Updated: Sep 6, 2020
This is the night when Israel is brought out of bondage in Egypt. This is the night when all who believe in Christ are delivered from sin and are restored to grace and holiness of life, and when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell and rose victorious from the grave. ...In short, this celebration is about Christ and how Christ is with us. Because we have been buried with Christ, we now may live in newness of life. That is the message of this new light and the message of our baptism. That is why we should rejoice.
The word “rejoice” is in fact the greeting Jesus gave the women: the Greek word means both “greetings” and “rejoice.” It was a normal greeting, but in this miraculous event, it becomes invested with new meaning. God has acted at the boundary of life and conquered death itself. And in so doing, Christ gives us the promise of new life.
Also enclosed in that greeting is the promise that everlasting relationship with God has been restored by Christ. Christ is not a resuscitated corpse that will die again - like Lazarus. Christ is doing a new thing. Death has no power over him. Sin cannot control him or frustrate his purpose. Christ is calmly in control and at ease- like the angel who sits calmly on the rock and scares the life out of the guards just by his appearance. We remember this story and relive it because it is part of our salvation history; it is the gospel for us. Christ is tangible enough that he can be touched and grasped, recognized and known. He is real. His body is real, but not limited like our bodies are. Jesus is risen, and it is important that the women in the story know that truth, know that Jesus is no longer in the tomb.
Mary Magdalen goes to the tomb to grieve and thinks that someone has stolen Jesus’ body; she is not expecting to meet him. Mary is surprised, but, Matthew says, she recognizes him immediately. She doesn’t need to touch the wounds- like the apostles will later. She knows his voice. Now, there are two gospels offered for today: one from Matthew and the other from John. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus does not forbid either woman to touch him; that bit is only in the later gospel, John. Likewise, the angels address the women in Matthew, but address the Apostles in John. I think these are curious details, since Matthew was written earlier with the Jewish community in mind and John, much later, for a more Gentile dominant population. Nevertheless, one thing is constant: the risen Lord remains the Crucified one. The wounds and the cross never go away; they proclaim Christ’s love for his people who have been “marked as Christ’s own forever.”
It seems almost impossible, doesn’t it, that such good news would be rejected. And yet, ironically, that is indeed what Matthew portrays in his gospel: those who believe are juxtaposed with those who don’t, those who accept the message with those who reject it. The women quickly accept the message, but the chief priests and Pharisees consider that truth a threat, a threat to what they want to believe and they do all in their power to silence, even stamp out, that message. “Seal the tomb,” they demand. “Stomp out this truth.” Matthew reminds us that human beings often have a hard time accepting the gospel; the good news is only considered good by those who accept it. And, God’s good news always challenges us to change, to accept realities that may disrupt our worldview, turn it upside down, and change our lives. That is what the gospel was doing to the chief priests and the Pharisees. That’s what it does to us on a daily basis. To accept the good news means that we must die to our old ways, to sin, to anything that tries to silence God’s truth. Baptism is the beginning of our journey, but it takes a lifetime and all of God’s grace for us to appropriate the full gift of that new life,... for God to reign in us. Acceptance is difficult. Matthew rightly portrays that God does not use force to cancel out our own struggle with evil, death, and war. Rather, through Jesus’s resurrection God invites us to decide what we believe, what we will accept, and where we will go with those decisions... just as God did with the people in Matthew’s time. God’s way is not force, but invitation: we are invited to believe and accept that the true light has come into the world. All are invited to see that the light has dawned in order that God may be the God of all the nations.
But as we know, that triumph has not yet been fully realized; the evidence is all around us. The Coronavirus has now spread to over 500,000 people in the U.S. and many of our governmental officials are spending most of their time blaming others and manipulating the situation for their own political and financial gain. 150 metric tons of plastic are currently in our ocean and 8 million more metric tons are added each year. Gun violence is rampant in our country and hate crimes are increasing. There is no peace in Jerusalem or in many other countries. We are poisoning our water and air with chemicals. Millions are in refugee camps, border detention centers, or completely homeless on our streets. And now, millions of people are losing their jobs and well-being. The list goes on.
In our baptismal vows we are invited to renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness, the evil powers of this world, and all sinful desires? It is a tall order; something that we cannot achieve by ourselves. And yet, we can reject those things by doing something very simple, and yet very hard: by accepting, really owning, what God has done for us and allowing that gift of salvation to act upon us, to redirect our lives more and more so that gradually we reflect the gift and become as Christ, allowing Christ to reign in us, owning our identity as God’s child, God’s beloved. The more we are able to allow that truth to take root in us, the more we foster good, peace, joy and kindness. Christ has conquered death and evil today. And in that action, he asserts his eternal connection with us, his everlasting claim on us as his own, and he, thus, gives our lives eternal significance. In accepting that truth we rob fear and death of their power over us and connect with the very power of God and our own true identity.
One of the primary proofs of the resurrection, I believe, is the amazing change that took place in the lives of the disciples and apostles afterward. Those weak, sometimes dense, men who abandoned Jesus out of fear for their own safety became fearless within a few days’ time. These women in our story would not be silent- even when they were not believed. These behaviors are not usual; they suggest that some kind of major shift has taken place. And in this service we affirm that the reason for such a transformation, was Christ. Christ asserted his relationship with the women by his greeting and with the Apostles by calling them “brothers.” This God is in relationship with us. And by his life, death and resurrection, he has forever changed creation. The women and the Apostles in accepted that truth and in being who they were created to be, unleashed the power and grace of God into the world through their ministry.
We began this Vigil with the story of creation, when the Word actively created all things. And now, the new Adam, the Word Incarnate, gives us new life and renews us through his everlasting covenant. May we accept the truth of this paschal mystery into our lives more and more and be changed forever.