This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
A CRUCIAL THREE DAYS FOR PALESTINE
After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary of Magdala and the other Mary had gone to look at the grave, 2 when suddenly a great earthquake occurred. For an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled away the stone, and seated himself on it. 3 His appearance was as dazzling as lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow; 4 and, in their terror of him, the men on guard trembled violently and became like dead men. 5 But the angel, addressing the women, said; “You need not be afraid. I now that it is Jesus, who was crucified, for whom you are looking. 6 He is not here; for he has risen, as he said he would. Come, and see the place where he was lying; 7 and then go quickly and say to his disciples ‘He has risen from the dead, and is going before you into Galilee; there you will see him.’ Remember, I have told you.” 8 They left the tomb quickly, in awe and great joy, and ran to tell the news to the disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Welcome!” he said. The women went up to him, and clasped his feet, bowing to the ground before him. Then Jesus said to them: 10 “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers and sisters to set out for Galilee, and they will see me there.” 11 While they were still on their way, some of the guard came into the city, and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 So they and the elders met and, after holding a consultation, gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 and told them to say that his disciples came in the night, and stole him while they were asleep; 14 “And should this matter come before the Governor,” they added, “we will satisfy him, and see that you have nothing to fear.” 15 So the soldiers took the money, and did as they were instructed. This story spread widely; the people of Judea still tell it today.
16 The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to meet him; 17 and, when they saw him, they bowed to the ground before him; although some felt doubtful. 18 Then Jesus came up, and spoke to them , saying:
“All authority in heaven and on the earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the faith of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to lay to heart all the commands that I have given you; and, remember, I myself am with you every day until the close of the age.”
Matthew knew as well as you or me that angels don’t drop down out of the sky and perch on tombstones. I guess he also knew that dead men don’t get up and walk. The interesting thing about this story is that he describes the angel but not the resurrection of Jesus. That’s because the angel is one of usual trappings of “apocalyptic”, that is, revelatory, stories, whereas the resurrection of Jesus is a mystery of faith, that is, an event that happens to believers only, even if their faith has been weak. So the modern reader should accept the angel as a literary device, like the angels who feature in the birth stories of Jesus.
But the Jesus who meets the women and then his band of diciples after his death, how are we to accept that?
We should note that the time scale of the event has been skewed by the misinterpretation of the words “on the third day” which not mean “after two days” but rather ” an event which overurns the bad things that happened before it.” In the telling and re-telling of the story, something that may have happened some time after Jesus’ death, and may indeed have take some time to happen, is collapsed into one dramatic weekend.
But what did happen? I think it’s reasonable to say that the disciples of Jesus decided to live their lives in the conviction that Jesus had been raised, body, soul and mind, from death and revealed as identical to the eternal life of God. We do not fully know what experiences led to this conviction but from St. Paul’s account we can deduce that they included “appearances” of the living Jesus who offered them forgiveness of sin and the call to continue his ministry. Not unreasonably they presented the resurrection as the fact that explained their conviction. The stories of the resurrection give this fact a variety of concrete contexts, which are not memories of “what happened” but clear directives for how this astonishing fact should be intepreted. For example, the resurrection is bodily (the tomb is empty); it is not a mere invention of disciples (Jesus appears to them); Jesus is revealed as sharing God’s life (All authority is given…..the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit).
The mountain on which Jesus meets the disciples and sends them out is the last of a series of mountains in Matthew’s gospel, which signal to the reader a special revelation of Jesus’ authority as a new and greater Moses. In this as in other ways Matthew insists that the Gospel of Jesus is a fulfilment of Judaism and not a denial of it.(The mountains of the sermon, the feeding of the 4000, the transfiguration, the temple hill, the mount of olives, Golgotha(?) and as here, the hill of commissioning )
Albert Schwietzer, one of the greatest of biblical intepreters, described Jesus as a man who desperately wanted to move the wheel of time into the new age of God’s justice and goodness, but found himself broken upon the wheel. Time rolls on leaving the corpse of Jesus behind. That’s still the most “likely” intepretation of the Jesus’ life. But from the start there has been another interpretation which announces the unimaginable presence of the eternal goodness in the crucified Jesus; and the equally unimaginable presence of the crucified Jesus in the eternal goodness. I use “the eternal goodness” not because I’m shy of saying “God” but because I want to characterise God as Jesus did.
If I’m right, the “fact” of Jesus resurrection is a deduction from the disciples’ faith in his presence with them. It therefore cannot be simply appropriated as fact by people who lack that faith. Matthew teaches that knowledge of the resurrection comes to those who follow his way as set out in his gospel, trust in his forgiveness and healing, and become convinced of his livng presence in their lives. That’s why Jesus tells his disciples “to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to lay to heart all the commands that I have given you”. Once the resurrection is believed however, it becomes a fact which changes the world. Although it takes place in time, it can be understood as the irruption into history of the eternal determination of God to make humanity in God’s own image and likeness. In Jesus – and all can be in Jesus- the creation of Adam is completed.