Our Scripture reading for the Easter Vigil comes from the Gospel of Matthew 28:1–10. This passage tells of the women who come to the tomb and find the angel sitting on the stone. The angel then sends them to be the first witnesses of the resurrection to Jesus’ Disciples whom Jesus later calls His “brothers”. Finally, the women meet Jesus on their way and pay Him homage while He instructs them to “Be not afraid”. Each of these elements has important meaning for our reflection on this Easter Sunday.
It is significant that the angel rolled away the stone and then sat on it. There is a significant reason why Matthew has told us this curious detail about the angel sitting on the stone. The stone was the obstacle that would block the women from entering the tomb so as to experience the Resurrection. The stone is what would separate them from their encounter with Jesus. The stone is the barrier that stands in the way of their next step of discipleship. To enter the tomb and experience the risen life of the Lord is a symbol of our baptism when we are immersed into the death and resurrection of Jesus. The stone stands as an obstacle to that experience of sacramental encounter with the Lord. It would not take any real effort for an angel to roll the stone away, so why we should wonder why the angel chose to sit on the stone once it was rolled away? It wasn’t because the angel was tired; rather, the angel was making a statement and Matthew wants us to pay attention to this truth — the stone has become a throne! Matthew is telling us that the power of Jesus’ resurrection is able to turn the obstacles of our lives into the thrones of God’s glory. That’s a powerful message. The stone that Pilate had sealed in an effort to suppress the Gospel message has become the throne of God’s glory. Every stumbling block for us can be turned into a stepping stone of discipleship through the power of the resurrection. What was meant to be an instrument of defeat can become the symbol of triumph. Certainly that was true with the cross of Calvary, and it is meant to be true for every cross we face as well. This reflection invites us to consider the many obstacles we face in our desire to encounter the Lord deeply in our lives. Perhaps it is a personal weakness, addiction, painful situation, or some other seeming impediment that is beyond our ability to overcome. The power of God can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. That is part of the good news of the resurrection of Jesus. Our hope is not in our own strength but in God’s all-powerful ability to transform us through grace. The women were so concerned about the stone because they knew it was beyond their power to move it. When we know the power of God, then we can submit our lives to the Lord with confident trust. What are the stones that are current obstacles to greater faith (love of God and neighbor) in your life?When has an apparent moment of failure in your life turned into an incredible experience of God’s triumph?When has God used a situation of tragedy to bring about a great growth and grace in your life?What do you think of when you hear the statement that God can turn the “Stone of defeat” into the “Throne of triumph”?
It is interesting that the angel specifically sends the women to bring the message of the resurrection to the disciples. It is also significant that, when Jesus meets the women on the way, He sends them to His “brothers”. This term implies that the previous relationship of faith and affection that was established during the Gospel story remains even after the cross. This is an important statement. We need to remember that the disciples suffered major moments of failure during our Lord’s passion. Indeed, we can easily recall their sins of denial, cowardice, spiritual indifference, blaming, and so forth. However, despite these sins and failure, their relationship with the Lord was not destroyed. Rather, Jesus clearly affirms that they remain His “brothers” despite their sin, and the angel affirms that they are still His “disciples” regardless of their failure. This is a very important teaching for us, and we are meant to receive encouragement and consolation through it. As St. Paul teaches, “What will separate us from the love of Christ?” (Rom 8:35). Indeed, not even our failures or sin will cause God to reject us as His disciples and brothers (or sisters). God loves us and calls us His own despite our shortcomings and weaknesses. That is really good news, isn’t it? In the face of such incredible mercy and love, we need to reflect on what should be our proper response. We may see ourselves as sinners who deny, betray, and run away from the Lord, but in the eyes of Jesus we are still His brothers and sisters. This knowledge should give us the assurance we need to always seek out the Lord’s mercy and to never give in to the temptation of believing that our sin is ever greater than God’s love. With this confidence and trust, we can approach the throne of grace and experience the joy of renewed companionship with the Lord. When has someone loved you when you didn’t deserve the relationship?Whom do you love despite their weakness or failure?What failures cause people to doubt God’s enduring love for them?Jesus welcomes us back into relationship with Him if we are willing to accept that relationship and be reconciled. What keeps people today from reaching out and experiencing God’s forgiveness and mercy so as to enter into relationship once again with the Lord?When is it easier for someone to see himself as a failure or sinner rather than as someone in whom God is confident and whom God calls a brother (or sister) and disciple?
