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Readings: Easter Day

11 April 2014


Acts 10.34-43 or Jeremiah 31.1-6; Colossians 3.1-4; John 20.1-19 or Matthew 28.1-10

Lord of all life and power, who through the mighty resurrection of your Son overcame the old order of sin and death to make all things new in him: grant that we, being dead to sin and alive to you in Jesus Christ, may reign with him in glory; to whom with you and the Holy Spirit be praise and honour, glory and might, now and in all eternity. Amen.

WHAT happened at dawn on the first day of the week was not instant and overwhelming joy for those involved. It provoked yet more perplexity. Mary Magdalene and another Mary (like Judas who was "not Iscariot" - John 14.22 - she was equally faithful, but always named in relation to someone else) went to see the tomb. Suddenly, there was the second earthquake in three days, and an angel, looking like lightning and snow at the same time, descended from heaven and sat on the stone. It was holy commotion yet again.

Matthew, having previously recorded the setting of the guard, contrasts those men with these women. All were at the tomb, felt the earthquake, saw the angel, and felt the fear. Unlike the previous earthquake, which brought dead people back to life, this one caused living guards to become like dead people. The women were bolder - afraid, yes, but they held their ground.

They were invited to see the emptiness that betokened Jesus's absence, to express the sighing that needed a theology. An empty tomb on its own was not evidence of resurrection. It was Jesus's going ahead to Galilee that gave them hope. Galilee, off the political map, where they had first encountered Jesus, was to be the place where hope was given substance.

Mingled with great joy, fear was not paralysing, but gave impetus to action. These were times full of wonder, and the Authorised Version captures this in a way that more recent translations do not. Good Friday's "And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain" yields on Easter Day to still more marvels for human eyes and hearts to behold: "And, behold, there was a great earthquake . . . and behold he goeth before you into Galilee . . . and behold Jesus met them." Behold!

So the women ran, but Jesus beat them to it, interrupting their run. Even so, Jesus does not play a large part in Matthew's account of the chaotic dawn goings-on. His one word, "Greetings", was almost a walk-on part, but it was some walk-on.

The women recognised him, touched him, and worshipped him, showing none of the doubt that some disciples experienced subsequently (Matthew 28.16). Then it was action stations. Just as once disciples were told to proclaim the good news (Matthew 10.7), now the women were to tell his brothers to go to meet him, and, once there, they would be told to go and make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 20.19).

I drafted this column one evening. The next day, someone came to talk something through, and I write this part with her permission.

Perhaps because I had been immersed in Matthew's dawn story, as she described what had been going on in her life, I heard resonances with the underlying issues for the two Marys; so I simply read the story and we discussed it.

Matthew describes speechless, fearful women who had faced a devastating ending, paralysed into inaction and seemingly not knowing what to do next. So the angel had to give them very firm and straightforward directions: do not be afraid; come and see the tomb (take a good look and see it is empty; what you laid there is gone, a thing of the past; so leave it behind); go quickly and tell the disciples that he has been raised and is going before you (move on: there is a way forward); you will see him in Galilee (get on with the journey without understanding everything; God who has acted so radically thus far will provide insight when you arrive).

She made her own connections, and her face lit up with new insight and hope. I will not tell you what they were; for they are her story. It renewed my joy and confidence that God, who - as a consequence of the resurrection - turned the women's lives around, and gave them confidence to move forward in new mission, is doing the same today in our lives.

In the collect's phrase, through the mighty resurrection of his Son, the old order of sin and death is overcome. There is a sound of grace and beauty expressed in Jesus's one word: "Greetings." All things are made new in Christ. Alleluia!

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