Monday, 17 March 2008

Matthew 28 Women witnesses to the resurrection

All four gospels are agreed that women went first to the tomb of the first day of the week and discovered the tomb to be empty. The plausibility of Mark’s account that they went to complete the embalmment of the body has long been questioned. Indeed Mark himself has the women question the viability of it. Matthew suggests that the women simply came to visit the tomb. The desire to visit the last resting place of a friend is a powerful motive in almost any culture. No other motive need be postulated. However, there developed a tradition in Judaism whereby the tomb was watched for three days to stay with the dead person until the soul left the body. When this became a traditional and habitual practice is disputed. But recent evidence seems to suggest that the practice went back to the 1st century CE and continued up to the Byzantine era. The women, then, go to watch over the tomb. Matthew’s account seems to suggest, also, that they went as soon as the Sabbath was over: that is at the first opportunity. They therefore form the counter witness to the false witness of the guards who had specifically been placed to watch over the tomb – not in mourning or in fulfilment of traditional burial procedure, but for reasons of security. It seems that may have even witnessed the earthquake and the descent of the angel and his rolling away the stone.
The main difference in Matthew’s account from that of Mark is that just as the women were leaving the tomb, in a mixture of fear and joy, to go and tell the disciples the great news Jesus himself appears to them. In marked contrast to other resurrection stories they instantly recognize him and throw themselves at his feet grabbing him round the legs in worship and love. Jesus tells them not to fear but to go and tell. Jesus gives them the same message that the young man gives to the women in Mark’s gospel.
When they do go back to Galilee Jesus meets them on the top of a mountain: Some of the 11 are still in doubt; they wait to hear his teaching. But it is not teaching they receive: Jesus asserts his authority as Lord. What they receive is an ordination: the mission field has no boundaries; their task is to baptize; those baptized are to be taught to obey every command of Jesus. They are to build houses on the rock. It is a renewed warning to all readers of the gospel. Jesus’s teaching as reported in this gospel is not for approval or analysis. It is not directed at the mind but at the will. It is passed on to us as an imperative not an option. And the risen Jesus in not limited in his presence to Galilee or even Palestine. He remains Emmanuel until the end of time.
If Mark leaves us bewildered and fearful of how the resurrection is going to impact upon us a disciples, sending us back to first principles and urging us to revisit old haunts with faith instead of fear, Matthew announces the triumph of Jesus with a fanfare of trumpets and a ring of assurance: in the words of Edmond Budry’s great hymn:

Craindrais-je encore? Il vit à jamais,
Celui que j’adore, le Prince de paix;
Il est ma victoire, mon puissant soutien,
Ma vie et ma gloire : non, je ne crains rien!
À toi la gloire, O Ressuscité!
À toi la victoire pour l’éternité!

He lives for ever, what is there to fear?
Prince of peace triumphant, him whom I adore
My supporting conqueror, hero ever near
He my life my glory, no I shall not fear!
To you all glory, risen Lord for aye
Yours the saving victory through eternity.

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