The Taste of Victory: First Meditation

Fearful Yet Overjoyed

  • The Text: Matthew 28:1-10
  • Matthew 28:1 — God Remembers Our Good Efforts
  • Matthew 28:2 — The Angel and the Earthquake
  • Matthew 28:3-4 — Otherworldly
  • Matthew 28:5-7 — The Resurrection is Announced
  • Matthew 28:8 — Overwhelmed with Joy
  • Matthew 28:9 — Jesus Can’t Wait
  • Matthew 28:10 — Words of Command
  • Conclusion & Further Reflection

 

 

The Text: Matthew 28:1-10

Let’s begin this meditation-starter with a leisurely read-through of Matthew 28, verses 1-10 — the first post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus described in the Gospels.
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow. The guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men.
Then the angel said to the women in reply, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ Behold, I have told you.”
Then they went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce this to his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.
– Matthew 28:1-10
Now let’s go back through these sacred words, taking them verse by verse, calmly savoring whatever God wants to show us for his glory and our growth.

Matthew 28:1 — God Remembers Our Good Efforts

In verse one, St. Matthew tells us:
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.
Two things jump out at us here. First, the names of these two women, Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary.” The other Mary is the mother of James and Joseph, some of Jesus’ relatives; we know this from other passages in the Gospels.
St. Matthew kept track of these two women throughout his narration of the Passion, and referred to their
names multiple times. He showed them watching
the crucifixion, from a distance. He showed them accompanying Joseph of Arimathea, who took charge of having Jesus buried in his own tomb near Calvary.
And when Joseph was finished with the burial and left the graveyard, the two Marys actually stayed there, and Matthew tells us what they were doing: “But Mary Magdalene and the other Mary remained sitting there, facing the tomb” (Matthew 27:61).
Now, after the crucifixion is over, while the rest of Christ’s followers have retreated into hiding, afraid of being arrested themselves, these two women make their way back to the tomb, hoping to finish the proper anointing of Jesus’ body — something they couldn’t do on Good Friday, because they were in such a rush. And they are the first ones to whom the resurrected Lord appears.
St. Matthew seems to be fascinated with these two women. Why? It’s something to think about. To me, the lesson is simple.
In spite of the danger and confusion that swirled around Our Lord’s Passion, these women stayed faithful. They continued to believe in him. They tried to comfort him as he was being crucified. They helped bury him. They didn’t abandon him, as so many others — including the Apostles — did. And Jesus just can’t wait to reward them, so he appears to them.
Jesus will also remember all of our efforts to be faithful to him, to accompany him through suffering and rejection and failure, and he will eagerly give us a taste of his victory, when the time is right, just as he gave it to the two Marys.
The second thing St. Matthew makes sure to point out to us is that the appearance of the Resurrection happened early on the morning of the day after the sabbath.
The sabbath, for the Jews, took place on Saturday. So the Resurrection, the first Easter, took place on a Sunday. Sunday was the first day of the week, for the Jews. The early Christians saw this as more than just coincidence. It was on the first day of the week that God began his work of Creation.
Through the Resurrection, Jesus also begins the New Creation, the Redemption, on the first day. He brings the past to a close, and launches a new era of salvation. This is why Christians moved their weekly celebration of the Lord’s Day from Saturday to Sunday.
Sunday, the day of the Resurrection, the day of the
New Creation, the New Day of hope for eternal life and salvation — this is the Lord’s Day. And this is why the Church gathers in a special way every Sunday to celebrate the Lord and his victory over sin and suffering.
The early Christians had their Sunday Mass as close to sunrise as possible, turning every Sunday of the year into another celebration of Easter. They were known for that, for their Sunday celebrations of the Eucharist. It set them apart in the early years of Christianity; and it still sets us apart today.
This is why Sundays matter so much, even today, and why it is a mortal sin to purposely miss the gathering of God’s family around the Risen Lord at Sunday Mass.

