Lectionaries

Easter Sunday, Year B

Main Text

Gospel Anthropological Reading
Gospel Historical/Cultural Questions
Gospel So What?

Epistle Anthropological Reading
Epistle Historical/Cultural Questions
Epistle So What?


Main Text

Acts 10:34-43 or Is 25:6-9
Ps 118:1-2,14-24
1 Cor 15:1-11 or Acts 10:34-43
Jn 20:1-18 or Mk 16:1-8

(Acts 10:34-43)
Then Peter began to speak to them: "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. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ–he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

(Isaiah 25:6-9)
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that
he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

(1 Corinthians 15:1-11)
Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you–unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them–though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.

(Acts 10:34-43)
Then Peter began to speak to them: "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. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ–he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

(John 20:1-18)

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’" Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

(Mark 16:1-8)
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?" When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you." So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Gospel Anthropological Reading

On Christmas morning the angels did herald “Peace on earth.” On this day, the exact same word is brought to humanity. “Peace” announces the Risen Jesus!
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the vindication of Jesus’ work, life, teaching and death. It is, in short, the vindication of the messenger, the agent of God. It is the vindication of the message of peace.

Popular Christianity does not know what to do with Easter Sunday, for while the average churchgoer may believe that God did indeed raise Jesus from the dead, it really does not have any significance for them except perhaps to provide consolation beyond death. Some use Easter morning as a proof that in raising Jesus from the dead, God sets the balance right after destroying Jesus with his wrath only days before. Others sit in the pews and wonder about the concept of resurrection preferring reincarnation instead. Many are just trying to stay awake. Resurrection, smesurrection, we hear the same old thing every year.

The resurrection reveals the wonder of the love of God in the Cross. Had there been no resurrection, God might have loved us in the death of Jesus but we never would have been able to tell the story that way. Jesus would have remained a small and insignificant footnote to Jewish history, if her were noticed at all. Because of the resurrection, something is known. Something has occurred that is so extraordinary that it is the ‘shock and awe’ of history. God has placed His stamp of approval on Jesus in raising him from the dead and opening the way for us to share with him in the resurrection from the dead.

Resurrection gives meaning to life. You and I are both one day closer to death today than we were yesterday. We may even fear the process of dying. But our death is not an end. It is a beginning, a chance to start all over, new and fresh, as a human being living on this earth in the new creation.

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is aptly called an eschatological event, and it is. It is the presence of the eschatological Jesus that creates for us, as it did for the disciples, an ‘eschatological present.’ In his presence and led by his Spirit, we can actually chose to live now as we will live then. There is no separation of ethics and eschatology. All Christian ethics are eschatological. So how will we behave then, how will we live, what does life look like? It looks a lot like Jesus. It looks the way relationships grounded in love, mercy and forgiveness look. It has nothing to do with compliance to external regulation. It has everything to do with the obedience to God who is love. Eschatology is not a quantifiable phenomenon, except as it breaks into our relationships where we intentionally seek to live NOW as we will live THEN. At that point, in conformity to the presence of Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, today and forever, we speak in our actions, and act in our speech; we communicate the promise of the hope and joy that we share in Jesus Christ.

The resurrection of Jesus has been, for some, nothing more than another ancient expression of the dying and rising god myth. We have seen that myths represent to us a foundational narrative of the scapegoating mechanism and that the gospel shares the same structure. But at this significant turning point there is a complete disjunction between the gospel and myth. The gospel does not “sacralize” Jesus. Rather, his resurrection is a disturbance in the cosmos.

In the Introductory Essays we spelled out in brief the process of sacralization, the process whereby the community has its perception shifted regarding the victim. The victim is transformed from guilty party to acceptable sacrifice and the benefits accrued from the sacrifice of the mob are attributed to the victim. The victim is divinized. Two things arise from this, language (the symbol), and religion. And voila! A transformed scapegoat all dressed up to join the gods’ ball. History is littered with the corpses of our ‘gods.’

In the resurrection, Jesus is ‘divinized’, that is, given divine recognition and approval. But we should not mistake this for the divinization of the mimetic mechanism. Divinization or sacralization in the mimetic mechanism is the originary lie, the cover-up, the beginning of mythology and our spiral of self-deception. The ‘divinization’ of Jesus in the resurrection is the acknowledgement of the truth. His hands, feet and side are all testimony to this. There will be no denying what has occurred to him. We see at every turn the challenge of God in Christ to the mimetic scapegoating mechanism, how at every significant point it is challenged and beaten.

This appears to be the underlying motif of the early Christian preaching. Romans 1:2, Phil 2: 5-11, Acts 2-4. It is not necessary to speculate metaphysically. What is important is to see that it is the kind of life Jesus lived that is being vindicated. From beginning to end and beyond, the entire story of Jesus counts. The resurrection opens us up to hear and obey, to no longer live with Jesus uncomprehending and dull. It points the way for us to see both the past and future. It gives real meaning to the present.

