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Apr 15, 2017

Holy Saturday

At the Easter Vigil in the Holy Night of Easter

Gospel MT 28:1-10

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 to 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 to Galilee,
and there they will see me.”


Reflecting & Living God’s Words

At the Easter Vigil in the Holy Night of Easter
Gospel MT 28:1-10

Interesting Details:
• The same two women witness Jesus' death (MT 27:56), burial (MT 27:61) and empty tomb. It was a Jewish custom to watch the tomb of a loved one for three days.
• There are a number of images of the "end-times": "Earthquake" (as in MT 27:51-54); "the guards grew paralyzed [from the same word as earthquake] and fell down like dead men".
• The stone symbolizes death, and the angel rolling the stone away and sitting on it symbolizes the victory over death.
• The angels' garments are "dazzling as snow" echoing the transfiguration.
• In MT 26:32 Jesus promised that "after I have been raised up I will go before you into Galilee."

One Main Point:
He is vindicated, with dignity and splendor. The resurrection itself is not described, and accessible only by faith. It points to the Kingdom of God, which is still not in its fullness on earth.

1. There were different reactions to Jesus' resurrection: joy, fear, paralysis, running, or a combination. How do I react?
2. Image to myself Jesus appearing to me, saying "peace," and my doing Him homage.


At the Easter Vigil in the Holy Night of Easter

(Gn 1:1-22; Gn 22:1-18; Ex 14:15–15:1; Is 54:5-14; Is 55:1-11; Bar 3:9-15; Ez 36:16-17a,18-28; Rom 6:3-11; Matthew 28:1-10)

Today readers of Matthew’s Gospel welcome the re-appearance of an angelic figure. The attentive reader is alerted to the significance of today’s narrative because Matthew saves angelic appearances for only the most important moments in his gospel. We recall angels in the Nativity and desert temptation accounts. On the mount of Transfiguration two other heavenly figures appear, Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. These three are key moments in Matthew’s narrative – hence the heavenly figures.

Today an angel is at the empty tomb to calm and then send the two Marys to tell the news of Christ’s resurrection to the disciples. Some dramatists might enhance the scene at the tomb with a trumpet blast. Matthew does it with an angel, bright as lightning with snow-white garments. The guards, representatives of the state that executed Jesus as a criminal, were overcome with fear and were "like dead men." The power of the most powerful and oppressive nation of the time, Rome, shrinks back in fear and impotency. The message is clear: no power, or evil force, can overcome our God who gives life to the dead. The angel rolls back the stone and sits on it, as if on a triumphant throne. God is the Victor – death has been defeated.

The story is about grace – as it always is. Who can triumph over evil and death? We Americans are a "can-do people." John F. Kennedy promised the nation that in 10 years we would put an American on the moon – and we did. On 9/11 the Twin Towers were destroyed and now a new World Trade Center has been built and dedicated. Our hard work and determination have yielded impressive results.

But, try as we might, we cannot defeat death. That’s God’s work. God has done the unexpected and the angel of the Lord is there to announce it. At the empty tomb the two women are appointed to be the first preachers of the Good News. The heavenly messenger sends them, "Go quickly and tell his disciples."

Before they are sent with the news of the resurrection the angel tells the women, "Do not be afraid!" What do they and we have to be afraid of? We live in a world where fear can keep people from speaking the truth and reaching out across national, economic and racial divides. In "the old days" people didn’t seem to feel so self-conscious if they were beliervers. Then, few people admitted they were atheists or didn’t belong to any faith tradition. In my large, extended family, I had a second cousin who claimed he was an atheist. At family gatherings, when he was present, inevitably someone would challenge him and, once again, ask, "Why don’t you go to church?"

These days the roles are reversed. People are less shy about admitting they are nonbelievers and, it seems, believers are more on the defensive. We might be called naïve for expressing faith in a resurrected savior and life after death. People admire us for our charitable works but, belief in the resurrection? Forget about it!

The angel’s reassuring words, "Do not be afraid!" are spoken to us too as we celebrate Christ’s resurrection. The women shouldn’t be afraid because their crucified leader is not in the tomb, he is risen. The angel makes the announcement and invites them to see for themselves; the tomb is empty. But the body isn’t merely gone. Jesus is "raised from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee, there you will see him."

Pope Francis has reminded us that we are an evangelizing church. Each baptized Christian has the same role the women were given by the angel, "Do not be afraid...go quickly and tell…." Despite the bemused looks we might receive from our sophisticated, modern neighbors, we still are charged to witness to our faith in the risen Lord by our actions and words. In many and diverse ways our lives must reflect the faith we profess this day, "Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again."

Had the tomb not been empty and Jesus’ body still there, the women would have arrived at the tomb, grieved and shared precious, personal memories of their dead teacher. Then, disappointed and sad, they would have returned to their old lives, picked up the pieces of their shattered hopes and gone on living. It’s what we do with the death of a loved one. They are gone – period. Life must go on without them. If they have suffered, we are relieved they don’t have to suffer anymore. Now we must return to our regular lives and do the best we can without them.

But, for those women and for us, there is that angel at the empty tomb. We believers can’t ignore the message we have heard, "Do not be afraid!… He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said…. go quickly and tell his disciples."

The women couldn’t go back to their regular lives. If someone told them, "Get over it!" They would have responded, "We can’t. Jesus is risen and we have to share the good news with those who haven’t heard it yet!" These first preachers speak for all of us as well.

Jesus is risen and we have to take seriously what he said to us: "Take up your cross and follow me… Feed the hungry… Clothe the naked… Forgive those who offend you… Be peacemakers… Forego vengeance… Love your enemies… Share your riches with the poor etc." We are near the end of Matthew’s gospel. Now that Christ is risen we can go back to hear it again what Jesus told his disciples to do – and not be afraid to do it and speak it.

If I were there at the empty tomb, I would make a personal response to the angel. "What do you mean, ‘Don’t be afraid!’ Of course I’m afraid. How can I live the life Jesus calls me to live in the world? The cards are stacked against me and I don’t always get much encouragement from even my family and friends – much less my enemies. I lack the courage to stand out from the crowd and be Christ-like. I need help!"

The angel might respond and tell us and other readers of Matthew’s gospel, "Hang in there. Read a little further on to the end of the chapter and believe what the risen Christ says to his disciples as he sends them out, ‘And know that I am with you always, until the end of the world’" (28:20).

Fr. Jude Siciliano, OP