Weekly Bible Devotional
“Come, Follow Me Home to Infinity and Beyond”
April 17, 2022
Scripture: Matthew 28:1-10
After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped 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.”
Notes on The Text:
Despite their similarities, each Gospel presents the resurrection of Jesus in a unique way that emphasizes its meaning in relationship to the whole story. In order to understand the uniqueness of the message of Matthew, we must look at the story just before our passage for this Sunday. Here it is: “The chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember what that imposter said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ Therefore, command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone” (27:62-66) This story shows us that the powers that seemed to win over Jesus were still afraid of him after he died. Their fear continued after his death! They wanted to ensure that they really won!
According to the Gospel of Matthew Jesus had been defeated and executed by the domination system of the day, the Roman Empire. His threat to the powers of the religious leadership and to Rome was thwarted in a public execution so that others may learn a lesson about not working against the Empire. Public crucifixions were common in the Roman Empire as a way to deter rebels and dissenters. According to the Gospel of Matthew, the Romans not only executed Jesus, but they also wanted to make sure that there was no chance of anyone claiming that he was raised from the dead. They assigned two guards to stay by his grave to make sure that no one would mess with the grave or the body. The death and burial of Jesus in this story meant that the powers of domination won. It sent a clear message to the followers of Jesus that the final word came from the Roman Empire and that their whole movement was nothing but a short-lived dream. The movement from the north, from the countryside in Galilee was defeated swiftly by the powers of the Roman Empire in Jerusalem. But the real message here was that the seemingly great powers of the empire were afraid of Jesus and his followers. They knew that what Jesus represented for the people was hope, justice and freedom. That is why it was important for the Romans and their collaborators to put a decisive end to this movement led by Jesus. No wonder in the story from Matthew we are told this important detail about the guards in verse 4, “For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.” This is a unique detail which Matthew has which none of the other Gospels has. This was important to Matthew because in this Gospel we hear the story of Jesus as the marginalized Messiah, the one coming to redeem and renew the faith of the people of Israel to rise as people who live by the values of God’s justice, peace and compassion. Another important part of this story for us today in understanding the hope it conveys is that the people who first encounter Jesus are women. The first witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus are marginalized themselves. Women in that time were considered inferior to men.
The story of the resurrection of Jesus is not just about life after death. It is mainly about the victory of the marginalized people over the powers of the empire and its systems of domination. It is a story that gave hope and fuel to a whole movement. The followers of Jesus would have disbanded if it were not for the resurrection. Their hope to overcome the powerful domination systems of the world would have been crushed if the story ended with the crucifixion. The resurrection of Jesus was a clear message that Rome’s political and military might were helpless in the face of God’s hope and love. The guards became like dead men! The empire was like dead men, helpless and powerless.
This is the message of hope we have in the resurrection of Jesus: The powers of pain, domination and oppression in our world become helpless in the face of divine love. There is no evil power that cannot be redeemed and healed by God’s power. This changes everything for us. It changed everything for the early church. They were terrified after the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus, their leader. They thought it was the end. After the crucifixion, the disciples scattered and some of them even denied knowing Jesus. They went into hiding for fear of being executed themselves. None of them expected the resurrection to happen. But Easter morning changed everything for them. The resurrection was the message and hope they needed to know that love never ends and the work which Jesus began with them needed to continue. They finally understood that there was no empire strong enough to stop them from doing the work of Christ. They finally got the message that the kingdom of God was the only rule they needed to work for.
Life has a way of beating us down. Losses we experience, conflicts we deal with, fears that assail us, mistakes that haunt us, and world events that terrify and depress us are among the things that strip us of our sense of joy and purpose in life. These experiences seek to define our reality and our identity. We identify ourselves by these wounds or inadequacies. We become known by our struggles with labels such as the widow, the divorced, the unemployed, the underemployed, the handicapped, the terminally ill, the mentally ill, the poor, the hungry, the single mom, the rape victim, the abused, the refugee, the aged, and the foster child. We, like the people of Israel in the time of Jesus, become known for what is lacking in our lives from food to freedom. The resurrection of Jesus redefines our realities and identities. Easter defies the labels of our struggles to tell of a different story, a story that is more congruent with who we truly are as Children of God, born of the deep blessing of God over creation. Through the hope of Easter, we are free to reclaim our inner goodness and the goodness of God’s creation, despite our struggles and suffering. Easter reminds us that our core identity is not tied to the circumstances of our lives. These struggles do not have the final or definitive word about who we are, just like the crucifixion of Jesus and the corrupt powers of his day could not stop his mission.
The resurrection is a revelation of our connection to the eternal realm of God. Jesus reveals to us one of the greatest mysteries of life in a humble and down to earth way, through the simple witness of his followers of seeing and knowing him beyond the limits of human death. The resurrection shows that all of our human struggles can be transformed by love.
Prayer by Macrina Wiederkehr:
When dawn stands still with wonder, when birds jubilate in the trees, when buds hurry into blossoms and grass starts wearing green – I always know that Easter wants to come again.
But deeper yet and richer still when Jesus, imprisoned in me, asks me to roll away the stone that locks him in, then Easter wants to come again.
So, let it come. It’s one dawn past rising time and Resurrection is the wildest news that’s ever touched this crazy mixed-up world. It says, yes! When everything else says, no! It says, up! When everything else says, down! It says, live! When everything else says, die!
Easter’s standing at your door again, so don’t you see that stone has got to go? That stone of fear, of selfishness and pride, of greed and blindness and all the other stones we use to keep Jesus in the tomb.
So here’s to rolling stones away, to give our Lord the chance He needs to rise and touch a troubled, lonely world.
Some call it Resurrection. It’s wild with wonder. It’s beautiful and real, intent on throwing life around – it touches and it heals!
Yes, Easter, you can come – an angel of life I’ll be. I’ll roll the stone away and set you free.