Gospel (Cycle A): Matthew 28:1-10

From Tragedy to Joy

How has tragedy touched your life? How have you reacted? How have you growth from the experience?

Life crises change us. Dramatic moments can turn deep sorrow to joy overflowing, distress into transcendent peace. The results of these moments, however, depend upon our environment and our inner disposition. The people and events that step into these moments of change are just as important as an inner sense of balance.

An indescribable event forever changed the women who visited the tomb of their beloved master. They came to grieve. They left with a message that would change the world.

1 Just before dawn on Sunday, Mary Magdalene and another Mary came to see the tomb of Jesus.

2 An earthquake stuck. The Lord's messenger, who came from heaven and approached the tomb, rolled the stone away, and sat on it. 3 He looked as bright as lightning. His clothes were as white as snow. 4 Full of fear, the guards shook and froze like dead men.

5 The angel told the women: "Don't be afraid! I know you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here, for he was raised up just like he said. Come and see the place in the tomb where he lay. 7 Go quickly to his disciples. Tell them:

'He was raised from the dead. He is going to ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.'

I just told you God's message."

8 The women left the tomb quickly. With mixed feelings of fear and great joy, they ran to tell his followers. 9 On the way, Jesus greeted them. Approaching him, they held on to his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then, Jesus told them, "Don't be afraid! Tell my brothers to go to Galilee. They will see me there."

The scene at the tomb in Matthew can be divided in two: the empty tomb and the announcement-appearance of the risen Lord.

The empty tomb:

1 Late on the Sabbath, drawing toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. 2 Look! (There) was an large earthquake, for an angel of the Lord, coming down from heaven, coming forward (to the scene), rolled the stone away and sat on it. 3 His (facial) appearance was like lightning, and his tunic (was) as white as snow. 4 Out of fear of him, the (soldiers) guarding (the tomb) trembled and, (falling to the ground), became like the dead.

28:1 "Late on the Sabbath, drawing toward the first day of the week..." is literally "late on the Sabbath, drawing toward the first (day) of the Sabbath." The later part of the phrase ("the first (day) of the Sabbath") is clear. It referred to Sunday, the day after the Jewish Sabbath, and the recognized first day of the week. However, combining this phrase with "late on the Sabbath." is confusing. The question when the women arrived at the tomb depended upon the beginning of the day. Jews counted the beginning of the day at sundown. Romans counted the beginning at sunrise.

If we consider the Roman sense of the day, the women arrived at the tomb just before sunrise on Sunday. This matches the traditional scenario. But, if we consider the Jewish sense of the day, the women arrived at the tomb around sundown on the Sabbath itself (Saturday night)!

Matthew wrote for Jewish Christians. So, we might be tempted to assume he meant the Jewish sense of time. But, since the Law did not allow work on the Sabbath, the women could not have prepared the body at sundown. So, we can assume Matthew used a non-Jewish sense of time in this instance. He meant the visit came on Sunday morning.

28:2 The angel in the scene represented the presence of the Lord. Psalm 114:7 equated the presence of the Lord and the movement of the earth: "Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob." (RSV)

28:3 The face and clothes of the angel had overtones of the end times for the Jews:

"(God's) face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like flaming torches." (Daniel 10:6 RSV)

"As I looked, thrones were placed and one that was ancient of days took his seat; his raiment was white as snow." (Daniel 7:9 RSV)

28:4 "(falling to the ground, they) became like the dead." Matthew contrasted the fearful guards, lying like they were dead, with the risen Lord.

Mary Magdalene held a place of honor among the women who followed Jesus. According to Matthew, this Mary followed Jesus from Galilee and aided his ministry. She was the first among the listed witnesses to Jesus' crucifixion (see Matthew 27:55-56). Now this Mary would be the first of the witnesses to the Resurrection. [28:1]

The signs of the Kingdom that began at the death of Jesus continued with his Resurrection. Note the parallels of this passage with 27:51-54. In both cases, the ground shook, the dead were raised, and the second-class witnesses received a revelation. In the crucifixion, the Roman soldiers saw something to declare Jesus "the Son of God." In this passage, the women would see an empty tomb.

