May 18, 2014

New Creation

After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’
Matthew’s Gospel account of the Resurrection is the most dramatic of the 4 Gospels. It is reminiscent of Creation itself. The first day of the week is dawning. I am reminded of the song “Morning Has Broken”, sung by Cat Stevens way back in the 60’s and 70’s.

Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the Word
Sweet the rains new fall, sunlit from Heaven
Like the first dewfall on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where His feet pass
Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God's recreation of the new day
Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the Word

Into this rather idyllic setting comes change-creation is happening and it is not subtle. “Suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.”(Matthew 28:2-4) Unlike the previous Gospel accounts, the women actually witness the stone being rolled away. In Hubert van Eyck’s painting of the Three Marys at the Grave (I know it’s one too many Marys), the women appear pretty composed considering what they have just seen. The guards on the other hand, are either sleeping or have been knocked unconscious.
The scene conjures up Haggai 2:5-7 so richly sung in Handel’s Messiah, which you can hear in the video below.   A new creation is formed but only through the shaking and reorganizing of the old. The guards of the old way have been stunned and immobilized, the women are empowered and sent out as ambassadors of the new creation!

Perhaps the Marys were not as calm as pictured, because the angel first assures them, “Do not be afraid.” It is the standard greeting of angelic visitors. After all, we aren’t accustomed to meeting angels who overturn gravestones and announce resurrection. Maybe we should be more aware of them around us announcing new creation!
Then the angel continues, “I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” (Matthew 28:5-7) Even though this is an angel, he has been given a specific message to deliver and has done so.
In each of the Gospel accounts, I am amazed at the courage of the women. In Matthew’s account, they accept the words of the angel and “left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.” They willingly believe the angel’s pronouncement of a new creation. The angel has announced a new world order. Something never before known has happened: “He has been raised from the dead.” And they run to tell others.
Their obedience is rewarded when “Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him.” (Matthew 28:8-9) If the women had any hesitation in returning to the men or any doubts, they now have proof that the angel’s message was true. They have seen the Risen Lord. As they leave, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
In this Gospel we do not get to hear what the response of the disciples was. From our previous readings, we know that they were doubtful. Matthew tells us that the 11 disciples do go to Galilee where they meet Jesus. He gives them the Great Commission saying, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
A new creation has come that will go out from Israel to all nations. As Haggai promises, “’I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory,' says the LORD of hosts.” (Haggai 2:7) All peoples will come and be partners in the new creation.
How are we to be part and partners in that new creation? Are there angels nearby announcing amazing tidings, of new creation, to us that we should be sharing? What new creation are we called to participate in? Is your life part of the new creation?

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