Today’s Reading Matthew 28:1-10
Earthquakes, angels, women running to and fro, a strange command. A highly unlikely tale. Yes, indeed, and that’s the point. Nobody thought in the first century, and nobody should think now, that the point of the Easter story is that this is quite a reasonable thing to happen, that dead people really do rise if only we had the wit to see it, that it should be quite easy to believe it if only you thought about it for a few minutes.
No. It was always a strange, crazy, wild story. What else would you expect if, after all, the ancient dream of Israel was true? If the God who made the world had finally acted to turn things around, to take all the forces of chaos, pride, greed, darkness and death and allow them to do their worst, exhausting themselves in the process? If Jesus of Nazareth really was, as the centurion (greatly to his own surprise, no doubt) found himself saying three days before, ‘the Son of God’? What else would you expect? A calm restatement of some philosophical truths for sage old greybeards to ponder — or events which blew the world apart and put it back in a new way?
The unlikeliest bit of the story is the bit that really does show they weren’t making it up. Women were not regarded as reliable witnesses in a court of law in those days, and every- body knew it. Even the early church, where women played an important part, formulated the first official statement of resurrection faith in such a way that the women were quietly removed from the story (1 Corinthians 15.3—9). It is a thousand per cent more likely that the women were in the story at the start and then airbrushed out, rather than that they were never there in the earliest forms of the story and then inserted, in different ways, by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. How to ruin a good story for public use! Everyone would surely say, and many sceptics did indeed say, ‘How can you believe a crazy tale on the evidence of a few hysterical women?’
But, as Paul put it elsewhere in that same letter, God chooses what is weak in the world, what the world counts as foolishness, to put to shame the power and wisdom of the world. That is part of what Easter is all about. God is doing a new thing, and, as Jesus said earlier in the story, the first shall be last and the last first. Easter is a day to put everything upside down and inside out. Maybe we should have Easter processions with the young, the weak and the stranger in pride of place, letting the normal leaders sink into oblivion somewhere. Maybe we should let the children’s band lead the worship and send the professional choirs into the congregation for the day. Maybe the women should lead the entire service and then, at a certain point, go and tell the men that it’s time they joined in. Giving the women pride of place in the story makes exactly that point. Instead of the men getting the message and then solemnly informing the women later on, the women are in on the action from the start. It is they who have to go and tell Jesus’ ‘brothers’ (verse 10).
But the main thing is that, once more, they are told not to be afraid (verse 5). What is there to be afraid of, if Easter has dealt with the greatest monster of all, death itself? Why should you be afraid of anything, if Jesus has been raised from the dead, if the old world has cracked open and a new world has been born?
And Easter always looks outwards. From the very start, the news that Jesus is risen contains a command: ‘Go!’ Go, first to Galilee; go back to where it began, back to your roots to meet the risen Jesus there and watch him transform everything, including your oldest memories. And, as you obey the command of the angel, Jesus himself may perhaps meet you in person (verse 9). Take hold of him. Worship him. This is his day, the Day of Days. Make it yours too.
We praise you, Lord Jesus Christ, because you have overcome death, and opened God’s new creation to all believers.
We would like to thank SPCK Publishing for providing Lent for Everyone by Tom Wright. For more information, please visit their site: http://www.spckpublishing.co.uk/shop/lent-for-everyone-matthew/
Lent for Everyone is a devotional created and written by N.T. (Tom) Wright. For each day of Lent, there is a reading chosen from the Gospel of Matthew, plus a reflection by Wright. These readings have grown out of a project encouraging Lent reading in Northern England. This is the second in a three-volume series based on the Revised Common Lectionary of the Church of England.