Sunday, April 20, 2014
Matthew 28:1-10 (or John 20:1-9) (New American Bible, Revised Edition)
1 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.2 And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it.3 His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow.4The guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men.5Then the angel said to the women in reply, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified.6 He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ Behold, I have told you.”8Then they went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce this to his disciples.9 And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage.10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
It may sound strange to have a quotation from the book of Revelation as the theme for our Lectio for Easter Sunday. But that “alive for ever and ever” can be the counterbalance for all the readings we heard last night at our Vigil. From the Creation itself, the texts followed the history of salvation. History is always related, and in most cases confined, to past events. The truth is, last night we also had a number of elements related to the present. There were the signs on the paschal candle, “Christ yesterday and today;” the Easter proclamation of the light that will ”be found still burning by the Morning Star;” as well as the renewal of our baptismal promises, facing the future of those present in the celebration. But, remembrance remains as the feeling that pervades most of the liturgy. That is why I chose that proclamation of the risen Christ, “living for ever and ever” in a boundless saving present. As I said at the beginning of Holy Week, John’s Gospel is the permanent biblical reference during the entire Paschal time, and even has been for some time before. For that reason, and as a counterbalance, I will also focus my attention almost exclusively on Matthew’s text for this Sunday mass (it is in fact the same reading from last night). But now, let us go back to the simple sentence from Revelation. As it happens whenever the mystery of God’s presence comes near humans, the feelings of fear have to be dispelled. In our short passage from Mathew’s Gospel, both the angel and the Lord have to repeat: “Do not be afraid!” In the case of the angel, fear is understandable because of the earthquake and the imposing appearance of the messenger; even the soldiers were “shaken with fear.” But Jesus should have provoked something more reassuring than the mere attitude of adoration from the women. Even now, accustomed as we are to the mysterious presence of Jesus in our lives, I think we also need to be encouraged to approach the Lord without any fear. In this context, let us have a look at a few details which can make the text more accessible. I will mention them, one after another, without developing them. To begin, the first witnesses are women (as we know, in the ancient world they were the least trustworthy people as far as testifying in a trial is concerned) and some pagan soldiers. It is important to realize and underline this fact. Those who are closest to God’s mysterious presence are considered by society to be the least important or reliable. Then, the fact of the empty tomb elicits two different reactions depending upon the subjects’ attitudes. We see that only those who open their eyes with a look of faith believe that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Matthew makes a consistent and total identification between the man Jesus who died on the cross and the risen Christ. Matthew uses the name, Jesus, and not our Lord’s title, Christ, when he describes Jesus’ greeting to the women. And the Lord’s presence among his followers is not offered as an object of pious or devoted reverence, but entails the responsibility for a real mission: “Go tell my brothers…” The truth is that the women, who have followed Jesus during his entire ministry, remained close to him even when the disciples, the apostles, “those who are sent with a mission,” left and abandoned him. These women have ministered (remember all the allusions to their service, diakonía, from Peter’s mother-in-law on) as deaconesses of the Lord, and now have become his messengers! A final detail forces us to look back to the anointing in Bethany. For Matthew, the event had extraordinary importance and significance: “Amen, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be spoken of, in memory of her” (Matthew 26:13). So important and meaningful is this anointing, that the evangelist does not even mention Jesus’ being anointed by Joseph of Arimathea before the Lord’s burial, nor is there mention of the women bring any perfume with them to anoint Jesus when they come to the tomb “after the Sabbath” (28:1).
In the Lectio I only made a passing reference to “seeing,” even if this verb is undoubtedly the most direct link with the alternative Gospel for today’s mass (John 20:1-9). In both texts sight plays a fundamental role. Although the women, the Roman guards, Peter and the disciple “whom Jesus loved,” all see the stone removed, or the empty tomb, their reactions are different. It seems that what makes the difference is not what we see but the way in which we “look.” In any case, I must anticipate that we will find “seeing” again in the readings of the following Sundays. Thomas, and the disciples on their way to Emmaus, have a need to “see” even if their sight betrays their perception, such as was the case with Mary. We could say that, at least in the realm of faith, “seeing does not always mean believing.” In our own case, to what extent does our faith depend on what we see in our Churches or in those who represent them? Sin and scandal are a thorny issue at present. But even if I sound politically incorrect or moralizing, let me pose a humble question: should Peter’s announcement of the Good News and the Resurrection be rejected because he had earlier denied Jesus? Or should the witness of the Twelve be disregarded because there was a traitor and thief among them, or because they had all abandoned Jesus, or even because we ourselves are sinners? We should remember Paul’s words: “We hold this treasure [Jesus Christ and his salvation] in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). This should lead us to a basic question - are we conscious of the mission we have received, the same as the women, to be witnesses of a resurrection that we have not seen, but that constitutes the foundation and backbone of our Christian life? Or another, more basic question still - does the light of the risen Christ shine in our own joyful style of life, so as to invite others to follow him?
Pray for those who, although they have met Jesus somewhere along the way in their lives, cannot or do not know how to communicate his saving message, and for all of us who still fear meeting Christ, that we might be transformed and follow him without restraint. Pray for those who cannot “see” the Lord or who need evidence and proofs to believe: that the light of Christ, through the convincing witness of Christians, may help them recognize Jesus as their Savior.
Easter is basically a time of joy and hope. We all have near us someone who suffers at this moment because of the consequences of the economic crisis, or because a personal relationship has been broken, or perhaps because they have lost a loved one. There are many reasons to feel down or broken-hearted. See if you can find an occasion to shed some light of hope on such situations. Turn your eyes to the glorious risen Christ, if it is you who needs his light.
Reflections written by Rev. Fr. Mariano Perrón, Roman Catholic priest, Archdiocese of Madrid, Spain
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