20 April 2014
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-21
All four Gospel accounts of the resurrection begin with the message of an angel (or two) to a woman (or two or three). Interestingly, in his account of the resurrection appearances, Paul never mentions a woman (1 Corinthians 15), though he does list women among the apostles (Romans 16). Paul, likewise, never mentions the empty tomb. The testimony of women would not hold up in court, regardless of the number of corroborating witnesses (women). Are the Gospel writers telegraphing to us that the testimony to the empty tomb wouldn’t hold up to forensic standards? If so, what is the point of the stories of the empty tomb?
Many commentators find the point of these stories in the concerns expressed by chief priests and pharisees in the story: this imposter said he would rise on the third day, so guard the tomb. In this view, the best argument against the resurrection would be a body. The Christians responded to disbelief in the resurrection by inventing the empty tomb stories. John, however, in the story of the raising of Lazarus indicates that the Christians well understood the difference between a resurrection and the resuscitation of a corpse. In all of the accounts of the women at the empty tomb, the message of the angels is “You’re looking in the wrong place.” The resurrection is not in the past, but in the present.
In Matthew’s account, the two Marys come to the tomb — unlike Mark’s Gospel, they are not coming to embalm the body, but simply looking for Jesus. They encounter an angel, who invites them to see where Jesus had been, and then instructs them to go tell the disciples. They turn around, and a mere 16 words in the narrative after they turn from the tomb, Jesus appears to them. Why separate the message of the angel from the appearance of Jesus at all? Because the risen Jesus cannot be found in what is past, but in announcing what is present. As soon as the women undertake to announce the resurrection, they experience the risen Jesus.
Likewise the disciples, on the mountain top (we leave off this passage), experience Jesus in the instructions given to announce the resurrection and invite all people into the new community constituted by the teachings of Jesus — in Galilee, where the disciples must live out their future lives.
The author of the letter to the Colossians points us in the same direction. Since you have been raised with Christ (already), set your mind on things that are above, for you have died (already), and your life is encrypted (entombed) with Christ in God. Whenever Christ, who is your life, is revealed, you also will be revealed with him in glory. Whenever Christ is revealed as risen, active in the world, you will also be revealed in his glory. Our task is to discern the resurrection whenever and wherever it is real, and take a share in its glory. We do this by teaching all the nations to join the community of the risen (Jesus).