Text study on Matthew 28:1-10 Lectionary text for April 24, 2011
When Mary Magdalene and Mary went to Jesus’ grave that first day of the week, they were expecting to find death (Matthew 28:1). Are we different? Daily, from newspapers and radio, broadcasts and websites, electronic games and popular fiction, we absorb words and images of violence, destruction, hatred and death.
Along with these images some attempt to impose a suspicious, cynical narrative about who cannot be trusted, about who is to blame for what is wrong in the world, about why, as a result, you cannot live confidently, freely, generously, joyfully. It is a story of death.
As the women approached Jesus’ grave, there was an earthquake. A resurrection messenger announced, “He is not here; for he has been raised.” When they hurried to tell others, the risen Jesus met them. They were changed, taken up into the story of Jesus and his resurrection life.
Jesus lives. He continues to meet you in resurrection messengers. We cannot deny the reality of poverty, malnutrition, disease and injustice — the power of death in its manifold expressions, often compounded by natural disaster.
But those realities do not define you, nor are they the resurrection that found and claimed you in baptism. Your story is the one proclaimed by Josephus Livenson Lauvanus — resurrection messenger, pastor and president of the Lutheran Church of Haiti. “We will not be defined by rubble, but by restoration, for we are a people of the resurrection.”
Pastor Livenson Lauvanus and the people of Haiti sing of the steadfastly faithful God whose goodness can be trusted. They joyfully sing of how Jesus lives and, in him, God is making all things right, even amid all that has gone wrong. Their lives sing of the Spirit’s powerful liberation to serve confidently, generously and joyfully.
The readings are filled with messengers — Jeremiah and the psalmist; Jesus, John and Peter (Acts 10), the angelic messenger at the tomb (Matthew 28:2) and Mary (Matthew 28:8; John 20:18) — and with the message of God’s promise of “everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3) being fulfilled in Jesus’ resurrection.
In a 2003 article for Gospel and Our Culture, Edwin Searcy describes how this story acts as a “figural narrative” that gives shape to the Christian community’s life and witness.
He writes: “The cruciform pattern of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday provides the coherent narrative that is rehearsed in sermon, in liturgy and in all aspects of the congregation’s life together. This movement from aching loss (Friday) through forsaken absence (Saturday) to astonishing newness (Sunday) stands in stark contrast to the dominant figural narratives provided by a culture of satiation and self-reliant success.”
What happens when we listen to these messengers — Mary Magdalene and Mary, Josephus Livenson Lauvanus and the people of Haiti — and join our voices to their resurrection witness? The world yearns for new life and deserves to hear this story — the song, the life of God’s liberated people, messengers of resurrection hope and freedom.
• What have you come to expect from the news, information and entertainment you take in? What is the narrative of the voices to which you listen? How does the narrative define you?
• When was the tomb of the death-narrative broken open by a resurrection earthquake in your life? Who was the messenger and what was the form and content of the message?
• For whom do you and your community have the opportunity to be resurrection messengers? How is the “figural narrative” of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection embedded in your speech and inscribed on your life?
Mark S. Hanson has served as ELCA presiding bishop since 2001. He is an advocate for social justice, especially issues that have an impact on people living in poverty, including racial justice, housing, welfare rights and immigration rights.