If the Cross allows us to do anthropology, it is the resurrection that allows us to do theology. It is in the Cross we first learn about ourselves, and in the resurrection we learn about God. Rene Girard (I See Satan Fall Like Lightning) says it well:

“Until now I have always been able to find plausible responses to the questions posed in this book within a purely commonsensical and ‘anthropological’ context. This time, however, it is impossible. To break the power of mimetic unanimity, we must postulate a power superior to violent contagion. If we have learned one thing in this study, it is that none exists on the earth. It is precisely because violent contagion was all-powerful in human societies, prior to the day of the resurrection, that archaic religion divinized it. They had good reason to mistake violent unanimity for divine power.

The Resurrection is not only a miracle, a prodigious transgression of natural laws. It is a spectacular sign of the entrance into the world of a power superior to violent contagion. By contrast to the latter it is a power not at all hallucinatory or deceptive. Far from deceiving the disciples, it enables them to recognize what they had not recognized before and to reproach themselves for their pathetic flight in the preceeding days. They acknowledge their guilt in the violent contagion that murdered their master.”

But there is more. The resurrection of Jesus is about transformation. It is both promise and reality. It is about the transformation of creation by the grace and mercy of God. The transformation is possible because of the forgiveness expressed in the Cross. Just as Jesus forgave those who crucified him, so God forgives us when we crucify others, sometimes in thought, sometimes by word, and other times by deed, personal or political.

It is a transformation in our thinking as well. It points the way to faith in a consistent God who does not change. Those of us who have heard the gospel message have an insider’s track on what God is doing with time and history. Apart from the resurrection, history is the meaning-less account of humans fighting amongst themselves. The current ‘media’ war (embedded journalists, etc) we are watching on our TV’s should alone persuade us of this. Anyone recall the twentieth century? It was the Century of War.

Friends, there is so much more we could say, but we are not writing a book. We are trying to stimulate your thinking. More so, we rejoice together with you in the life we celebrate and live in the Lord Jesus. May the peace of God blow through your lives, a mighty eschatological wind, the creative breath of God, and may you find peace.<
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Gospel Historical/Cultural Questions

The Johannine story of the resurrection of Jesus is in many ways quite different than the Synoptics. This should not surprise anyone by now. We have seen all along what can be called ‘the Johannine difference.’

For starters we recall what appears to be a fixed formula in Paul written in a letter to the Corinthians in the early 50’s (I Cor 15:3-7). The same formula is used when indicating the passing on the eucharistic tradition in I Cor 11. In both cases it would seem that we have a certain way of framing the resurrection appearances. Only Peter, James the brother of Jesus and apparently Paul were given personal appearances. The appearances to Peter and James are not recorded in the gospel tradition.

Mark, if we should stick with the shorter ending, has no resurrection appearances.

Matthew records that Mary Magdalene and ‘the other Mary’ went to see the tomb. Upon leaving the tomb they are encountered by Jesus, where “they came upon him, took hold of his feet and worshipped him.” Jesus sends them to tell ‘my brethren to go to Galilee’ whereupon they go and he appears to the eleven.

Luke writes that (anonymous) ‘women who had come with Jesus from Galilee’ went to the tomb. Luke has an entourage: Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them. Then comes the appearance to the two unnamed disciples on the road to Emmaus. Then Jesus appears before the eleven in the presence of the travelers from Emmaus.

All three gospels place Mary Magdalene in the group of women that go to the tomb. The Fourth Gospel contains the only personal appearance story, that of Jesus to Mary of Magdala. There may be several reasons why this is so.

First, it is possible that it is ‘the way it happened.’ It’s possible. Second, the record of the personal appearance to Mary left its mark in the tradition as both Matthew and John (who have nothing to do with one another) note that Mary (John) or ‘the two Mary’s’ (Matthew) ‘grasped Jesus.’

There is a real tenderness in the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene, in which we see the threads of a real relationship, a loving relationship. We are not thinking sexually here; we do not need to create what the text does not suggest. We would note that the Fourth Gospel is written by a close intimate of Jesus who along with Mary Magdalene stood at the Cross, unlike all of the other disciples. Unlike the appearances to the other followers of Jesus, the appearance to Mary can be told, for it recognizes the love and devotion of Mary for Jesus. This is, after all, the gospel where the followers of Jesus are called ‘friends.’

Third, the simple fact that it is the testimony of a woman is vital to the narrative. It is frequently mentioned that a women’s testimony was not valid in Jewish culture. Yet, the testimony that will start the ball rolling is that of a woman, probably the woman closest to Jesus. This should suggest something of the ‘strangeness’ of the resurrection to you.

