After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.
All of the Gospels do not dwell long on the resurrection narrative. While the story of Jesus’ ministry is relatively well elaborated, the events of the resurrected Christ are kept to the essentials. So much so that the primitive communities felt the need to add a second conclusion to both the Gospel of Mark and John. Yet in their brevity they convey a central message, namely that all manner of death was destroyed by Christ and that a new creation will be manifested in the life of the Christian community. Luke in fact gives us Acts, as the second season of his Gospel, where he basically launches the community of the faithful, the body of Christ, as a transformative force in the world.
If Easter is about new life, new creation and transformation, we know quite well that this process is neither automatic nor sudden. It requires the breath of the Holy Spirit and a true desire on our part to accept God as father. While baptism opens our filial relationship with Him, it goes without saying that this relationship needs to mature in time, for us to become more aware of this new identity and operate from it.
There are two hurdles that need to be overcome and the post resurrection stories are a prime example of our difficulty with transformation (metanoia – change of attitude). In this Gospel, the two Marys are between a rock and a hard place. At their back they have the cross and in front of them the tomb. None of them was their choice and surely there was no way they could have changed the course of history.
We have very often meditated on the crosses in our lives. Naming them is one healthy way forward to deal with them. The crosses are those situations, events and characters that we do not accept in our lives, and if it were for us, we would have chosen otherwise. Mostly these are realities external to us but which inflict a great pain. A cross is a cross when we do not know if or when it will pass away. Giving it a meaning (and most of the time we need to revise that too) might help us to embrace it, but never enjoying it. Jesus suffered the cross with a purpose, but was not destined to stay on it. It was a necessary stage which coupled with the resurrection might give us hope in living our sufferings.
Easter can reach deep and wide into our life.
There is no limit to life except our consent.
If the cross in our spiritual tradition is widely contemplated, written about and preached, the tomb is less of a metaphor in our lives. Yet, many of us carry unopened tombs within which we do not dare to delve. What one day might have been a cross could have easily have been buried in a tomb without any possibility of resurrection. Most probably what lies buried deep down underground and out of sight even from my eyes are those realities which I convinced myself that they are in their place or I do not dare to touch. Mostly they are private and intimate things that somehow define me but which have petrified inside making me more rigid as I grow older. They can be my space, my rhythm in life, the way I interpret events around me, the way I reason things out, what I want from others and what I want from my life, accepted addictions etc… Maybe one day they suited me well and gave me life, but now they became untouchable and go unchallenged.
These types of tombs, like the two Marys, we try to balm with fragrance. For some it can be a forced smile, or a rigid routine, or playing the victim or the saint, or the know-it-all, or the passive, or the pleaser, etc… The variety of perfumes abound. Like the women in the Gospel, if we are not surprised by Christ, our expectations in life are clipped and resigned to the second best, if at all. It is incredible to which extent we go to protect our status quo in life. Like Nicodemus at Jesus burial, in our limited vision, we bring hundred pounds (45Kg) of spices to cover death. We might spend our whole lives tending the corpses, keeping the tombstone clean. And like the madman in Gerasene who lived among the tombs and no one dared to approach.
The challenge of Easter is twofold. First it gives a meaning to our struggles, bringing our crosses on a different level, giving our toil a purpose. Secondly, and this is much more difficult, blowing the Spirit in our dried and buried bones. “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up!” (Rev 3: 1b-2a) In the light of the resurrected Christ we will see ourselves as we are and hopefully grow in our desire to abandon our tombs to become true children of God.
Matthew moves me when he says that the angel sat on the rolled back stone. There was no way that the tomb will be closed again. What Jesus opens we should not dare to close. The freedom that comes to us with Easter is beyond our imagination and for sure cannot be compared with our limited narrative of life.
“Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Mt 28:10). These women dared to believe that there is life beyond the tomb. Like them we need to believe that Easter needs to touch the very deepest of our being, those places we thought are beyond redemption or did not even know that they needed salvation. This is freedom, and as missionaries we need this liberty of the children of God to go and bring our brothers and sisters out from their cenacles which they turned into tombs.
Easter can reach deep and wide into our life. There is no limit to life except our consent. Sadly, there is another face of the resurrection and that is the decision of the chief priests to roll back the stone on the tomb. They might have thought that Jesus can be pushed back by their deceits, not realizing that they where closing the stone on themselves and creating out of their holy places another tomb.