Matthew 28:2 — The Angel and the Earthquake

In verse two, Matthew tells us:
And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it.
St. Matthew is the only Gospel writer to mention the earthquake. It mattered to him, because it symbolized the end of one age of history and the start of another. The age that was ending was the one that had begun with the Fall, and the exile of the human family from the Garden of Eden. From that time on, the human family had been under the rule of evil.
But that age is over now. Now the age of Redemption has begun. Jesus has conquered the powers of evil
by taking everything they could dish out — betrayal, abandonment, injustice, torture, humiliation, and death — and still coming back.
Just as an earthquake changes forever the seemingly unchangeable shape of the earth’s landscape, so
Christ’s resurrection changed forever the seemingly unchangeable shape of human history. It unleashed holiness and an entirely new kind of hope, which will be embodied through the centuries in the life and the saints of the Church.
As the women witness the earthquake, they also witness the appearance of the angel, who descends, approaches, rolls back the stone, and sits on it. The angel rolled back the stone to show that the tomb was empty. Jesus had already risen from the dead.
The angel sits on the stone as if to emphasize how paltry and weak were the powers of this fallen world that tried to destroy and bury Jesus, the incarnation of God’s love for mankind. The stone symbolizes everything that tries to separate us from God and his love.
The Lord is much more powerful than all of those things.
When we feel like we are stuck behind stones like that, we need to invoke the Lord, and beg him to send his angels to roll them away.

Matthew 28:3-4 — Otherworldly

In the next two verses, St. Matthew shows how the Resurrection is an otherworldly event, a divine invasion of our earthly realm. He writes:
His [the angel’s] appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow. The guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men.
– Matthew 8:3-4
Those guards were not wimps; they were tough guys, rough-and-tumble guys. But the presence of the angel, the presence of the super-natural, unmans them.
Sometimes I think we allow ourselves to become too used to Jesus. It’s good that he is close to us, and that he lowers himself to our level. And yet, He is still God — the all-powerful, the eternal, the magnificent.
Part of what gives Easter its particular flavor of victory is the taste of reverence that surrounds these unheard of events.

Matthew 28:5-7 — The Resurrection Is Announced

The angel ignores the stupefied guards, and addresses the women, the ones who loved Jesus and are searching for him.
In the next three verses, Matthew records the angel’s short speech:
Then the angel said to the women in reply, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ Behold, I have told you.”
– Matthew 28:5-7
“Do not be afraid!” Such a common phrase in the Gospels, throughout the entire Bible! Isn’t it true that God’s interventions in our lives, or his possible interventions, often spark fear in our hearts?

We are children of Adam and Eve, and so, as Pope Benedict XVI once put it,
… we all carry within us a drop of the poison of that way of thinking, illustrated by the images in the Book of Genesis… The human being does not trust God.
And yet, isn’t the message of the Resurrection precisely that we can trust God? He died for us; he has risen for us; in him we have all we can ever desire or need. The angel then shows the two Marys that he knows what they are doing, when he says, “I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified.”
The crucifixion, the most horrible sin mankind has ever committed, has become a title of honor for Jesus. Our Lord is “Jesus the Crucified,” God the savior, who took upon himself the full weight of evil and sin, so as to destroy it.
The Church will never let us forget this supreme expression of God’s love. Every place of worship, in fact, where the Eucharist is regularly celebrated, is required to display a crucifix.
But the crucifixion wasn’t the end of the story! The angel goes on to announce that the tomb is empty, Jesus has risen from the dead, and he wants to meet with his followers.
This truly is the Good News, the Gospel, the brand new event that transforms everything. No other religious leader in the history of humanity has even claimed to rise from the dead — not Buddha, not Confucius, not Mohammed.
Only Jesus has died and risen, and so only in Jesus can we hope for eternal life. This is his great victory: finally, good triumphs over evil. If Jesus hadn’t risen from the dead, he would have been just one more good guy who finished last.
But by rising from the dead, he makes all the fairy tales come true, he gives hope to history, he conquers an everlasting Kingdom. And once the angel fulfilled his duty to announce the Resurrection, he gives these two disciples a mission to spread the word, to pass on the message.
Isn’t this what Christianity is all about? Experiencing the power and the beauty of God’s merciful love, allowing that love to conquer our discouragement and hesitancy and give us new life, and then to boldly give to others what we have received.
The taste of victory can’t be fully enjoyed unless it is generously shared.

Matthew 28:8 — Overwhelmed with Joy

How did the two Marys respond to this announcement? Matthew describes it precisely:
Then they went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce this to his disciples.
– Matthew 28:8
They didn’t waste any time trying to figure everything out; they launched out on their God-given mission. And how did they feel? “fearful yet overjoyed.”
Have you ever wondered how those two things can go together? Have you ever been greatly afraid and full of joy at the same time? The fear has an element of reverence, of awe.
They recognize that they are on holy ground, that the divine realm is bursting in upon their lowly, humble earthly realm. And they weren’t expecting that; they hadn’t understood Jesus’ own prophecies about his resurrection.
But at the same time, the news itself fills them with great joy: it means that the hopes, the dreams, the promise of a new life with meaning and everlasting purpose have not disappeared in the dust of the crucifixion! The story continues — marvelously.
On those rare occasions when we attend Mass and aren’t tired, distracted, or preoccupied, sometimes we too feel the awe and the joy that the two Marys felt on that first Easter.
The awe comes from knowing that in every Mass heaven invades earth anew; and the joy comes from discovering afresh that God is thinking of me, and that he wants to stay with me in the Eucharist, to be with me, forever.

