Commentary on Matthew 28:8-15
The women who had come to the tomb early on Sunday morning to embalm the dead body of Jesus were amazed to find the stone rolled back from the entrance and the tomb empty. Their reactions are a mixture of anxiety and joy. They are anxious that the body may have been stolen; but there is also an expectant joy. Could it be that he is alive? We may contrast that with Mark where he tells us that the women in their fear “said nothing to anyone” (Mark 16:8).
And, while still wondering what could have happened, they run to tell the “good news” (obviously they were having optimistic thoughts) to tell the disciples when they ran into Jesus who gave them the Easter greeting of “Peace!” (Shalom).
As they cling to Jesus’ feet (like Mary Magdalene in John’s gospel, they do not want to lose him again), they are told not to be afraid, an admonition that will be heard frequently during these days, but to go to the disciples and instruct them to go to Galilee where they will see Jesus.
There are various, and to some extent, mutually conflicting versions of the resurrection story and of how and where the Risen Jesus was seen and by whom. There are basically two types of experiences. Appearances to individuals (Mary Magdalene, Emmaus disciples, Peter and Thomas) help prove the fact of the resurrection. Appearances to several disciples together are accompanied by a mandate to continue the work of Jesus.
In today’s reading, the women are to instruct the disciples that they will see him in Galilee, their own place and that is where we will expect to see him, too. Galilee is their home ground, the place where they were born, grew up and work. That is where the Risen Jesus is to be found.
He is saying the same thing to us too. We do not have to go to Jerusalem or Rome or Lourdes or Fatima to find him. If we cannot find him in the place where we live and work, we won’t find him in those other places either.
As well as the distinction between individual and collective appearances, there are two other distinct traditions: 1, they take place in Galilee (in the north); 2, they are in Judea (at Jerusalem, in the south). Commentators have pointed out that these seeming inconsistencies provide a better witness than any artificial uniformity to the antiquity of the evidence and their historical value. The physical details are not that important; it is the meaning that is all-important.
Meanwhile the leaders of the Jews put another twist on what is happening. They also are reporting that the tomb is empty. All sides agree that the tomb was empty; the disagreement was over the why. Obviously, they are wondering what could have happened but cannot accept the possibility of resurrection. The guards are bribed and told to say that the disciples stole the body while they were asleep. Guards who sleep on the job should be punished not bribed. And, if they were asleep, how did they know what happened?
But when people do not want to believe something, reason and logic can often go out the window. We see such rationalisations frequently in those who find it inconvenient to continue living a Christian life.
Those who take the Gospel seriously and try to live according to its vision have all the confirmation they need that it is the recipe for a happy and fulfilled life.