Fourth Station of the Resurrection:
The Angel appears to the Women
(Matthew 28: 5-8)
It is well known that I have an overactive imagination. Whether it be dreaming about flying to a distant planet, or even unearthing an archaeological treasure house like Tutankhamun’s tomb, I have pictured myself doing lots of strange and wonderful things. And imagination is not a bad thing. Indeed, even St Ignatius of Loyola stressed the importance of dreaming as part of spiritual meditation and discipline. For example, to picture yourself walking along the shore of Galilee with your Lord can be a powerful and prayerful experience.
Many years ago I paid a visit to the Holy Land. I did the usual things, you know, climb the mount of the Beatitudes (more like a small hill rather than a mountain!), bathe in the Dead Sea, and even visit the church at Cana. Alas, there was no free wine on offer. The ‘highlight’ of the tour, so to speak, was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where you can pray at the spot where the cross stood, and see the split in the rock which resulted from the subsequent earthquake. Fr Terry mentioned this on Sunday. If you ignore the cacophony of the various Christian denominations trying to ‘out sing’ each other in various parts of the church, you can see the stone on which the body of Christ lay in the tomb. (In fact, part of the stone that was rolled away can still be seen – a sad portion of its former self.) When I went to that slab of stone, you are not so much greeted by an angel, but normally by other pilgrims, or even a bearded priest trying to keep some sort of order, rearranging the crash-barrier to manage the que. Regardless of the reality, I could not but help imagine what the scene would have been like for those women who came to the tomb on that first Easter Day. When we read the few verses prior to today’s gospel reading, we learn there was an earthquake, and an angel came from above and rolled the stone away.
If you have ever seen the film The Greatest Story ever Told, which stars Max von Sydow as Jesus Christ, you will remember that the famous singer Pat Boone played the angel, dressed in white from head to foot looking, well, angelic. I can’t say that a vision of Pat Boone appeared in my mind as I was standing in that church in Jerusalem, but I tried to imagine what those women were feeling when they saw what had happened and heard him speak. Perhaps fear? Possibly surprise?
Who were these women? Matthew tells us that they were Mary Magdalene and ‘the other Mary’, presumably the mother of James, Joseph and sons of Zebedee, and Matthew tells us that these two had witnessed the crucifixion itself. And the angel connects the Jesus of the resurrection with the Jesus who suffered an awful death on the wooden cross, the death they had just witnessed. The angel says ‘I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified’. There was no getting away from that fact.
But let us have a closer look at the words spoken by the angel. In this passage we see that the angel references both pain and joy. The angel is clearly aware of the pain that is being experienced by those women: they had seen his death, they now saw an empty tomb. Where was the body of the one they had followed faithfully? But there is the joy and comfort, too. As the angel tells them, ‘Do not be afraid . . . ‘ and later ‘ he is not here; for he has been raised . . . ‘
Even on that first Easter day, people experienced both pain and joy. Just as Jesus came to know what it was like to be human, so the angel also addressed those concerns and feelings that humans have. In our earthly lives, and especially today, we all have an understanding of pain and joy. Even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, when the statistics go ever upward and the discomfort of lockdown continues to bite, there is joy. There is the joy of communities coming together, albeit through strange and peculiar means, and greater co-operation between nations around the globe; there are wonderful feats of fund-raising and fund-giving.
The women left the tomb in fear, no surprise there, but with great joy. It is a reminder that even in the midst of pain and fear, there is great joy, and for Christians the joy of resurrection hope. Don’t be afraid to run and share that news with others, keeping of course a respectful two metre gap.