Gospel Story of the Week
Jesus is Raised from the Dead (Matthew 28:1-10)
“‘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.” (Matthew 28:2)
The story of Jesus’ resurrection begins where the story of his passion ended – at his tomb. The end becomes a new beginning.
Mary Magdalene and her friend Mary start out for Jesus’ tomb before dawn. Light is just beginning to gather on the horizon, but it is still more night than day. Since Jesus’ suffering and death, grief has allowed them little sleep. Every time they close their eyes, horrible images of his broken and bleeding body flood in on them. The women have cried until no more tears have come. They have raged in anger and collapsed in despair. They’ve held each other and rocked like children. As they walk toward the tomb, they are now silent.
Just as the tomb comes into view, the women are frightened by a powerful earthquake and a blinding light. They are shocked to see that the stone has been rolled away from the entrance. A angel bathed in light is sitting on the stone.
The resurrection takes Mary Magdalene and the other Mary by surprise, and it overwhelms them. In the place of death, they discover new life. This story of Jesus’ resurrection calls us to explore times when we’ve discovered new life in the places of death.
As the women arrive at Jesus’ tomb, they are greeted by the brilliant light of the resurrection. If I am honest with myself, I have to admit that there is something about that light that frightens me. When I encounter its sudden brightness, all too often my first instinct is to cling to the shadows or crawl under a rock. The unredeemed parts of me opt for the darkness. They prefer the moist earth of the tomb even if it leads to decay. The light of the resurrection reveals the doubts, fears and broken places within me that desperately need light yet resist its redemptive power.
The unredeemed parts of us show up in places where they aren’t invited. Late one evening, I was packing to leave on an early morning flight. During the preceding days I had faced multiple deadlines, traveled too much and functioned on too little sleep. As I was putting things into my suitcase, I realized I had forgotten to pick up an item at the store. I exploded, shouting a string of profanities at myself in a crescendo that culminated with the words “I am so stupid!” I had just settled back into a slow burn of silent anger when my wife, Carla, spoke. As gently as she could, she said, “Please don’t say you’re stupid because you’re not.” My response was to glare back at her, refusing to concede the point much less commit to reform.
She was of course, right. At times I do stupid things, but I am not stupid. At that moment, however, the unredeemed parts of me weren’t buying it.
Over the next several days, I reflected on what was behind my demeaning self-talk about being stupid. I recalled times when I was a kid doing chores with my Dad – working on the car, repairing the house or tuning up the lawn mower. The memories are a bitter sweet mixture of darkness and light. In particular, I remembered that when I made a mistake or failed to carry out an instruction properly, my Dad sometimes referred to me as “Sledgehead.” I obviously never asked him to explain the reference, but I always assumed that it referred to the hardness of the forged steel in the head of a sledgehammer. That memory was a glimpse of the origins of the “I am so stupid” self-talk, a first step in reconnecting with some of the broken places inside me.
As I recalled these childhood memories, it was like climbing down a rope ladder into the darkness. I remembered an image that had come to me years before. In that image, I am a young boy of nine or ten in my grandparents’ home – a large old house with all kinds of nooks and crannies. I am sitting on the floor in the front closet hiding in the dark. I feel lost, alone and very sad. That image helped me uncover a broken part of me that had been entombed for years.
For several days I carried the image within me, reflecting on the feelings that accompanied it. I wasn’t really trying to figure out the image, I was just aware of its presence. Slowly, I realized that part of me wanted to stay in the darkness of that closet. Even tombs can be inviting. They may be dark, but at least they are familiar. Yet another part of me was longing for someone to come and open the door. That part of me was hoping to be redeemed, to be brought back into the light.
At some point in reflecting on that image, a powerful insight dawned in me. The knob of the closet door was only inches from my face. I had control of whether I stayed in the darkness. Any time I chose to, I could open the door from the inside and walk into the light.
Sometimes the God of Resurrection comes to us in a blinding light and an angel’s presence. Other times, that same God comes to us in the realization that we are no longer ten years old, that we have a choice about whether we stay in the darkness and that we have within us the power to open the door and walk into the light. My negative self-talk had revealed some broken places within me, and the image of the ten-year-old boy provided guidance for how to respond differently. For me, the light of the resurrection dawned just as surely as it did for the women at Jesus’ tomb. The difference was that the God of Resurrection knew me well enough to expose me to the light slowly, helping me learn to open the closet door a little bit each day.
Whether Easter dawns as a blinding light or as an insight that gathers force over time, it leads us into the light and envelops us in its transforming power.
Questions to Ponder
- As you reflect on the story of Jesus’ resurrection, what experiences in your own life come to mind?
- As you encounter the light of Easter dawn, what is your response?
- What are the Easter moments in your own life – the experiences in which you were surprised to discover in the place of death?
Invitation to Prayer
Life-giving God of Easter, you continue to surprise your disciples with dazzling light and empty tombs. Shine the light of Christ into the unredeemed places within me. You know all my doubts, fears and broken places. You are aware of the ways I resist the light and hide in the darkness. Be relentless in pursuing me with the light of Christ. Give me the courage to open the doors I hide behind. Roll back every stone in my life and help me walk into the light. Alleluia!