Resurrection - Anafora Program 2021

Anafora, 29 sept. 2021. In this brief teaching on the meaning of the resurrection, I propose to comment on the account of the resurrection of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (28:1-10). 

1 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

5 The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: “He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.” Now I have told you.’

8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. ‘Greetings,’ he said. They came to him, clasped 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.’

Anticipation of the end times (28:2-3)

I would like to begin by emphasizing the symbolic importance of the "earthquake". At the death of Jesus (27:51-54), there was already an earthquake, "seismos" in greek. The second earthquake at the time of the resurrection underlines the unity of the paschal mystery which is one and the same divine manifestation. At the cross the sin of the world is judged and at the resurrection of Jesus the new world appears.

No doubt there is an allusion to Ezekiel 37 where the resurrection of the bones is preceded by an earthquake.

In Zechariah (14:4) and the apocalyptic literature, an earthquake will mark the end of history. In Matthew's account, the earthquake indicates that the resurrection of Jesus is already an anticipation of the last day, when God will manifest his total victory over sin and death. 

But, beware, it is not the earthquake that rolls away the stone, but the "Angel of the Lord", that is to say God himself. For the "Angel of the Lord" represents God in the Old Testament. He is like lightning and white as snow, like Jesus in his transfiguration; we can then ask ourselves if this Angel is not the Lord Jesus himself? 

One more remark: Unlike the other evangelists Matthew tells us about the opening of the tomb after the women have arrived. When the stone is rolled away the tomb is already empty. The Lord came out of the tomb while it was still closed! There is no longer any material obstacle for the Risen One who lives on another plane than the space-time reality. 

Word of trust (28:4-5)

The episode of the guards is found only in Matthew. The earthquake causes an inner earthquake in these soldiers: indeed, they begin to "tremble"; it is the same Greek word as for the earthquake. When one is afraid one can either flee, or attack, or be paralyzed. It is this last attitude that they experience.

The angel does not speak to the soldiers. They do not understand what is happening and they are afraid, because there is no word from God for them. 

But the angel is sent to the women to respond to their search, while the guards are mercenaries: they are there because they have been ordered to be there.  The disposition of the heart is essential in order to receive - or not - the message of the resurrection. To the one who seeks him, God manifests himself. (John 14:21)

Indeed, it is to the women that the angel, and then Jesus, tell them not to be afraid: "Do not be afraid, you"! This "you" is important. When God reveals himself, it is for us, not against us. God does not reveal himself to impress us, but to put us in a relationship of trust with him. "Do not be afraid" comes up four times in this story.

When God shows up, there is always a Word of comfort that gives an interpretation. The Word tells the meaning of the events. In order to understand the meaning of the resurrection, we need the Holy Spirit to speak to us personally. 

Urgency of the mission (28:6-7)

After having announced the great news "He has risen from the dead", the angel tells them to "go quickly" to tell the disciples. The mission is urgent: go "quickly".  The women are the first bearers of the Good News. "They brought the news": these words are a synthesis of the apostolic preaching, of which the resurrection of Jesus is the heart. 

They become "apostles of the apostles". Like them, they accompanied Jesus to Galilee, but before them they received the announcement of the resurrection. 

All the gospel accounts speak of women in the resurrection, as well as at the cross and burial of Jesus. "In the Lord, the woman does not go without the man and the man without the woman," says Paul (1 Cor. 11:11). The stories of the resurrection of Jesus illustrate this word of the apostle marvelously and indicate that men and women must be the protagonists of the Church's action.

The angel then said to the women, "He is going before you into Galilee”. The women are sent back to where they came from. Galilee is the daily life of the disciples. It is in our daily life that we must be witnesses of Christ. If Jesus goes before us, it means that we must follow him, starting in our homes. 

Emmanuel, true Man, and true God (28:8-10)

After leaving the tomb quickly, the women meet Jesus. The women, the text says, "grasped his feet and bowed down". 

This appearance is similar to the one Jesus made to Mary of Magdala (John 20:14f). The Risen One shows himself as natural and accessible as the Jesus they knew. 

"They took hold of his feet". These words insist on the bodily resurrection of Jesus. He is not a ghost, nor a pure spirit, but he remains a Jewish man who allows himself to be touched, even if, mysteriously, the resurrection has introduced him into another dimension.

Then the women "bowed down" to him, as the disciples do at the end of the Gospel. This verb in the Scriptures describes the adoration that is due only to God. In half a line Matthew affirms what theology would later say: the Risen One is both true Man and true God! 

Jesus meets these two women who are the first, after the resurrection, to live his word: "where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Mat 18:20). 

There is so much more to say about this marvelous text. For Matthew, the essential point is that from now on the Risen One is Emmanuel, the God-man who is with us forever. 

He is close to us and unites us as brothers and sisters. 

He sends us to our own Galilee to announce and live the joy of his resurrection. 

And his resurrection is an anticipation of the last times when God will overcome all violence and death to manifest eternal life.

Martin Hoegger,