Matthew 28:1-10
Easter: Victory over death
by Rev. Robert Wagner

Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Matthew wrote to show that Christ was the
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.

After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.  And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it.  His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow.  The guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men.  Then the angel said to the women in reply, "Do not be afraid!  I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified.  He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said.  Come and see the place where he lay.  Then go quickly and tell his disciples, 'He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.'  Behold, I have told you."  Then they went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce this t his disciples.  And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them.  They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage.  Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid.  Go tell my brothers to go Galilee, and there they will see me."

Every Easter Sunday, Christians celebrate that death has been conquered by Our Savior, Jesus Christ.  While this truth should be a cause for joy and a source of peace, it is a truth we may have grown accustomed to after 2,000 years.  In that sense, it is one that we may overlook or take for granted, especially when the trappings of Easter Sunday can tempt us to treat the greatest of Holy Days into more of a holiday.  Easter, and the mystery we celebrate on that day, is meant to be so much more.

When we lose someone dear to us or when we contemplate our own mortality, we experience the sadness and even the fear of separation that death from those we hold dear.  We are tempted to see death as an end.

On that first Easter, the third day after Jesus was laid in the tomb, His disciples must have felt that Christ's mission was over.  No one had ever defeated death.  It had claimed everyone.

Two women - Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James and Joseph - went to Christ's tomb in the darkness before the first hint of dawn's light.  Suddenly, an earthquake announced that a great event was occurring.  Then, an angel arrayed in brightness explained what it was: "Do not be afraid!  I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified.  He is not here, for He has been raised just as He said" (Mt 28:5-6).

The angel noted that Jesus had foretold His resurrection.  One such occurrence took place when He was descending Mount Tabor with Peter, James and John after His Transfiguration.  At that time, Jesus told them to remain silent about what they had seen on the mountain until He had "risen from the dead."  In what seems like an absurdity today, Mark tells us about the Apostles did not understand what "rising from the dead" could possibly mean (Mk9:9-10.

Christians today know that Jesus rose from the dead, but this was not the case with His Apostles.  While they had seen Jesus raise others from the dead " Lazarus (Jn 11:1-44), the son of the widow of Nain (Lk 7:11-17), and the daughter of Jarius (Luke 8:40-65) - how could He raise Himself from His own tomb?  Even after witnessing these greatest miracles, His disciples could not imagine Christ's resurrection.

The experience of the majestic angel left the two Marys in awe, yet overjoyed.  The impossible now seemed probable, and moment later, indisputable, for they themselves encountered Our Risen Lord in the flesh.  The lifeless body they had seen placed in the tomb on Good Friday (Mt:27:61) was now before them, full of life.  As they embraced Jesus and paid Him homage, perhaps they realized that the world had changed forever.  Likely, however, it took much longer for that reality to set in.

Today, we are the children of that reality, gathering each Easter to celebrate the event that redefined life and death.  The empty tomb means that death is no longer the end, but is instead a new beginning, Jesus, the Light of the Word, has promised that He, and anyone who places their faith in Him, can never be extinguished.  "I am the resurrection and the life," says the Lord.  "Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, with life, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die" (Jn 11:25-26).

Let us seek to draw deeper into this mystery of faith, meditating on it and praying for the faith that allows the resurrection to be the source of our hope and joy.  May we rejoice anew the Easter and forever more that Jesus Christ has risen from the tomb and defeated death for us!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

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