But there is something else going on in the Johannine resurrection narrative that intersects with the appearance to Mary Magdalene. When Mary came to the tomb and saw the stone rolled away, she ran straightaway, lickety-split to Peter and ‘the other disciple, whom Jesus loved.’ There is then a foot race to the tomb and the other disciple beats Peter! Unlike Peter, it is recorded that ‘the other disciple’ enters the tomb and ‘sees and believes.’

However, throughout this gospel, whenever the ‘other disciple/beloved disciple’ is paired with Peter, the other disciple always seems to come out on top. The other disciple is a follower of Jesus before Peter, the other disciple is favored at the Last Supper, the other disciple can enter the High Priest’s home while Peter must remain in the courtyard, where Peter denies Jesus, the other disciple stands at the Cross in solidarity with Jesus, and in the last chapter it is the beloved disciple who recognizes Jesus, not Peter.

There is something going on here with the way the Johannine tradition sees Peter and ultimately Petrine authority, and probably the influence of Peter/James on the development of the Jesus tradition. It is not that the author accuses them of fiction, rather, he tells his story from the perspective of one who was there before Peter came on the scene. The telling of the story of Jesus from the perspective of the Fourth Gospel helps expose the way the Synoptic tradition developed.

We are developing the hypothesis that two significant versions of Jesus’ stories were told. Both come from followers of Jesus. We have seen this Holy Week the gospel through the lens of the Johannine tradition. We can appreciate the wisdom of the church that included it in the canon, in spite of its use by certain Gnostic groups. The Asia Minor tradition, which includes both Paul and the Fourth Gospel, is as important to the life of Jesus research as that of the Synoptic tradition.

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Gospel So What?

So what? So WHAT? Are you kidding?

We are talking about the event that changed everything. Everything. What has it not changed for you?

We long for the day when we will turn our swords into plowshares. We long for the day when the meek will inherit the earth. We long for the day when every tear will be wiped away and all things will be made new. That is, we long for the day God puts everything under the feet of Jesus, including all of human history and all of creation, and Jesus in turn gives back to his Father, the Creator of heaven and earth, a restored creation, redeemed with a price.

Until then we live between the times, in memory and in hope. The message of the resurrection is that God is not coming back to raise hell, but to consummate the destruction of the roots of hell, mimetic violent contagion. The Cross of Christ effectively did just that. The resurrection lets us know about it. Today, we have real reason to rejoice. We have real reason for our hearts to swell, for our minds to expand, for our hope to be secured. This is the day that begins the deconstruction of all religion, as we know it, including the Christian religion.

As we write this, we are but less than a week into the war with Iraq, so we cannot be too current with our comments. It may be that between the time this is written and the week you will use it, major events will have occurred in this war.

We wish to say that every casualty brings grief to our hearts, especially coalition forces and Iraqi civilian populations. It is deplorable that the Hussein regime is using civilian populations as cover in this war. We cannot see into the future between now and then but we suspect it will be a long and difficult struggle. This is the problem with a being part of a species that possesses ‘the knowledge of good and evil,’ something it was never intended to possess.

One can only hope that the war will be over quickly and that the world will do its part in healing Iraq and Afghanistan. On this Easter Sunday we ask a blessing on our Muslim brothers and sisters. May they dwell in peace. May there develop a real peace in the land of Jesus. And may God graciously reveal to the Christian churches the power and character of his love and mercy, his covenant faithfulness and his care for all humanity. Christ is Risen! Hallelujah!

2006:

Does the Risen Jesus make a difference in our lives? He made a huge difference in the lives of apostles and the communities that they founded. His resurrection puts to death the lie of death, the guilt of the victim; by exposing the lie, death itself dies and is powerless over humanity and the creation.

The celebration of the Risen Jesus can only be full of joy that history does not end with a whimper but with a cry of exaltation and victory, the victory won by the Lamb that was slain. Since we share in Jesus’ cross, we also share in his resurrection, and all that it promises in all of its benefits. We are given the fullness of the Spirit as a down payment of this future gift.

Our celebration of his feast today is as political as it is spiritual, for by breaking bread on Easter, we proclaim that it is not the principalities and powers who win the day. It is Jesus Christ, Risen Savior, Glorious Lord whom we worship and adore. Today it is His healing that is vindicated, His inclusiveness, His love, His forgiveness, His casting out of demons, His peacemaking teaching that is all vindicated. His is the life and message we proclaim.

Hallelujah, Christ is Risen!

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Epistle Anthropological Reading

The resurrection of Jesus is a commonplace in our world today.  There is nothing shocking about it.  In fact it is so commonplace that it has become dull.  Year in and year out the church proclaims that Christ is risen.  Local churches in our area have Easter egg hunts in order to draw families to church.  Motifs and banners all assimilate Jesus’ resurrection with the coming of spring where we celebrate the myth of the (dualistic) eternal return.  Boring!

