Monday of the Octave of Easter – Mt 28:8-15
In today’s Gospel, we’re stuck by several things. It begins in the middle of the action: right before this passage, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary head to the tomb. When they arrive, there is a great earthquake as an angel of the Lord rolls back the stone. “The guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men.” The angel speaks to the women, telling them “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.” As the women run from the tomb, they encounter Jesus, as we just heard, and the soldiers are told to lie about the events.
Matthew tells us that “the guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men.” There’s a certain irony here, since the One who lay dead in the tomb is now very much alive and the living soldiers who were sent to guard Him, are now dead. From this we can understand that the soul that lives far from God, the soul that lives in sin, is dead to Christ, and lacks the enthusiasm to pursue great things. Yet, the holy women who loved Jesus and had come early in the morning have a very different reaction to the same experience: “The angel said to the women in reply, ‘Do not be afraid!’” In the Greek, the expression is emphatic: You, don’t be afraid! You, women, do not be afraid. It’s not that the women saw the angel and were calm. No, they were frightened too, but because of their love for Christ, they receive comfort from the angel.
That comfort, in turn, enables them to put that love into action: that once they received the command of the angel, the women didn’t simply stay put or doubt about what to do next. Matthew tells us that “they went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce this to his disciples.” Notice the difference: the soldiers just sort of wandered into town, whereas the women hurried quickly. In fact, Matthew uses words that mean “without any delay,” and “to run with intense desire to reach the goal.” This is what Saint Paul talks about in the Second Letter to the Corinthians: “the love of Christ impels us,” he writes. It pushes us on to do accomplish His will, to go forward quickly. When we really love God, we make haste to do His will.
Unlike the soldiers, who were dead, Matthew tells us that the women were “overjoyed,” and yet still afraid. Following Christ’s will, obeying the commandments and serving Him with our whole hearts, doesn’t mean that we won’t be afraid. There are many things in this world and in our personal lives that can fill us with fear. Yet, for those who love Him, Christ reserves an even more special grace: He gives them His very self: “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.’” Jesus comes to take away that last bit of fear.
As we celebrate Easter today, we’re presented with two ways to respond to the Resurrection: we can be like the soldiers, who in their disbelief were simply frightened, and refused to do anything more, or we can be like the holy women, who, because of their great love, made the journey to the tomb, to see Christ, in the first place. As the result of that journey of faith, they were rewarded in the fears with comfort from the angel, and then from Christ Himself. Saint Paul writes that “the last enemy to be destroyed is death,” so, with the Resurrection, we know for certain that Christ has conquered every last possible enemy there is. With His help, there is no challenge, no difficulty, no sin, no failing, that is too much for Him to help us overcome. How do we respond?
As we enter this season of Easter joy, let us ask, through the intercession of Mary, Cause of our Joy, for the grace to truly trust in God, knowing that only in Him will our souls find peace and joy.