OK. Ready or not, here comes Easter! In some ways it seems like this should be easy. Resurrection, good news, life over death, this is what we’re all about. But it some ways it can also seem like the hardest week of the year. It’s the culmination of multiple services for many of us. The crowd is often larger. The diversity of people in the crowd is often higher, too. And as much as we love the story of the resurrection, it’s the resurrection story again. We feel like we know and maybe have preached it a million other times before.
But Gals and Pals, we can do this. We have come to the tomb before; we have seen that there is new life. God has called us, given us this message. We can go and tell with fear and joy.
So, here’s where I like to do with a familiar text, especially a text that appears in three other gospel versions. I like to start with the details that are unique to this telling. Matthew has a few of these.
1. The earthquake – Matthew alone includes the shaking of the earth when the the women arrive at the tomb. This is the second major (super)natural event that takes place in the Passion/Resurrection narrative. The earth also shook as Jesus “breathed his last” just a chapter before (27:50). Matthew makes sure we don’t miss the significance of both this death and this resurrection. It’s no accident. It’s nothing normal. It is very clearly an act of one who has power and authority of even the very earth on which we stand.
2. The stone and witness of it’s removal – Again, there’s no way to second guess what happened or who was in charge. The women are there for every bit of the drama. No reason to question if his body was stolen, even though that’s the plan the priests devise to deceive and explain it all away (v. 12-15). The women see the guarded tomb go from completely sealed to open and empty, a feat only possible with the strength of an angel, and angel who sits smugly on top when the job is done.
3. The guards – None of the other evangelists place additional witnesses in the tomb garden. What I love about the guards here is their dead-like state in complete contrast to Jesus’ new life. In fear they tremble, or actually quake, just like the earth did. Another angle or point of entry into preaching with the guards as one of the subjects is to note that both they and the women felt fear (v. 4, 8). The difference between the guards who fell to the ground and the women whose feet stood firm wasn’t the absence of fear, but the presence of joy. The resurrection didn’t tie everything up in a nice bow for them, but when they were able to receive what was presented with joy as well as awe, they were able to accept the angel’s commission to go forward, and eventually meet the Risen Christ.
4. Meeting Jesus – Now Matthew’s account is not the only one where women meet (or at least a woman meets) the Risen Christ. John’s story includes Jesus’ resurrection appearance to Mary Magdalene when she is alone outside the tomb after Peter and the beloved disciple have already left the scene. But in Matthew’s gospel the women meet Jesus when they are on the way, when they are doing what the angel called them to do. In a sense this gets the resurrection out of the tomb and out into the world. It isn’t just an event that happened in this one place to this one body (a point that is made even in the story of the crucifixion in Matthew’s gospel, 27:52-53). It is something we just point to in this one special service each year. The resurrected Jesus is the one we encounter when we have come and seen (experienced the grace of God in our own life) and then go and tell (respond to God’s grace with our obedience, our simultaneously joy- and fear-filled answering of the commission).
Jon this conversation in the comments. You are welcome to chime in with your ideas about Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and a Vigil if you have one. Leave some ideas; use some ideas. We’re all in this together.