When the women meet Jesus on the way, Matthew states that they did Him homage. This means that they worshipped Him. At significant times in Matthew’s Gospel, we are told about people who paid homage to Jesus (especially the visit of the three Magi in Mt 2:2, 8, 11 and the disciples in Mt 28:17 but also in Mt 8:2, 9:18, 14:33, and 15:25). Homage and Worship are the proper responses to Jesus as God. Throughout Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus has been stressing the necessity of recognizing that God is present, speaking, and acting in His very person. To reject Jesus is to reject God; to accept Jesus must mean nothing less than to worship Him. When a person worships God, they are placing their entire life at God’s service to be used by the Lord for His work in the world. Worshipping is not so much a matter of saying words, reciting prayers and singing songs; rather, it requires the surrendering of every part of our life to be guided by the Lord in all our decisions and actions. That’s not easy to do. To use a metaphor, sometimes we like to draw close enough to the divine fire that we are warmed by it, but not so close that we are burned by it. Following this image, to worship Jesus means that we draw so close to the divine fire that we allow our lives to be completely consumed by it. Jesus revealed the Father to us, and in doing so He has made God’s will known to us. When are you most in tune with God’s will in your life?In what ways can we fall short in our response to Jesus and end up not giving Him the true homage and worship He deserves?Whom do you allow to direct your decisions and actions?To express their devotion to Jesus, the women embraced His feet. What posture of prayer do you find most expressive in your acts of homage and worship?Worship and homage have become casual terms in our current parlance; whereas Matthew used them sparingly and specifically. How has our casual usage of these terms caused us to lose sight of their significance and actually led us to misunderstand them?
When Jesus greets the women, His first words to them are, “Do not be afraid!” These are probably the most common words of Jesus in the Gospels. Fear governs so much of people’s lives and can paralyze them into passivity and silence in their faith. When we are afraid, we enter into a world of self-preservation and control. That is not the atmosphere in which the Gospel can take root and grow. Disciples are called to be courageous, trusting, and generous in their practice of faith. Such a witness requires that we be motivated by confidence in God’s protection, presence, and care so as to be free in our response. Our Lord knew that disciples could be easily paralyzed by fear, and so His command to “be not afraid” speaks to us whenever we find ourselves becoming passive or silent as His witnesses. The fear of failure, fear of sacrifice, fear of rejection, fear of insufficiency and so forth are essentially incompatible with the life of committed discipleship. It takes a lot to overcome these very human fears. There are times when we become aware of God’s presence with us in a way that cares for our needs or protects us from harm. These experiences remind us that we are not in control of our world after all and that we are loved by the All-Powerful Lord of Heaven and Earth. When we know and experience that loving presence, we can let go of our fears and become courageous witnesses. We can also be inspired by the courageous witness of others in such a way that their faith strengthens our faith. St. John Chrysostom said in a homily, “To be afraid is not for you but for those who crucified Jesus.” What are some of the fears that surface in the course of your day?What are some of the fears that prevent people from being good disciples and witnesses of the Gospel?What fears prevent us from approaching Jesus with confidence and openness?What do you think the women were afraid of?What are some of the important fears that you have had to overcome in your life and how has God helped you do that?
St. John Chrysostom, “The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 89.2.” in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture,
NT 1b, Matthew 14-28, Downers Grove, IL: Varsity Press, 2002, p. 307.