24 April 2011Matthew 28:1-10
"He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay." (v. 6)
Two of Jesus' friends and followers went to his tomb on what we
now know as Easter Sunday. For Mary Magdalene and the "other Mary"
(verse 1), it was the morning after the Jewish Sabbath, although
the Gospel-writer Matthew seems hesitant to put that into words:
"After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning..."
(verse 1). The two Marys were going to grieve, but they didn't find
a place of gloom and death; rather they were greeted with an
earthquake and an angel, shining with light, in contrast to the
darkness of the previous Friday (see Matthew
27:45). The horrific desolation of Jesus' execution is replaced
by brilliant victory.
This is more than a new day - it is a completely new beginning where death itself has been defeated. Here God is doing something completely new: Matthew wants us to see it as a new creation, bringing new hope. The start of Matthew's Gospel sees an angel announcing Jesus' birth to Joseph, claiming prophecies fulfilled and "God with us" (Matthew 1:18-23), and so there is a beautiful symmetry with its ending. But here is a new announcement: "He has been raised" - a message they are to pass on. The different reactions of those in the garden reveal the choice on offer to all who hear this same news. The guards, we are told, became "like dead men" (verse 4) - even though they lived, their life was nothing compared to the new life in their midst. The women, meanwhile, responded with "fear and great joy" (verse 8), but also obedience. And in this obedience they met the risen Jesus himself.
The angel told the women to go on to Galilee where Jesus would meet them. But it's almost as if Jesus could not contain his excitement and longing to see them again, as he meets them as they are leaving. His familiar greeting is met with nothing less than worship. The women clearly recognise Jesus, but how astonishing it is that two devout Jewish women would worship their friend and teacher, when the commandment says, "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him" (Matthew 4:10). And in doing so they became God's new Church, which has been worshipping the Son of God ever since.
Jesus' message to them, as usual, was one of peace: "Do not be afraid" (verse 10). What God is doing here is awe-inspiring and earth-shaking, but people need not fear. And there's a message for the others too. Those Jesus has called his disciples and friends, he now calls his "brothers" - a new family is formed, and the relationships and hopes of those who have followed-but-failed are to be renewed. Resurrection is not simply a jump-start for one man who would die again; it is a life freed from the death that grips our world. And it's on offer to all who would believe it for themselves. He has been raised, and just as he went ahead of them to Galilee (the place where their ministry began), so he goes on ahead of us - where we might just see him, as we go in obedience and joy.
What do you understand by the word 'resurrection'? Has it meant anything new to you this Easter? What?
In what ways does Jesus 'go on ahead of us', as we follow him today? How might this challenge or inform what we do as a church?