WELCOME to the latest email recipients
of "First Impressions," the parishioners of Our Lady of Mercy Parish
in Daly City, Ca.
Today readers of Matthew’s Gospel
welcome the re-appearance of an angelic figure. The attentive reader
is alerted to the significance of today’s narrative because Matthew
saves angelic appearances for only the most important moments in his
gospel. We recall angels in the Nativity and desert temptation
accounts. On the mount of Transfiguration two other heavenly figures
appear, Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. These three are key
moments in Matthew’s narrative – hence the heavenly figures.
Today an angel is at the empty tomb to
calm and then send the two Marys to tell the news of Christ’s
resurrection to the disciples. Some dramatists might enhance the
scene at the tomb with a trumpet blast. Matthew does it with an
angel, bright as lightning with snow-white garments. The guards,
representatives of the state that executed Jesus as a criminal, were
overcome with fear and were "like dead men." The power of the most
powerful and oppressive nation of the time, Rome, shrinks back in
fear and impotency. The message is clear: no power, or evil force,
can overcome our God who gives life to the dead. The angel rolls
back the stone and sits on it, as if on a triumphant throne. God is
the Victor – death has been defeated.
The story is about grace – as it always
is. Who can triumph over evil and death? We Americans are a "can-do
people." John F. Kennedy promised the nation that in 10 years we
would put an American on the moon – and we did. On 9/11 the Twin
Towers were destroyed and now a new World Trade Center has been
built and dedicated. Our hard work and determination have yielded
But, try as we might, we cannot defeat
death. That’s God’s work. God has done the unexpected and the angel
of the Lord is there to announce it. At the empty tomb the two women
are appointed to be the first preachers of the Good News. The
heavenly messenger sends them, "Go quickly and tell his disciples."
Before they are sent with the news of
the resurrection the angel tells the women, "Do not be afraid!" What
do they and we have to be afraid of? We live in a world where fear
can keep people from speaking the truth and reaching out across
national, economic and racial divides. In "the old days" people
didn’t seem to feel so self-conscious if they were beliervers. Then,
few people admitted they were atheists or didn’t belong to any faith
tradition. In my large, extended family, I had a second cousin who
claimed he was an atheist. At family gatherings, when he was
present, inevitably someone would challenge him and, once again,
ask, "Why don’t you go to church?"
These days the roles are reversed.
People are less shy about admitting they are nonbelievers and, it
seems, believers are more on the defensive. We might be called naïve
for expressing faith in a resurrected savior and life after death.
People admire us for our charitable works but, belief in the
resurrection? Forget about it!
The angel’s reassuring words, "Do not
be afraid!" are spoken to us too as we celebrate Christ’s
resurrection. The women shouldn’t be afraid because their crucified
leader is not in the tomb, he is risen. The angel makes the
announcement and invites them to see for themselves; the tomb is
empty. But the body isn’t merely gone. Jesus is "raised from the
dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee, there you will see
Pope Francis has reminded us that we
are an evangelizing church. Each baptized Christian has the same
role the women were given by the angel, "Do not be afraid...go
quickly and tell…." Despite the bemused looks we might receive from
our sophisticated, modern neighbors, we still are charged to witness
to our faith in the risen Lord by our actions and words. In many and
diverse ways our lives must reflect the faith we profess this day,
"Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again."
Had the tomb not been empty and Jesus’
body still there, the women would have arrived at the tomb, grieved
and shared precious, personal memories of their dead teacher. Then,
disappointed and sad, they would have returned to their old lives,
picked up the pieces of their shattered hopes and gone on living.
It’s what we do with the death of a loved one. They are gone –
period. Life must go on without them. If they have suffered, we are
relieved they don’t have to suffer anymore. Now we must return to
our regular lives and do the best we can without them.
But, for those women and for us, there
is that angel at the empty tomb. We believers can’t ignore the
message we have heard, "Do not be afraid!… He is not here, for he
has been raised just as he said…. go quickly and tell his
The women couldn’t go back to their
regular lives. If someone told them, "Get over it!" They would have
responded, "We can’t. Jesus is risen and we have to share the good
news with those who haven’t heard it yet!" These first preachers
speak for all of us as well.
Jesus is risen and we have to take
seriously what he said to us: "Take up your cross and follow me…
Feed the hungry… Clothe the naked… Forgive those who offend you… Be
peacemakers… Forego vengeance… Love your enemies… Share your riches
with the poor etc." We are near the end of Matthew’s gospel. Now
that Christ is risen we can go back to hear it again what Jesus told
his disciples to do – and not be afraid to do it and speak it.
If I were there at the empty tomb, I
would make a personal response to the angel. "What do you mean,
‘Don’t be afraid!’ Of course I’m afraid. How can I live the life
Jesus calls me to live in the world? The cards are stacked against
me and I don’t always get much encouragement from even my family and
friends – much less my enemies. I lack the courage to stand out from
the crowd and be Christ-like. I need help!"
The angel might respond and tell us and
other readers of Matthew’s gospel, "Hang in there. Read a little
further on to the end of the chapter and believe what the risen
Christ says to his disciples as he sends them out, ‘And know that I
am with you always, until the end of the world’" (28:20).