Matthew’s gospel begins and ends with angels, bringing the same message: “Do not be afraid…oh, and also, you have a job to do.”  The first angel in Matthew instructs Joseph to make Mary his wife, before Jesus is born.  The Easter morning angel tells the women at the tomb not to be afraid, and also to go out and spread the news that Jesus is raised from the dead. 

The Easter angel comes with an earthquake, rolling back the stone at the tomb and sitting on it.  It feels like he’s having a lot of fun at the expense of the guards, who are silly enough to be guarding a dead man.  The people guarding the dead become like the dead themselves, as they freeze in terror.  Death is contagious, just as resurrection good news is contagious.      

Read the scripture.

Read the Working Preacher commentary by Elizabeth Johnson. 

This resurrection day is filled with every kind of tactile experience.  Imagining the scene, we can feel the earth quaking, and the shaking of the guards.  We can see the bright white of the angel’s clothing, and the empty place where we expect Jesus’ battered body to be.  We can hear the voice of the angel, and then Jesus, speaking the same message: “do not be afraid.”  The women hear the news, and are urged to go and speak the news.  We can feel Jesus’ feet under the hands of the women, and the quick running of their own feet, carrying the news.  It’s a whole body experience.  The good news comes on every level, in every possible way, in sight and sound and touch. 

The whole scene is a delightful mixture of the mundane and the glorious.  There are guards with a silly assignment, and the mention of Jesus’ feet, and also an angelic visit that sounds like an earthquake.  In between are the women who come to mourn and end up leaving with a mixture of fear and great joy.  They may be confused about how to feel, but any thought of mourning has given way to that curious mixture of awe and celebration.

Sermon possibilities:

The sermon might look at where we, like the guards in the story, are zealously guarding something that is already dead.  It can be a too-large church that we can’t let go of, or an old tradition that no longer serves.  It could be a family pattern that doesn’t work now, or a way of being in the world that we have outgrown.  In the story, guarding a tomb leads to a kind of living death, as the guards become like dead people themselves.  The same can happen to us. 

Or the sermon might look at what we need to receive to believe.  The angel invites the women to come and see the empty place where Jesus was, and is no longer. The angel tells them the news, and then they get a surprise glimpse of Jesus himself.  What experiences convince us about God?  What events, or words, or which people transform our understanding of who Jesus is? 

The angel’s presence would seem to be enough – the women have heard and seen enough, and they rush off to share the news.  The appearance of Jesus is a bonus.  They’re already convinced.  The moment with Jesus moves them from information to worship.  The sermon might talk about how that happens for us.  Sometimes we’re in a stage of learning about faith, and other times we’re immersed in it, in a time of deep connection with God, or engrossed in a time of service. 

Where are your thoughts taking you this week, as you ponder the women and the empty tomb?  We would love to hear, and to continue the conversation, in the comments section below. 

Rev. Mary Austin is the pastor of Westminster Church of Detroit, a diverse Presbyterian church.  She is the author of Meeting God at the Mall.  The image above, Christ Appears to Mary,  is from the Vanderbilt Library of Art in the Christian Tradition.  JESUS MAFA is a response to the New Testament readings from the Lectionary by a Christian community in Cameroon, Africa. 

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