Easter Sunday Gospel (A)

 

By Msgr. John N. Fell

 

While there is no account of the actual moment of Jesus’ resurrection, St. Matthew’s portrayal of the first Easter morning (28:1-10) captures well the bewilderment, majesty, and joy of that eternally significant moment. The darkness and tragedy of the events we remembered this past week fade from view as we become caught up in the great joy of Easter. Christ is risen, and along with Christ all creation is renewed, forever bathed in the radiance of the Son of God.  God’s Suffering Servant has achieved everlasting vindication. For those of faith, Jesus’ triumph over death is the surest of all realities; they need no proof. For those lacking in faith, the Gospels do not attempt to serve as proof texts or explanations.

St. Matthew sets this Gospel on Sunday morning, just as the first glimpses of dawn begin to appear in the sky. He signals divine intervention as the earth quakes with great force, and an angel appears like a flash of lightening. In an action of dramatic significance, the angel rolls back the enormous stone sealing Jesus’ tomb, lays it aside, and sits on it. The stone, once the imposing monument to death’s triumph, is cast aside as a sign of death’s defeat. Seeing this, the Roman guards assigned to watch the tomb and prevent the theft of Jesus’ body (see Matthew 27:62-66), became paralyzed with fear. The hand of the Father, reaching down to raise Jesus from the dead, has conquered all opposition; neither the strong force of nature (the stone), nor the mightiest political force (the Roman soldiers) could prevent the resurrection.

Meanwhile, Mary Magdalene and another Mary were on their way to visit Jesus’ tomb. When the women arrived there, they saw the angel seated upon the stone that had been rolled away. They were frightened. The angel calmed them, explaining that Jesus the crucified was no longer in the tomb for he had been raised from the dead. The angel makes the point that this is exactly as Jesus had promised (see Matthew 16:21, 17:23, and 20:19). Then the angel gives the women a mission; they are to be the first humans to announce Jesus’ resurrection to others. The angel commissions them to go and tell the disciples that Jesus is risen and that he will meet them in Galilee; calling the disciples his “brothers,” Jesus implies that he has forgiven their desertion during his passion.

Taking the angel’s word, the women, now half fearful and half rejoicing, ran quickly to tell the disciples the good news. Suddenly Jesus appeared before them, saying “Hail!” or “Rejoice!” The women recognize him immediately and bow down to embrace his feet. Matthew emphasizes the similarity of Jesus’ body both before and after the resurrection by the fact that the women recognized him immediately; he further emphasizes the reality of Jesus’ post-resurrection body (the fact that Jesus was not merely a ghost) by noting that the women actually touched him. The evolving attitude of the women throughout this text is interesting; at the beginning, they were frightened, then they showed a mixture of happiness and fear, and finally, reacting to Jesus’ appearance, they came to the fullness of joy and adoration. In this, they show forth the attitude of all true followers of Jesus — the darkness of his absence and the great joy that comes with his presence. Jesus repeats the angel’s commission to the women to go tell the apostles that he is alive and will see them in Galilee.

 

While the universal, eschatological meaning of this is quite clear, it is important to remember the deep, personal significance of Jesus’ resurrection for each and every believer. St. Paul emphasizes, “We were indeed buried with [Jesus] through Baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead, by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). The Good News is that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, and with Jesus, we too rise. We rise from death and slavery of sin to new life in Christ, from despair to eternal hope. By joining with Christ in baptism, his Easter victory has been our moment of everlasting triumph as well. Jesus’s message to the women, “Do not be afraid!” (Mt 28:10) becomes the motto for all believers; Christ has vanquished sin and death forever.

On this Easter Sunday, may all believers join in celebrating Christ’s victory over death by following the example of those faithful women at tomb: may we join together in worshiping Jesus, exulting in joy at his Resurrection, and spreading the message of his triumph — Christ is risen! A Blessed Easter to all!

Msgr. Fell is a Scripture scholar and pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Bernardsville