MATTHEW’S RESURRECTION: SURPRISE ENCOUNTERS
Image by He Qi
In this time of pandemic and social distancing, it may not feel much like Eastertide. The resurrection may seem distant or even overly forced in the face of so much sickness, death, and struggle. So, how do we proclaim an honest resurrection in a COVID-19 Good Friday world?
As I suggest in my first post, I think three of our gospel writers—Mark, Matthew, and John—might offer guidance for how we preach resurrection throughout the Easter season (no matter the preaching text) in ways that are faithful and truthful under the weight of our pandemic reality.
If Mark’s resurrection account is marked by fear and uncertainty, Matthew’s account is marked by surprise. The story begins just as morning is dawning and the two Marys are headed to the tomb. The first surprise strikes with a great earthquake announcing the arrival of an angel. It is so surprising, in fact, that the officials guarding the tomb “shook and became like dead men” out of fear. The Marys are told of the good news of the resurrection by the angel on the stone and are commissioned to “go quickly and tell the disciples.” Filled with a combination of fear and joy, the women rush off to do as they are told. And then they encounter the ultimate surprise: Jesus meets them on the way, revealing his resurrected self to them with words of greetings. After a time of worship, Jesus then sends the women on their way, back to the original work they had set out to do—tell the disciples the good news and to send the to Galilee to see the resurrected Jesus for themselves.
The entire text is littered with imperative verbs like “behold” (idou) (translated by NRSV as “suddenly”) and the pace is fast with the women moving “quickly” to tell the disciples. It is a breathless account where the Marys move from one mission to the next. They are busy, trying to keep up with what is going on and trying to stay on track. And yet, even as they have their heads down and are hurrying to follow the angel’s directions to tell the disciples what has happened and to pass on further marching orders, they bump headlong into the resurrected Christ.
Perhaps it may be that way for us in this Eastertide season. Many preachers, pastors, caregivers, parents, teachers, and workers, find themselves occupied with the challenging realities of the present time and the tasks of these strange pandemic-scarred days. People are trying to keep their heads down and make it through the struggles of social distancing. Citizens are trying to keep up with the latest protective measures and are struggling to figure out how to safely attain essentials like food and medicine. Those on the front lines—doctors, nurses, hospital workers—are trying to sustain energy and offer care under oppressive and heartbreaking conditions. Community servants like grocery store workers, pharmacists, garbage collectors, and delivery workers are all trying to keep up with increased demand and figure out how to do their job in new—and safer—ways. Pastors are busier than ever trying to figure out how to move worship online or send prayer packets to members who cannot easily log on. Even as we are told to remain inside there is a freneticism to these days as the infection rate and death toll rises and as we try to figure out a new normal. And yet, Matthew reminds us, even as we try to focus on the task and work at hand, the resurrected Christ might surprise us and show up right in the middle of our work and our fear and our frenzied pace. Perhaps in this world of pandemic pandemonium we need to remember (and remind others) that we don’t have to look for the resurrected Christ; the resurrected Christ shows up and may surprise us—right where we are, right in the middle of what we are doing. We don’t have to force an Easter feeling or fabricate a resurrection experience in these COVID-19 Good Friday days. The resurrected Christ might just find us.