Given by Prioress Sister Mary Forman, OSB, April 11, 2020
Happy Easter everyone! It seems so strange not to have our chapel full of our friends to celebrate with us, so we will pray on their behalf and on behalf of their loved ones.
The Gospel for this celebration is one rich in symbolism and meaning and is focused on the women, who are the first to come to Jesus’ tomb. As they do so “a great earthquake” Mt 28:2) sounds (like we had about a week ago), which echoes the earthquake when Jesus died in Matthew’s gospel (27: 51b-53): “The earth quaked; and the rocks were split; and the tombs were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised,” which signals that the “resurrection is of cosmic importance, shaking the foundations of the world and raising even those long dead.” The apocalyptic nature of this account is heightened by the appearance of the angel, who rolls back the stone and sits on it (v. 2). Thus the angel “make[s] it possible to see that Jesus was no longer in the place where he once lay (28:6) and that therefore the resurrection had already taken place.”
“Matthew’s ‘angel of the Lord’ is to interpret the emptiness of the sepulcher”; this angel has appeared earlier in Matthew’s gospel: to Mary in explaining her pregnancy by the Holy Spirit (1:20); to Joseph twice in a dream telling him what to do (2:13, 2:19). The apocalyptic detail that the angel’s “appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow” (Mt 28:3) are images drawn from the prophet Daniel, whose face was “like lightning” (Dan 10:6) and he “judges the nations [dressed in] a garment white as snow (Dan 7:0; cf. Mt 17:2).” Matthew points to irony in this scene, for God’s power has raised the dead one to life, while the guards shake in fear, “‘as if they were dead’ (28:4).”
In words reminiscent of “angelic announcements in the Old Testament and…in the infancy narratives,” the angel tells the women, “Do not be afraid”; “Go quickly”; “They departed quickly…[in] fear and great joy”; in this manner, Matthew reminds “his Christian readers [to] imitate [the women] in receiving and sharing the news of the risen Lord…to go quickly with reverential fear and great joy to tell others.” In addition, the angel tells them that the crucified Lord is not in the empty tomb, but “has been raised” (28:6). The angel proclaims the first formula of preaching by early Christians: “‘Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, has been raised by God.’…This is another way of proclaiming God’s victory over death, a graphic way of saying that God has opened the gates of sheol so that the crucified Jesus would escape from the power of death.”
The angel also says, “Come and see the place where he lay…he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him” (28:6, 7), words repeated by Jesus to the women when he greets them, “Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee and there they will see me” (28.10). Three times in this pericope the word “see” is repeated. Seeing is the evangelist’s way of saying that Jesus is letting himself be known in a new way and not as they remembered him when he was physically with them. Rather, Jesus appears to them, that is, “he is acting within the disciples, creating conditions in which they can perceive his presence” as a grace to them.
The women are sent to evangelize the disciples by proclaiming “He has been raised from the dead” (28:7). Christ’s being raised means that he is exalted, that is, he is “pulled away from the power of death” and “introduced into God’s own life.” José Pagola has said of resurrection:
This creative action by God, accepting Jesus into his unfathomable mystery, is an event that overflows all the structures of life as we know it. It transcends any experience we might have in this world. We have no way of describing it. That is why no gospel writer has tried to describe Jesus’ resurrection. No one can be a witness to that transcendent act of God. The resurrection no longer belongs to the visible, tangible world…[yet] it is a ‘real event’ that really happened…For believers in Jesus it is the most real, important and decisive event that has ever occurred in human history, because it is the foundation and the true hope of history.
While the women are on their way to Galilee, Jesus meets and greets them, that is, he appears to them. Their immediate response is to “embrace his feet” and do “him homage” (28:9). While the gesture of embracing his feet “may underlie the reality of Jesus’ body, it also expresses human affection for Jesus.” In addition, it is a profound gesture of intimacy.
Jesus then repeats the message of the angel: “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me” (28.10), but this time Jesus calls the disciples “brothers,” thus indicating a new relationship with their Lord.
So what are we to make of this Easter story for our own lives? We are invited to move beyond the historical story of an empty tomb, as José Pagola states:
It would be a mistake to look for the crucified Jesus in a tomb; he is not there; he does not belong to the world of the dead. It would be a mistake to worship and acknowledge him for what he did in the past. He has risen. He is more full of life than ever. He is still enlivening and guiding his followers. We must “go back to Galilee”’ and follow his steps: curing those who suffer, accepting those who are excluded, forgiving sinners, defending women and blessing children. We must offer meals open to everyone, and go into people’s houses proclaiming peace; we must tell parables about the goodness of God, and denounce all religion that works against people’s happiness; we must go on proclaiming the nearness of God’s reign. A different, more friendly, abundant and just life is possible with Jesus. There is hope for everyone: “Go back to Galilee [to Cottonwood]. He is going ahead of you; there you will see him.”
In these days of “sheltering in place,” we must see the Lord guiding all those acts of loving kindness all around us—those making masks, delivering food, sharing inspiring stories, asking for prayers of support, offering petitions and words of comfort to the grieving, discovering the presence of the Risen One in their solitude and silence, and in finding creative ways to say “I love you” to those most in need of hearing those words. So, my Sisters and Brothers, let us leave Chapel today, knowing that the Risen Lord is going ahead of us and we will see him with eyes of faith and in deeds of loving kindness.
Raymond E. Brown, a Risen Christ in Eastertime: Essays on the Gospel Narratives of the Resurrection (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991) 27, 28.
José A. Pagola, Ĵesus: An Historical Approximation, translated by Margaret Wilde (Miami: Convivium Press/Series Kyrios, 2014—fifth printing) 405-6.