Easter Sunday reflection from Lent for Everyone: Matthew by Tom Wright
Dawn was breaking on the first day of the week; the sabbath was over. Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, had come to look at the tomb, 2 when suddenly there was a great earthquake. An angel of the Lord came down from heaven. He came to the stone, rolled it away, and sat down on top of it. 3 Looking at him was like looking at lightning, and his clothes were white, like snow. 4 The guards trembled with terror at him, and became like corpses themselves.
5 ‘Don’t be afraid,’ said the angel to the women. ‘I know you’re looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He isn’t here! He’s been raised, as he said he would be! Come and see the place where he was lying – 7 and then go at once, and tell his disciples that he’s been raised from the dead, and that he’s going on ahead of you to Galilee. That’s where you’ll see him. There: I’ve told you.’
8 The women scurried off quickly away from the tomb, in a mixture of terror and great delight, and went to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly, there was Jesus himself. He met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ They came up to him and took hold of his feet, prostrating themselves in front of him.
10 ‘Don’t be afraid,’ said Jesus to them. ‘Go and tell my brothers that they should go to Galilee. Tell them they’ll see me there.’
Earthquakes, angels, women running to and fro, a strange command. A highly unlikely tale, Yes, indeed, and that's the point. Nobody thought in the first century, and nobody should think now, that the point of the Easter story is that this is a quite reasonable thing to hapen, that dead people really do rise if only we had the wit to see it, that it should be quite easy to believe if only you thought about it for a few minutes.
No. It was always a strange, crazy, wild story. What else would you expect if, after all, the ancient dream of Israel was true? If God who made the world had finally acted to turn things around, to take all the forces of chaos, pride, greed, darkness and death and allow them to do their worst, exhausting themselves in the process? If Jeuss of Nazareth really was, as the centurion (greatly to his own surprise, no doubt) found himself saying three days before, 'the Son of God'? What else would you expect? A calm restatement of some philosophical truths of sage old greybeards to ponder - or events which blew the world apart and put it back in a new way?
The unlikeliest bit of the story is the bit that really does show they weren't making it up. Women were not regarded as reliable witnesses in a court of law in those days, and everybody knew it. Even the early church, where women played an important part, formulated the first official statement of resurrection faith in such a way that the women were quietely removed from the story (1 Corinthians 15.3-9), It is a thousand per cent more likely that the women were in the story at the start and then airbrushed out, rather than that they were never there in the earliest forms of the story and then inserted, in different ways, by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. How to ruin a good story for public use! Everyone would surely say, and many sceptics did indeed say, 'How can you believe a crazy tale on the evidence of a few hysterical women?'
But, as Paul put it elsehwere in that same letter, God chooses what is weak in the world, what the world counts as foolishness, to put to shame the power and wisdom of the world. That is part of what Easter is all about. God is doing a new thing, and, as Jesus said earlier in the story, the first shall be last and the last first. Easter is a day to put everything upside down and inside out. Maybe we should have Easter processions with the young, the weak and the stranger in pride of place, letting the normal sink into oblivion somewhere. Maybe we should let the children's band lead the worship and send the professional choirs into the congregation for the day. Maybe the women should lead the entire service and then, at a certain point, go and tell the men that it's time they joined in. Giving the women pride of place in the story makes exactly that point. Instead of men getting the message and then solemnly informing the women later on, the women are in on the action from the start. It is they who have to go and tell Jesus' 'brothers' (verse 10).
But the main thing is that, once more, they are told not to be afraid (verse 5). What is there to be afraid of, if Easter has dealt with the greatest monster of all, death itself? Why should you be afraid of anything, if Jesus has been raised from the dead, if the old world has cracked open and a new world has been born?
And Easter always looks outwards. From the very start, the news that Jesus is risen contains a command: 'Go!' Go first to Galilee; go back to where it began, back to your roots to meet the risen Jesus there and watch him transform everything, including your oldest memories. And, as you obey the command of the angel, Jesus himself may perhaps meet you in person (verse 9). Take hold of him. Worship him. This is his day, the Day of Days. Make it yours too.
We praise you, Lord Jesus Christ, because you have overcome death, and opened God's new creation to all believers.
April 16th, 2017 - Posted & Written by Laura White