After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 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. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 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.’ So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’ (Matthew 28:1-10, NRSV).
The resurrection is the event that changes everything. Good Friday, on its own, is just not good news. Were the story of the gospel to end with the death of Jesus we would have very little, if anything, to celebrate. It would be nothing more than the defeat of God by people; a conquering of good by evil.
But the discovery of the empty tomb by two women is a game changer. And God knows it.
Our passage reads like all heaven is waiting and watching as the women approach. We are told nothing here of their motive except that they are going early in the morning to ‘see the tomb’. It is the most that can be done after a crucifixion. Mary Magdalene and ‘the other Mary’ are here for little more than furthering their mourning and memory.
But heaven wants them to see more.
I wonder what it is like to see a ‘descending angel’? Our author seems only able to make comparisons: he appeared ‘like lightening’; his clothes were ‘white as snow’. Combine it with and ‘earthquake’ and it is no wonder this Roman guard is left petrified. ‘Do not be afraid’ is more than sage advice. It reads like the commanding of another miracle. How could they possibly not be respond in fear?
But it is the purpose of this visit that is most intriguing: the angel is here to let these women see that Jesus is not there. He rolls the stone back, sits on top of it, and invites these women to ‘Come and see the place where he lay’.
This angel is here, not to let Jesus out, but to let the women in. The discovery of the empty tomb is initiated by heaven, by ‘an angel sent from the Lord’.
It seems, in this strange timing of God, these two are the ones that heaven chose to take the message of the resurrection to the world.
If this story is invented by the disciples they have simply failed to do a convincing job. In this culture two women did not add up to a valid testimony. If these witnesses are taken to court they can say all they wish, but without a man to validate what they have seen, they would never be taken seriously.
Who wold invent a story to convince the world of a resurrection and open with the testimony of two women? It reads like these things really unfolded this way.
But it is their response to running into Jesus that gets me most. They listen to and obey this awe inspiring angel ‘with fear and great joy’. But when they meet Jesus they respond with nothing less than their humble worship. There is daylight between their reaction to this angel and their adoration upon meeting the resurrected Jesus.
Surely theirs is the most perfect of all possible responses to the events of Easter Day.
Jesus is risen: He is risen indeed.