Matthew 28:9 — Jesus Can’t Wait

Full of awe, full of joy, not knowing what to think, the women rush off to tell the other disciples, but they don’t get very far before another surprise stops them in their tracks. St. Matthew describes what happened:
And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage.
– Matthew 28:9
I have often wondered why Jesus waited to appear to them. Why did he send the angel first, if he knew that he himself would show up just a few minutes later?
Maybe the two Marys had to make an act of faith in the Resurrection before he was able to let them see their Resurrected Lord. Maybe Jesus wasn’t planning on showing himself to them at all, but when he saw them running back to the Apostles, so full of faith and hope and love, he just couldn’t hold back, and he had to come to them.
Whatever the reason, “Jesus met them on their way,” and that Gospel phrase can fill us with comfort and confidence. Jesus will always meet us on our way.
As we go through our journey of faith, trying to fulfill our Christian mission each day, just as the Marys were trying to fulfill theirs, Jesus will never abandon us; he will always be with us; he will always give us whatever light, strength, or encouragement we need: “Jesus met them on their way.”
And their response to this dramatic development is just what ours should be: they approached, they embraced his feet, and they worshipped him.
This is the same response that the Three Wise Men had when they were filled with joy at the sight of the star and found Jesus with Mary in the house at Bethlehem (see Matthew 2:1-12).
Is it our response? How often does the victory of God’s mercy over the fallen world bring us to our knees and lift our hearts in adoration? How often should it? This too is part of the taste of victory.

Matthew 28:10 — Words of Command

Jesus doesn’t let the two Marys stay very long in adoration; after a little while, he calls them to action.
Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
– Matthew 28:10
But I don’t think he does this rudely. I always picture him helping them to stand up and looking into their faces with a smile — what other expression could be on his face when he says, “Do not be afraid”?
And then he gives them a share in his mission, reaffirming the task laid upon them by the angel. He instructs the women to pass on the message of the Resurrection to the Apostles, but he doesn’t call them his disciples, his apostles, or even his followers: rather, he calls them his brothers.
This is the first time in the Gospel of Matthew that Jesus calls them that Something has changed in his relationship with his followers after his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. Two things, actually, have changed.
First, Jesus has now experienced everything about the human condition: he has suffered in every way imaginable during his Passion, and he has descended into the frightful darkness of death. Now Jesus is fully our brother; he has been through the valley
of darkness, just as all of us go through it at some point during our earthly pilgrimage. How his heart must rejoice to be able to assure us now that nothing we suffer can separate us from him, who suffered everything for our sake!
And second, Jesus has finally repaired the damage done by original sin. Now the floodgates of
grace have been opened, and through that grace, believers now share the very life of God — we have become children of God, and brothers and sisters of God’s Son.
This too is included in the taste of Christ’s victory over sin, death, and evil.


Conclusion & Further Reflection

Take some time now to bask in the bright light of the Resurrection, to feel the powerful earthquake of God’s love, to let your hearts be filled with awe and joy, to kneel at the feet of the Resurrected Lord, and to feel the warmth of his smile upon your face.
Hear him tell you: “Do not be afraid!” And let him give you anew your task, your mission in his Kingdom.
Jesus wants you to tell him what’s in your heart, and he wants you to find out what’s in his.
Peter proceeded to speak and said: “You know what has happened all over Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached, how God anointed Jesus
of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by
the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree. This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead”– Acts 10: 34a, 37-41 NABR
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, his mercy endures forever… In danger I called on the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me free. The LORD is with me; I am not afraid; what can mortals do against me? The LORD is with me as my helper; I shall look in triumph on my foes. Better to take refuge in the LORD than to put one’s trust in mortals… I was hard pressed and falling, but the LORD came to my help. The LORD, my strength and might, has become my savior… The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. By the LORD has this been done; it is wonderful in our eyes. This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice in it and be glad.
– Psalm 118: 1, 5-8, 13-14, 22-24, NABR

1. When have I experienced most intensely the Taste of Christ’s Easter Victory? Savor that memory and thank God for that experience.

2. How would the world — and my life — be different if Jesus had not risen from the dead?

3. How much does the way I celebrate the Lord’s Day every week reflect the victory of Easter? What could I change to reflect it better?
But if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some among you say there is no resurrection of
the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then empty [too] is our preaching; empty, too, your faith… if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life
only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.
– 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, NABR

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