by Sr. Hildegard Magdalen Pleva, OSsR 4/16/06
Father began to read the Gospel and I knew something was off. “Matthew, Matthew! That’s not the one for this year of the Readings Cycle. Oh dear, the people must be confused. Oh, OK. No way to avoid it so go with the flow. Open the ‘ears of your heart’. What may it to say to you? What do you need to hear?” This stream of conscious thought brought me to attention, cleared away momentary distraction, and tuned the inner ear to listen for a particular meaning the Gospel of Easter Vigil Mass could have in store for me.
By this time in the dramatic Vigil liturgy the mind is filled with the stories of momentous events in salvation history. In addition, accounts of the Resurrection are so familiar to us that the effort to take in the Gospel can seem as futile as trying to add liquid to an already brimming cup. The impulse to put aside dismay and judgment in favor of opening the “ears of the heart” was the Spirit's gift, a grace prodding me into attention.
The author of the Gospel of Matthew, a teacher of discipleship, did not miss this chance to present another formula of commission, another directive to those who would follow the Master. Here, in the middle of this simple, no frills, account of the astonishing sight which greeted grieving women upon their arrival at Jesus’ tomb, the author assigns to an angel words that can be considered an outline of the way of being for those who would be disciple:
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 into Galilee, there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.
“Do not be afraid.”
Fear must have been as natural to those who knew Jesus in the flesh as it is to us. How often Jesus said, “Do not be afraid.” Not to scold but to console. We are implored to trust so that we can move ahead without fear constricting and handicapping movement of body and heart. Elsewhere Jesus said, “I am with you always.’ By the words uttered in this pericope another promise is made, a promise of sure connection between Jesus and the disciple. The disciple is to proceed surefooted, supported by faith in the constant companionship of Jesus.
“I know that you are seeking Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raise, as he said.”
Their desire to see Jesus in his bodily humanity is affirmed. The body they sought was just like them, subject to all that human beings experience except sin; a body ravaged by cruelty and the agony of asphyxiation on a Roman cross. However, the angel corrects their expectation, redirecting them to a higher vision. What they knew only in part had come to its fullness. The ruined body was now glorified; its very wounds bearing even greater witness to the nature and glory of the Father. And this is so, “as he said.”
How addicted I am to remaining mired in the darkness of things which seem dead in their hopelessness? How often do I automatically see things as being ‘half empty’ instead of ‘half full’? The disciple is to believe what Jesus said and look beyond the negatives, beyond all evidence to the contrary and live in hope, a Resurrection hope.
Because the promise has been fulfilled we need not remain absorbed in the weakness and suffering of our human nature. Nor can we become depressed and trapped by the parade of tragedies passing before our eyes during the evening news. And we cannot sink into complete sorrow as we observe great struggling within our circle of family and friends; battles with disease, joblessness, misguided youth, deteriorating marriages, spirals of addiction, or grief in loss. “…He has been raised” and we are called to hope and renewal; a frame of reference that leaves room for grace, for the power of the Spirit, and for the compassion of God, “as he said.”
“Come and see the place where he lay.”
We are not asked to build our life of discipleship merely on the words of others, even if those words are uttered by an angel. “Come and see” is the invitation to go beyond the words; to enter the process yourself and become available, open and ready to see with clear eyes; to listen attentively so as to hear in the depths, permitting words to penetrate the heart. The invitation is to transform the life of faith from exercise of passive observation into one that is fully experiential, fully participating, awake and aware, seeing and feeling as never before. Jesus begs us to allow ourselves to be touched by Him, by grace, by what goes on around us in our families, workplaces, communities, nation and even the world.
“Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead…”
“Go...and tell...” No doubt about the commission here; go, move; do something proactive that brings you to those who need to hear the Word, with whom you can share the joy of the Good News. Tell them that Jesus is risen; the suffering Messiah has been raised to the glory of the Father. How are we to “tell” it all, those of us without pulpit or soapbox? Each of the baptized is commissioned to “go and tell”; to witness to Christ as our baptismal right because we have “put him on” and assumed his identity. We speak the Gospel, the Good News, by our very being, walking, talking, doing, in the name of Jesus, the glorious risen Jesus. No leeway here to abdicate our oratorical vocation. We are to work, love, comfort, teach, vote, in such a way that no one will say as Ghandi once did, “Oh, I don’t reject your Christ. I love your Chirst. It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
“…He is going before you into Galilee, there you will see him.”
While the entire world is the rightful concern of Christians each of us occupies a very specific and limited space, seemingly a sphere of minimal influence. Because the place we occupy in the world is so well known to us we perceive it as boring in its ordinariness and lacking in romance so we lose our imagination. We respond to God’s invitation saying, “Oh, what can I do? I am only one person and, after all, you can’t fight City Hall.”
In the grandiosity of youth and religious fervor, St. Therese of Lisieux prayed to be a missionary in Vietnam. Gradually she came to recognize God’s plan, that in the tedium of a small town monastery, in the company of women prone to every human weakness and foible, yet capable of great goodness, she found her “little way of love”, a path to extraordinary holiness. The angel told the disciples to go to Galilee, to go home to the place where they came from, where their families and friends were. They have sought Jesus. They need to see Jesus. But He is not to be found in tomb. He will be found in the most familiar environment, in a very ordinary place, among ordinary people. “There you will see him.” With the disciples we receive the promise that we will see Jesus in the everyday and the commonplace. No need to despair because we cannot go on pilgrimage or retreat or pray as much as we would like. The commission is to put on Christ and be fully present to your circumstance and the people in it. In return, we will surely be rewarded by apparitions of our Savior in the daily, the ordinary, the routine and the flawed.
“This is my message for you.”
How much more direct can the angel be? Today such a vision might deliver the question, “You got it? This is my message for you.” Just as the word “Amen” is used in the original Hebrew to punctuate, to underline, the importance of what is being said, this phrase is meant to emphasize the crucial message, its truth and heavenly origin. Jesus was so often disappointed by the lack of comprehension of his message among the disciples. He would ask, “Do you not understand what I have said to you?” The words of this angel are God's plea for our understanding, our trust and our faith. They underline the life and death nature of the directives issued. Do not be afraid. Raise your eyes to hope. Enter into the process. Live the words of Jesus Christ in your own time and place. And be assured that Jesus will be there.