Year A: Easter Vigil
The Resurrection of Jesus
After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow. The guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men. Then the angel said to the women in reply, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ Behold, I have told you.” Then they went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce this to his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
- What significance does Jesus’ death and resurrection have for you personally?
- How have you been a witness to Easter’s good news in the past and how will you be going forward? Is this growing year to year for you?
- Do you think of yourself as being made in God’s image? What is that image for you and what does this mean to you?
- We are dying and rising constantly. Are you seeing moments of resurrection in your own life? Where have you noticed transformation and new life coming out of suffering?
Dr. Margret Nutting Ralph PHD
No Gospel gives us a narrative account of Jesus’ rise from the dead. However, by telling us empty tomb stories and post resurrection appearance stories, every Gospel claims that the resurrection occurred. At the Easter Vigil, in celebration of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, we read Matthew’s empty tomb story.
In Matthew, as Mary Magdalene and the other Mary approach the tomb, there is, once again, an earthquake. Remember, Matthew also pictured an earthquake at Jesus’ death (see the commentary for Palm Sunday). As we said then, this is Matthew’s way of alerting the reader to the earth-shattering importance of what he is describing. Matthew told us that at Jesus’ death, “The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many” (Matt 27:51 b-53). The earthquake reminds us that Jesus’ death and resurrection have changed everything. Death is no longer death, not just for Jesus, but for other human beings as well.
In Matthew’s empty tomb story an angel appears to interpret the meaning of events for the women and to give them directions about what to do next. Remember that in Matthew’s infancy narratives an angel had these same functions. The angel interpreted the significance of Mary’s pregnancy to Joseph and told him what to do next.
The angel first rolls back the stone, not to let the risen Christ out, but to let the women see that the tomb is empty. The guards who had been posted by the tomb to assure that the body was not stolen “were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men.” The angel tells the women the significance of the empty tomb. “He [Jesus] is not here, for he has been raised just as he said.” Matthew has constantly pointed out that Jesus’ ministry has fulfilled the words of the prophets. Now Matthew has the angel state that Jesus’ resurrection has fulfilled Jesus’ own words. This “fulfillment” theme is Matthew’s way of teaching that the events that are taking place are a fulfillment or God’s promises and God’s will.
Next the angel tells the women what they are to do: “… go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.” In the social context in which the Gospel was written it is very significant that the women are to be witnesses of the resurrection to the apostles because, in rabbinic law, the testimony of women did not bear weight. In Matthew’s Gospel the women are completely responsive: they “ran to announce this to his disciples.”
Before the women reach the disciples Jesus himself appears before them. In many post resurrection appearance stories the people to whom Jesus appears do not recognize him. This is not true here. The women “approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage.’ Jesus then, for the most part, repeats the instructions that the angel had given the women. He appoints them as witnesses of the resurrection to the apostles. “Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
Although at first glance Jesus seems merely to repeat the instructions, on closer reading we see that there is an additional piece of good news in the way Jesus words the instructions. The angel had told the women to tell the “disciples.” Jesus tells them to tell “my brothers.” The apostles, on hearing that Jesus has risen from the dead, would undoubtedly feel shame and remorse at the fact that they had deserted him. This message from Jesus assures them of forgiveness. The disciples are now not only disciples, but brothers.
In today’s empty tomb story Matthew teaches us that Jesus has overcome death, not just for himself but for us too, and that Jesus offers forgiveness to his brothers and sisters, even those who have deserted him in the past. On hearing this good news, we, like the women who were the first witnesses of the resurrection, are overjoyed. Our joy, too, should compel us to announce this good news to others.
I Am Here. I Am Life
In his best-selling book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl describes his experiences as a prisoner in Auschwitz during the Nazi occupation. Considered to be a classic, the book tells the painful story how Frankl’s fellow prisoners coped with the horrors of a concentration camp.
The question driving the entire book is: How are people able to maintain any sense of hope while surrounded by so much anguish and terror?
The answer Frankl gives is that people can come to a deeper appreciation of the spiritual dimension of life when all hope seems lost. The following story illustrates this realization.
Frankl was particularly affected by a woman who knew she was going to die very soon. And yet, remarkably, she was calm, even cheerful. Frankl asked this woman how she could maintain this spirit in the light of what she knew awaited her. He writes:
Pointing through the window of the hut, she said, “This tree here is the only friend I have in my loneliness … I often talk to this tree,” she said to me … I asked her if the tree replied. “Yes.” What did it say to her? She answered, “It said to me, ‘I am here–I am here–I am life, eternal life.’”
This woman’s approach to death was crucial to the major theme of Frankl’s book, namely, that even in the most dire of circumstances, even in our darkest and most troubling moments, we almost intuitively look for meaning, for something that gives us hope and promise. In a word, we look for Easter.
Recall the events of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection: Peter had betrayed Jesus. Jesus was alone before Pontius Pilate. Soldiers whipped him and crowned him with thorns. The crowd cried out “Crucify him!” Jesus died alone on a cross. Afterwards, the flame of hope barely flickered. Jesus’ followers had gone into hiding in fear they would be next.
Then something miraculous happened. A woman, Mary of Magdala, crashed through the door where the disciples were hiding and spoke the most astonishing words ever: “I have seen the Lord!” Human history has never been the same.
Perhaps even more remarkable is that Mary did not initially recognize Jesus. Frantically she wondered where his body had been taken. With tremendous grief, her eyes filled with tears. She was crying so openly that two strangers, angels, appeared and one said to her: “Woman, why are you weeping?”
Who cannot identify with the overwhelming power of grief upon hearing that someone dear to us has died? But then Jesus asked the same question: “Woman, why are you weeping?” Notice that the first words spoken by the risen Jesus were about the meaning of human tears. Jesus then spoke one more word: “Mary.” It stopped her in her tracks. She recognized the sound of her name in that voice.
This was the turning point. This was the moment the Resurrection became fully evident. This was when human history was changed.
And this is also when Jesus’ command to “go to my brothers [and sisters]” broke through. And the disciples did just that. They told the story that has been passed on to us. It’s the same story that Mary of Magdala and the woman in Auschwitz had each discovered.
“I am here. There is life. Eternal life.” We call it Easter.
Selections from Breaking Open the Lectionary: Lectionary Readings in Their Biblical Context for RCIA, Faith Sharing Groups, and Lectors—Cycle A, by Margaret Nutting Ralph, Copyright © 2007 by Margaret Nutting Ralph. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahwah, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Paulist Press, Inc. www.paulistpress.com.