In the time of the disciples, Jesus’ resurrection was the singular, unique event that shattered everything they thought they knew.  It was THE apocalyptic event that brought the turning of the ages.  It came crashing into their lives like a meteor striking the planet and causing global upheaval.  It was unprecedented.  It was the event that turned everything upside down and inside out, it shocked far more than grabbing an electric power line while standing in a puddle.  It was the end of the world, as they knew it. It had no analogy.  It was real and unreal at the same time.  To be frank, it literally ‘blew their minds.’

Yet today we have grown accustomed and familiar with it.  For 2,000 Sundays the church has announced, “Christ is Risen.”  We are no longer bothered by it; it is a fait accompli.  Done deal.  And the question is, has it really affected us, does it really mean anything anymore? 

Conservative Christian sermons reduce the resurrection to apologetics, trying to fit the resurrection into an antiquated worldview; progressive Christian sermons evacuate Jesus’ resurrection of it’s significance by taking the Pietist way out, Christ is risen in the kerygma or in our hearts.  Little wonder then that Easter Sunday is the most anemic Sunday of the year.  It is no longer God’s event, but the natural outcome of things as spring follows winter.

If we are ever going to get handles on the resurrection of Jesus the first thing we have to do is throw out anything and everything we think we may know about it.  Unless what we know about the resurrection of Jesus deeply disturbs us and rocks us at the core of our being, like an existential earthquake, we have not yet been affected by it nor understood it. 

The resurrection of Jesus is God’s way of cutting through the crap of our delusions that violence works, that good violence can overcome bad violence, that doing violence in the name of God is good or justified.  The resurrection of Jesus stands in the way of our continued existence as creatures that organize around hatred, violence and scapegoating.  It is both God’s great thunderous NO! to our killing and God’s gracious wonderous YES! of forgiveness for that killing, the killing, the murder of the Beloved Son. 

The resurrection is not just an event that takes place in space and time, although it is that also.  It shatters what we think we know about space, time, eternity and all other metaphysical categories.  It ruptures our failed belief systems and brings into existence a new reality, a new way of being.  In short, confrontation with the Living Christ transforms us from top to bottom, from head to toe.  This was the case for the early followers of Jesus and it is certainly the case for the apostle Paul.

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Epistle Historical/Cultural Questions

Paul shares with the Corinthians that his gospel is not different than that of the first disciples of Jesus.  It is well known that some in the early church (some of Paul’s Christian Jewish opponents) had accused him of preaching a different gospel than that of the Jerusalem apostles.  This is why he ties his encounter with the Risen Lord with the list of resurrection appearances made to them, especially the pillars Peter and James the brother of Jesus.  The same Jesus that had appeared to them also appeared to him.

Paul’s list does not include the appearances to the female disciples of Jesus.  Since the list is a ‘traditional’ one, it appears Paul is not aware of these appearances.  Thankfully some of the Gospels correct this situation.  I tend to think that had Paul been aware of them, given his egalitarianism, he would have included them in the list.

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Epistle So What?h4>

If I was a pastor, and it was legal to do so without giving anyone a heart attack, I would ascend the pulpit on Easter Sunday and light an M-80 or a cherry bomb and let the explosion fill the sanctuary.  Or take a megaphone and scream “CHRIST IS RISEN.”  Something, anything, to send out explosive shock waves to an otherwise ho-hum complacent congregation gathered for their annual ritual.  Personally, I can no longer stand to go to church on Easter, for it is just another Sunday, another day in another week, in another month, in another year in a long line of years where nothing really changes, where the presence of Christ is so taken for granted that the resurrection is more about babies, pastels and new clothes, sunrise services, breakfasts and comfortable settings. 

Easter is about electrifying the pews and pressing the button, it is about disturbing the routine of our life, yes, even and especially our Christian life.  It is about meeting the One who trans-values all of our values, who deconstructs all of our categories.  It is a NEW THING!

So, today when you get ready to preach on the resurrection of Jesus ask yourself this: what difference does it make?  Is this just another sermon?  Is this a time to have fun?  Or is it a time to become uncomfortable and very afraid.  If so then we just might hear the words “Peace, do not be afraid.  I have not come back seeking retribution, I have come back to tell you I forgive you.”  If we do this, then perhaps we just might be moved to such relief that following Jesus in newness of life, the life of another age, another world is our only recourse.  If we don’t, well then, we might as well hang it up and close the church doors for we aren’t doing ourselves or the world God loves any good. 

So forget the new clothes and the pretty hats because the announcement of the resurrection will dishevel you.  Forget the colorful banners and the nice music and strutting about the pulpit like you are king for a day.  Be afraid, be very afraid, for the One you killed has come back from the grave.  Then listen very, very carefully to what He has to say to you.  It will change your life.

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