Another parallel existed. The appearance of the Lord's messenger can be compared to the appearance of Jesus at the Transfiguration (see Matthew 17:2). The language of "light" conveyed the power of God, a power so overwhelming those guarding the tomb became like the dead. The power of God was real life; the shadow existence of the guards was death. [28:2-4]

Catechism Theme: CCC 638-640

Is the Resurrection a historical event or a symbolic image of change? The answer is clear. The Resurrection is both.

No one ever witnessed the Resurrection of Jesus first hand. But, the Catechism points to historical evidence that supports a conclusion that faith in the Resurrection is reasonable. The first sign was the empty tomb. Obviously many other reasons could be given for the absence of Jesus' body. But, if we place this with others pieces of evidence a pattern emerges that points to faith.

The appearance of the Risen One

5 Addressing, the angel said to the women, "You! Do not fear! For I know that you search for JESUS, the (one) having been crucified. 6 HE is not here. HE was raised up, as HE said. Come see the place where HE lay. 7 Go quickly (and) tell HIS disciples that HE was raised from the dead. Look! HE goes before you to Galilee. You will see HIM there! Look! I told you (this)." 8 Leaving quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, they ran to announce (the news) to HIS disciples. 9 Look! JESUS met them, saying, "Greetings!" The (women), approaching, took hold of HIS feet and worshiped HIM. 10 Then JESUS said to them, "Do not fear! Go announce to my brothers that they should go off to Galilee. They will see ME there."

28:7 "Go quickly" is actually a participle ("Going quickly") that has the force of a command.

28:9 "The (women), approaching, took hold of his feet and worshiped him." Holding on to the feet of a symbol of divinity was a posture of worship. Hence the verbs "take hold of (his) feet" and "worship" were synonymous.Jewish men considered two groups inferior: the Gentiles (by lack of faith) and women (by nature). Unlike non-Jewish men who could convert and thus share equally in God's promises, women could only share in God's promises through men. God came to Abraham, not Sarah, to David, not to any of his wives. Jewish women had an inferior social place and no civic rights. Jewish men treated women as property.

But the Kingdom turned everything upside down. Women were the first witnesses to the core of the Christian faith. Those who had no place received the revelation first. And they believed first. "The last shall be first and the first shall be last." This stands as the norm for Christian leadership because God revealed Christian faith in this order.

In Matthew, the women received the same message twice. The Lord's messenger revealed the women the empty tomb with the command. Jesus revealed himself with the command. "Don't be afraid. Go tell the followers..." [28:5-10] With two revelations and the two commands to witness, grief turned to a sense of awe and great joy.

Catechism Themes: CCC 641-644

The appearance of the Lord caused strong mixed feelings among his first followers. The women's testimony would cause skepticism, even cynicism, among the disciples. The thought of Resurrection was so counter-intuitive it seemed impossible.

Why then did faith in the Risen One flourish? This question points to the second piece of historical evidence for the reasonable nature of faith in the Resurrection. The appearance of the Risen Christ caused a chain reaction, resulting in a strength of character, a radical change in fearful people. In the face of this change, to propose the opposite thesis, that the faith of the followers produced the "myth" of the Resurrection, seemed impossible.

How does faith in the Resurrection change your outlook on tragedy? On death?

Critical events of life, those experiences and people who change us, have far more influence than the illusion of life's change through will-power alone. In fact, these experiences and people can bolster the decisions we make, the will-power we possess, because they give us the very reasons to change.

The symbolic image of personal change that the Resurrection evokes has power because it grounds itself in the experience of the empty tomb and the appearance of the Risen Lord. The experience of the Risen Christ changes us, empowers us, and emboldens us, because it points to a life beyond the tomb.

In your mind, image the scene at the empty tomb. Image the joy and fear of the women. Reflect on that image and those feelings this week.