Note: The following is a textual revision of a biblical reflection that I offered to and with my parish community of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, last night during the livestream of the Night Service from the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer.
Over the years, when speaking of Easter, oft I’ve heard many preachers say, in so many words (and, in fullest confession, I’ve said it, too!): “I don’t know what new to say that I haven’t already said!”
And, over the years, I have learned to say to them (and to myself!): “There’s always something new to say, which, truly, is old, for embedded in the scripture are revelations for the finding!”
(And I say this as a daily Bible reader since my sophomore year in college. That spring semester, now, forty-eight years ago, I enrolled in an introductory course to the Old and New Testaments. I was a political science major. Law school was my goal. Yet something called me to take that class. Who knows? Perhaps it was the Spirit’s leading me to my initial grounding in what would prove to be my life’s vocation! My primary point here is that having read the Bible every day for nearly a half century, it never ceases to amaze me that I will discover something new in a text I’ve read countless times. Yet, on immediate reflection, I always realize that what I considered new was always there and that I, due to my prior lack of attentiveness, awareness, or, simply, dull-wittedness, had not seen it.)
Matthew begins his account of that first Easter Day, writing: As the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb (Matthew 28.1). Then he adds a detail that does not appear in Mark, Luke, or John…
The presence of Roman soldiers to guard the tomb (lest, as the authorities feared, Jesus’ disciples might steal his body and declare that he had risen from the dead), who, at the coming of an angel and an attendant earthquake, in fear, “became like dead men.”
Then the angel, before testifying, “(Jesus) is not here, for he has been raised,” said to the women, “Do not be afraid.” A word of comfort, in its immediate context, which I interpret to mean, “Do not be frightened like these terrified, comatose soldiers.”
So, it seems to me, the powers and principalities of this world, as symbolized by the Roman soldiers, react to the resurrection of Jesus in fear. For they cannot control God. (For power, in whatever form, always seeks to control and what it cannot control it destroys or otherwise strives to rule out of existence.)
However, all who believe in the resurrection of Jesus need not, need never fear.
For, and this is good news, the stone is rolled away from the entrance to the tomb not to let Jesus out, for he is risen! (Indeed, if the stone had to be rolled away in order to let Jesus out, presumably the Roman soldiers stationed there to guard against precisely that would have prevented it!)
The stone is rolled away from the entrance to the tomb to let us in, so that we might behold that the tomb is empty and believe that Jesus is risen!
To behold and to believe in risen Love that death could not and can never keep dead is to believe, to know that we need not, need never fear.
Illustration: Mary Magdalene and the Holy Women at the Tomb, James Tissot (1836-1902)