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.”
- How does this reflection by Fr. Marsh expand your understanding of resurrection?
- Recall and share a moment of resurrection from your own lived experience?
- Name one way that your belief in resurrection has changed you.
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.
Good Morning, Now Go Home
Fr. Michael J. Marsh
I sometimes wonder if we have for so long so over-emphasized the uniqueness of Jesus’ resurrection that we have either forgotten or are unable to believe that there is only life. I wonder if we make such a big deal out of Easter Sunday that we are no longer able to see that everyday life holds the miracle of resurrection. I wonder if we miss the resurrected life that is ours because we are always looking and waiting for Jesus’ resurrection.
Let me be clear about this. I do not want to minimize or diminish the meaning and power of Jesus’ resurrected life. Instead, I want it to be more expansive and pervasive of all life, not just a one-time event that is celebrated once every year.
So, what if we tried something different? What if we did not say the usual Easter acclamation – “Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.” – and instead, I said to you, “Good morning. Now go home and you’ll see Jesus?” What if that was my Easter message to you? “Good morning. Now go home and you’ll see Jesus.”
What would you think about that? Some of you might be relieved and welcome that kind of message but I am guessing many of you would not. It’s not what you expect to hear on Easter morning. It’s not what you’ve heard in the past and it’s probably not what you came wanting to hear today. So what would you do? Would you complain to the bishop? Get mad? Call a vestry meeting? Come see me on Monday? Or would you go home expecting to see Jesus?
Before we get too far down this road let me say that that idea – “Good morning. Now go home and you’ll see Jesus.” – is not original with me. I got it from Jesus in today’s gospel. “Greetings!” Jesus says to the women. “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” That’s it. He’s was tortured and executed, went to hell and back, and that’s all he says. It’s basically a repeat of what the angel had told the two women. It’s a pretty simple statement.
There’s just not a lot of drama in the resurrection for Jesus. Jesus does not make the empty tomb an “extravaganza”. He could have. But he didn’t. Jesus and his disciples are already in Jerusalem. They could have met there. What better place than the center of political and religious power? But they didn’t. He could have made a theatrical appearance before the Roman authorities and the religious leaders. But he didn’t. He could have called attention to himself. “Hey, look at me. I’m back. I told you so.” But he didn’t. Instead, he offered greetings and then sent his disciples back to Galilee and said that they would see him there.
Galilee was their hometown. Jesus is sending them home. He is sending them back to what is known and familiar, to the ordinary and routine, to the rhythms of everyday life. That, he says, is where we’ll see him. Those are the places where his life intersects with and transforms our lives. They are described in the Bible stories we hear all the time.
The stories of resurrection are as unique and particular as each of us here today. We take a vow as a community to support those being newly baptized and give witness as they are being raised to new life. That’s about resurrection. We renew our own baptismal vows. More resurrection. After that, we’ll gather around the table to eat and drink in remembrance. Our lives will be returned to us through the body and blood of Christ. And after church many of you will gather around another table to eat and drink in remembrance. Your presence, conversation, laughter, and thanksgivings will nourish and enliven one another. It’s all resurrection. It’s all life.
So, on this Easter Sunday let me ask you this. Where do you expect to see Jesus? In your home? Among family and friends? In strangers, foreigners, and those who are different from you? In the midst of suffering and death? In the joys and celebrations of life? In times of insight and learning? In relationships? In silence and stillness? In the attempts to live a good life? In the failings to live a good life? In the pain and heartbreak of life? In the struggle to rebuild a relationship? In the refugee? In your marriage? In the challenges of parenting? In becoming the parent and caretaker of your own mother or father? In the midst of illness? Old age? In good conversation and laughter? In intimacy and vulnerability with another?
Yes. The answer is yes. Those and a thousand other places are where resurrection is. Don’t you see that we are the repository of resurrection? We are the resurrection miracle. Resurrection does not exist separate and apart from our lives and it is not exclusive to Jesus.
If we cannot find and see Jesus in our ordinary everyday life we surely will not find him amongst the alleluias, lilies, hymns, icons, shiny brass, candles, white vestments, and beauty of this sanctuary. Those things are not intended to set this day apart from all other days. Instead, this day is intended to reveal the resurrection truth and reality of all other days.
The stone was not rolled away from Jesus’ tomb to make his resurrection possible. It wasn’t rolled away so that Jesus could get out. It was so that we could see in. So, we could see that there is no death, there is only life. Resurrection isn’t just an event in history, it is a way of being. It is a life fully lived.
The empty tomb is not simply the conclusion to Holy Week, a divine remedy to a human tragedy. It is the epitome and recapitulation of everything Jesus said, did, or taught. When it comes to resurrection it seems God just can’t help himself. Resurrection is just who and how God is. There is nothing but life. There is only life.
After all that I have only one thing to say to you this Easter. And you already know what it is. Good morning. Now go home and you’ll see Jesus. Maybe that should be our new Easter acclamation.
Good morning. Now go home.
And we’ll see Jesus.
Reflection excerpt from Interrupting the Silence: by Fr. Michael J. Marsh. Used by permission.