Matthew 28: 1-10
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he[a] lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead,[b] and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ 8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’
Happy Easter! I doubt any of us can remember so strange an Easter Day? Each of us marooned in this encroaching tide of disease, as it surges across the world, yet holding on to each other as best we can.
And yet still we celebrate – like the exiles in Babylon, we still sing our song in a strange land. For today we remember the dawning of our Easter hope, the resurrection of Jesus, his victory, for all time, over death.
I have been reflecting this week on this resurrection hope, thinking about it in two dimensions. Firstly there is the event itself, the physical miracle. Secondly there is the meaning, the significance, for the disciples and then for us all. Outer form and inner content.
The physical form of Jesus’ resurrection, it seems to me, attracts most attention. The empty tomb; his crucified body brought back to life; meeting him in the garden at dawn; later in the upper room, Thomas touching his side.
Except that Jesus makes little of the immediate opportunity presented by the resurrection miracle. Could he not have walked back into Jerusalem, paid a call on Pilate, given him the shock of his life, with Caiaphas next, and then on to the Temple, where he had taught to rapt crowds only days before?
I am reminded of his temptation in the desert. “Come and stand on the high pinnacle of the temple”, Satan says, “and throw yourself off, where the whole city can see the angels miraculously save you from certain death.” That, surely, would be the way to take maximum political advantage of the opportunity before him.
And yet Jesus consistently, through his ministry, backed away from the spectacle created by his miracles. He urged those healed to say nothing, he fled the scene. He was no conjurer. For him, it seems, the outward spectacle was unimportant, but worse than that, it risked being a distraction, misleading, even dangerous. It was the inner purpose, the quiet effect on the individual, his desire to show as well as say, in his encounters, what he taught and its meaning, which was important to him.
Does it then not matter how it actually happened? Did his physical body actually rise? Honestly, I don’t know.
But what I do know is something of what it meant, for the disciples, for those who came after, and for me in my turn.
This meaning was not understood immediately. For those first on the scene, there is fear, bewilderment, yes a certain joy, but wrapped in amazement and confusion.
“Go to Galilee”, he says. Go away from the city, away from the crowds. Go back north, to the empty lakeside. There they met with him, listened to his instruction, and then they came back to the city and waited. The meaning of his resurrection took time to become clear. Not fully, perhaps, until Pentecost, seven weeks later.
But that meaning transformed them utterly. In the gospel stories they are uncomprehending, bumbling, foolish. At his time of trial, cowardly. At his death, in despair.
Once the meaning of his resurrection has transformed them, they brim over with passion, excitement and hope. They are bold. What they now understand, what they feel, cannot be contained.
This hope is nothing less than life in all its fullness, with the shadow of death removed. A shadow lifted not just from Jesus, or from the disciples themselves, but from all of creation, the good news of God’s redeeming love.
Before, they had a kind of hope, a worldly, political hope, for Jesus’ leadership. That hope failed on the cross. What was born on Easter morning was a hope of a different kind and magnitude, not for a victory of human proportions, within the old rules: a new hope, without aggression or desire for vengeance. A hope opening out into a transformation of all of creation, from death to life. A living hope in which all participate as one, in which the old conflicts are superceded by a new vision of life, all of life, in its unity and fullness, wonderfully beautiful.
All around us, this week, we see a glimpse of that fullness of life, spilling over in the unfurling freshness of spring, a joy shining forth, a simple, unselfconscious being. And a response where form and content, the physical outer life and the inner, overflowing life and joy of the spirit are one and the same.
So let our hearts sing with this life and joy this Easter morning, for a moment at least. And as we return to the anxieties and challenges of this strange time, and then after it has passed, I pray we will nurse this living hope within us, this life-giving spirit of eternal love which broke through in the resurrection of Jesus, on Easter morning.