentile centurion Cornelius.
Our reading begins with Peter’s synthesis of this pair of puzzling events. “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10: 35). Peter’s vision challenges him to revise his dietary discipline because it has been used as a basis for exclusion. The instruction to “kill and eat” makes it clear that the very notion of “uncleanness” cannot be continued. As Wirzba suggests, “God is also instructing Peter to be hospitable to Cornelius and welcome him in. If all foods are permissible, then hospitality extends to everyone” (Norman Wirzba, Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating (Cambridge: 2011, p. 171).
It is not insignificant that Peter’s vision is filled with created beings that have been considered unclean. As this new community struggles to understand and live out the New Exodus that Jesus brings (Luke 9: 31), we see a widening spiral of inclusion whose reach extends even beyond Gentile representatives of the Roman Empire, like Cornelius. This “membership” must also extend to the whole created world! The biblical vision seems always to include the web of creation, a whole creation that is celebrated on the first Sabbath, “the crown of creation.” And if the Sabbath is the “crown of creation,” there is no doubt that the festivities include not only the species Peter sees rambling on his four-cornered sheet, but all creation–as suggested in elaboration of the Sabbath commandment (Exodus 20: 8-11 and Deuteronomy 5: 12-15). As we shall see as the Season of Easter continues, this vision of “the membership of all creation” is realized most fully in the New City envisioned by John of Patmos, a marvel of town planning full of rivers, trees, and beautiful minerals.
The notion of “membership’ is also crucial as we wrestle with our Second Lesson from First Corinthians. Paul stretches language to its very limits as he struggles to comprehend the resurrection event. As we reflect on this text, it is important for us to shift the focus away from “this life” (1 Corinthians 15:19) and its implied partner, “the life to come,” to “old life” contrasting with “new life” flowing from the resurrection. This fits more readily with the Adam-Christ typology that Paul presents (1 Corinthians 15: 20-22).
When we consider the scope of “membership” coming from the new life stemming from the resurrection event, we see that the death brought by the first Adam reflects an isolating denial of “joint membership” in God’s creation. This refusal of “membership” constitutes what Orthodox scholar Alexander Schmemann calls “the Original Sin,” a sin against welcoming and sharing in the diversity of the creation community (quoted in Wirzba, Food and Faith, p. 113). Paul’s vivid language about destroying the “powers,” including the “last enemy,” describes the removal of all that would create barriers for realizing a wholly inclusive Beloved Community.
Surprisingly, at first glance, the beginning of Luke’s resurrection narrative (Luke 24: 1-12) appears to narrow the scope of this “membership.” The two “men” in dazzling clothes” (Luke 24: 4) seem to transport us back to the Transfiguration, where only an “inner circle” of disciples (Luke 9: 28-36) were faced with the task of responding to this great mystery, where Jesus, Moses and Elijah speak about a New Exodus to be accomplished in Jerusalem. As Peter continues to offer his suggestion to capture the moment, they are “overshadowed” and “enveloped” by the nimbus—presence of God and commanded to listen to the Servant, the Royal One (Luke 9: 34).
Just as Mary was “overshadowed” by the presence spilling over into the incarnation of the Son of the Most High (Luke 1: 35), so now the New Exodus spoken of by Jesus and his “companions” in the brightness on the mountain spills over into the new creation of resurrection life. Clearly, the faithful women had forgotten the stories of this experience. To spur them to recollection, the angelic figures ask, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24: 5). While in our preaching we could “tee off” on this theme, berating a culture that has “majored” in consumerism (“seeking life among dead “stuff”), the purpose of the questions is to open the attendant women to hearing what follows: “He is not here, but has risen” (Luke 24: 5b).
Following the creedal rehearsal of Jesus’ passion predictions, Luke tells us, “Then they remembered his words . . . .” (Luke 24:8). This memory that is powerful enough to knit together the wounds that savaged this “dismembered” community now leads to action. Anticipating the Emmaus disciples who recognize the Risen One in the breaking of bread and immediately return with all speed to Jerusalem (Luke 24:33), they “change directions” and find the eleven and share the good news of their experience (Luke 24: 9).
Even though the women are accused of inventing “an idle tale,” the power of the resurrection event moves in an ever-widening spiral in Luke-Acts from the faithful women, to the Emmaus walkers, to the call to spread this to all nations beginning in Jerusalem (Luke 24; 47). Eyes, scriptures, and minds are opened so that the “membership” that goes beyond cultural differences—and even beyond species divides—can expand.
Perhaps widening the scope of “membership” to include all creation seems audacious. Yet, as Christopher Southgate suggests, Suffice it to say that if the Cross and Resurrection inaugurate a great era of redemption of the nonhuman creation leading to the eschaton, as seems to be the implication of Colossians 1:20 and Ephesians 1:10, then the impact of the Christ-event must be an objective one [author: i.e. it is not dependent upon response nor limited to humans]. (The Groaning of Creation: God, Evolution and the Problem of Evil (Westminster, John Knox, 2008, p. 76)
As we are reminded by the Johannine tradition, incarnation and resurrection amount to no less than another creation, a new creation (cf. John 1). Just as the faithful women remembered Jesus’ words, so we are called to re-member something that affirms our membership in a newly whole and holy creation.
Tom Mundahl. Lutheran Church of the Reformation. St. Louis Park, MN firstname.lastname@example.org
For additional care for creation reflections on the overall themes of the lectionary lessons for the month by Trisha K Tull, Professor Emerita of Old Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and columnist for The Working Preacher, visit: http://www.workingpreacher.org/columnist_home.aspx?author_id=288 Lutheran Church of the ReformationSt. Louis Park, MN email@example.com