Tag Archives: Easter

Matthew 28: 1-15 Two Stories of an Empty Tomb

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ by Piero della Francesca (1463)

Matthew 28: 1-15

Parallel Mark 16: 1-8, Luke 24: 1-12, John 20: 1-18

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.” 11 While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened.

12 After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 telling them, “You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.

 Matthew’s description of the empty tomb shares significant elements with the other three gospels, but Matthew’s narration also includes several distinct elements that illuminate Matthew’s message in this critical scene. Matthew continues to integrate elements that highlight this story’s connection to the imagery and narrative of the people of Israel in the scriptures. Matthew also continues to use imagery that indicates the impact of the resurrection on the creation itself. Finally, only Matthew continues to pay attention to the continued resistance of the religious leaders to the message of the resurrection as they continue to peddle false narratives about Jesus.

The two Marys who sat opposite the tomb at the entombment of Jesus now return on the morning of the third day to see the tomb. Gone are the anointing spices in Mark’s gospel and the mission to anoint the body, in Matthew they merely come to see the tomb. Perhaps Matthew wants to have these women coming in expectation of the resurrection and have these women disciples understand, or perhaps better for Matthew’s language have faith, where the male disciples did not. Matthew is the only gospel that narrated an earthquake at the end of the crucifixion scene and now Matthew again narrates an earthquake as the angel of the Lord descends. In Matthew the crucifixion and resurrections are cosmic events that impact the creation and again the creation reacts to the movement of God in the resurrection of Jesus.

Matthew continues to narrate the story of Jesus in a way that links this story to the Hebrew Scriptures. While Mark and Luke narrate the messengers as men and John has two angels that sit where the body of Jesus was laid, in Matthew the messenger is an angel of the Lord. Throughout scriptures the angel of the Lord is used as a mouthpiece of God, a mediated way for God’s message to come to God’s people. The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph multiple times in a dream to direct him at the beginning of the story, and now at the end this angel directs the women with a message for the disciples of Jesus to gather in Galilee. The description of the angel also echoes the description of the Ancient One in Daniel 7:9 or the description of Moses’ shining face in Exodus 34:29-35 but is more subdued than the description of the Transfigured Jesus in Matthew 17: 2.

Only Matthew narrates the presence of the guards at the tomb, and their reaction to the appearance of the angel of the Lord forms a paradox for this scene. The guards placed by the religious leaders to ensure the crucified one remains entombed now become ‘like the dead’ themselves. The brute force that the religious leaders can muster and the power of death that Rome can wield are now inverted as the crucified one is announced as alive and the emissaries of the ones who called for Jesus’ death now find themselves paralyzed by fear. Some of these guards, though not all in Matthew’s narration, will later report to the chief priests what has occurred at the tomb and this will require another false narrative and another payment of silver and promise of protection to the guards. Perhaps those in Matthew’s community have heard this false explanation from other Jewish people who do not have faith in the resurrection and Matthew felt compelled to include this second story in his narration of the resurrection.

The women in Matthew, unlike in Mark’s strange ending, obey and depart to spread the message to the disciples. These women who came with the sad purpose of confirming the entombment of Jesus and perhaps paying honor to him now depart running for joy with the purpose of announcing his resurrected life only to have the joyous interruption of encountering the resurrected Jesus. The grab hold of his feet and worship him. They are told a second time not to be afraid and to depart to the brothers (disciples) of Jesus and to have them journey to Galilee where they will also see him. These two women become not only the first messengers of Jesus but also the first to worship their risen Lord. The story ends with two different groups telling two different reports of what occurred at the tomb of Jesus. The two women tell a joyful story relayed to them by both the angel of the Lord and the risen Jesus about life.  Jesus said to the Pharisees and the scribes that the only sign this generation would receive would be the sign of Jonah.[1] The guards, after being paid in silver, tell a story that comes from the religious leaders and attempt to hide this sign for their generation. These chief priests, in Matthew, who feared Jesus’ disciples coming to steal the body and providing a greater deception than the first now once again prove to be deceivers and unfaithful shepherds of the people.


[1] Matthew 16:4

Three Days- A Poem

Statue of Mary Magdalene in Mission Santa Monica

Statue of Mary Magdalene in Mission Santa Monica

Three days has my master been gone
Three days since those he loved scattered
Three days since receiving his pierced and battered body
One final gift from the hands of our oppressors

Three days of mourning and preparations
Three days of weeping and working
Three days of trying to hold on to a man who is dead
The tomb awaits the payment of grief

The first day of the week has come
A time of new beginnings, of beginning anew
Yet I find myself walking towards the end, towards death itself
As I walk towards the gaping and devouring maw of the tomb

O tomb, you who could devour life itself
Who hold within you the remains of one who lifted a child from your jaws
One who denied you your prize, who snatched youth from your hands
Now perhaps you can laugh as you hold the one who denied you in your craw

Three days you have haunted me O death
Three days have I journeyed into your home
Three days have I tried to ward off your foul stench for this man’s sake
This man who made me a human and no longer a walking corpse

Three years did I journey with him,
Three years ago did he free me from the demons who tore at the corners of my mind
Three years of freedom and of being a human and not an object of shame
This man who I followed out of Magdala

Three days and I confront once again my fears
Do my demons lurk within this tomb?
Does my fragile self find itself destroyed by maw of death?
Yet, through my fear, for the memory of this true person I defy you.

Three of us walk together, three women, three lost ones
Three and yet incomplete without the one who lies behind the immovable rock
Three unable to pry open the jaws of the grave to snatch his life out of it
Uneasy, uncertain we walk towards the heart of the earth

Yet, as we approach you in the cold dawning of the day your mouth lies open
What has happened, have our oppressors taken away the one last gift we had
Have they shamed him even more, have they taken away our wrestling with death
Can we stand at the gaping maw of death without his presence?
Yet within the tomb sits a young man, a man in white
In the darkness, in the midst of death, youth that will not die sits
Our search ends with his puzzling message,
Our search begins with words that cannot breach our deadened senses
“Fear not, the one you seek is not here, he has gone ahead of you”

Fear not, and yet fear—a fear greater even than my fear of death overwhelms me
Who is this sitting here, who was the Jesus who lay here, what is he?
Is this the first day of a new creation, or is this truly the end?
How do I go home, how can I move, how can I tell his shattered disciples this?

Could I bear the rebuke of being a foolish woman whose dreams are shattered again?
Could I turn back home and tell what I’ve seen, do I even believe it myself?
Could I make the journey back to Galilee and wait for the Lord who lay in the tomb three days?
Or does fear reign in my body and in Mary and in Salome?

O tomb I taunted you, O death I defied you, but you I knew.
But now you stand open while my mouth is sealed shut
I feared your presence while you contained my Lord, now I cannot stand in your presence at all
Fear, confusion, amazement, wonder, silence
I run away

Perhaps the day will come when the stone over my own mouth is rolled away
Perhaps it too will take three days, or three months or three years
Perhaps it will take me finding the Lord who has been spirited away
“Fear not…he has gone ahead of you.”

purple rose 01 by picsofflowers.blogspot.com