Image: Tombstone Mountain Territorial Park, YT
It is Easter Monday and the news of the resurrection of Jesus is finally starting to take hold. There is a pronounced difference in tone between John’s telling of the story, which we heard on Easter Sunday, and today’s version from the Gospel of Matthew. It is the same story but told from two different perspectives.
Travelling on the land in the Arctic is not always a predictable experience. Recall those feelings that you get when a close friend or relative is overdue and they don’t call. At first it is just a feeling of annoyance and frustration as you think about their lack of consideration and your own inconvenience. But then, as minutes turn into hours, frustration begins to turn to worry and our gut begins to gnaw at us with the sense that something is wrong.
Multiply that experience then when hours turn into days due to mechanical failure or weather that makes travel dangerous and communication impossible, the dread of what could have happened really begins to settle in. Imagine then the great relief when finally our loved one returns, all of those negative feelings disappear the moment we see them. Our hearts soar with joy and, even if they have a poor excuse, it is hard to believe that we were ever angry with them and the worry fades away.
This story could be told in so many different ways depending on who is telling it and at what point in time the story is being told. The same holds true for the story of the resurrection.
In John’s gospel Mary Magdalene approaches the tomb alone and in the dark. She encounters a mystery which frightens her and there is no one to help her understand what it is she is seeing. When she tells Peter and the other disciple what she has found, they too are puzzled and hesitant, unsure as to what they should do next. For John the understanding of the resurrection is not something that can be taken for granted but rather is a process which only unfolds with time.
Matthew, on the other hand, is already there. He has two woman approaching the tomb together. Rather than darkness we are told that there is daylight approaching. In the ensuing calamity of the earthquake a messenger helpfully appears and not only explains to them in detail what is happening but also shares with the women what they need to do next. The icing on the cake is that, when they finally leave to tell the other disciples what they have seen, they run into the resurrected Jesus in person and he tells them that there is no need to be afraid. It is no wonder that, when the disciples find them, the women are overflowing with joy.
The same story from two perspectives. “Hindsight”, as they say, “is 20-20.” It is looking back at where we have been that we begin to see the clear path that had before looked only like the tangled mess of a rabbit trail. From this perspective we find confidence to speak about our experiences that once had weighed us down with worry. This is the confidence that now allows Peter, who had recently denied Jesus three times, to stand before the crowds and quote the faithful King David,
“I saw the Lord before me always,for with him at my right hand nothing can shake me.So my heart was glad”and my tongue cried out with joy.
We have the benefit of this hindsight. We have the whole Tradition and memory of the Church for our edification. We have the shared faith experiences handed down to us by our families and we have our own life experiences. All of this telling us that, as we approach the empty tomb, there is no need to be afraid, “He is not here, for he has risen, as he said he would.”