Sunday, April 12, #1: Matthew 28:1-20 (We recommend you read this passage in full before reading the devotion.)
Written by Rev. Lindsey Baynham, Director of Clergy Excellence, Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church
Perhaps one of the most divisive things in our culture are how things end.
Ask anyone if they’ve read a certain book or seen that hip new play or gone to the final movie of a trilogy…without fail they might say, “The ending was crap” or “I was so shocked by the ending!” or “It was the perfect ending”. After one or more of these responses, the debate or affirmations ensue. And we live for it, right?
We are drawn towards the dramatic. Scenes that create another world, characters we resonate with and those we don’t, narratives that take us beyond our current reality into another time or place. The crafting of a powerful story and even better, a solid ending capture even the most skeptical among us. And Matthew’s Gospel resurrection account does not disappoint.
Scene one begins with the Sabbath rest having come to a close, and it has been a long couple of days, to say the least. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary are making their way to the tomb, as was custom, and probably to regain a feeling of control of something after their tremendous loss. I can see it—an overcast day, two women walking together—maybe in silence or uttering comments about the weather—and out of nowhere the earth rattles to its core, an angel appears out of the sky, soldiers fall – are literally scared to death – and the stone holding in death is rolled away.
In two verses the author of this scene has instantly captured our attention, creating both terror and delight in the midst of utter grief. But these women, who must have been utterly terrified, had, as Barbara Brown Taylor describes it, “acquired the Spiritual muscle” to trust all the holy wonder they were seeing and hearing.
The angel reveals words of hope and direction:
“Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples…” (Matthew 28:5-6)
This instruction is one following a long line of Jesus’ commissions to those who journeyed with him throughout his ministry. The theatrics of the tomb quickly turn into a series of action sequences as we race to the end of the text. The women head off on their mission and run into the living Christ. Like one holding their breath to see what the first words might be after a pregnant pause, Jesus too offers words of hope and direction:
“Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:10)
In the final scene, we find the disciples waiting in Galilee as the woman had told them, “at the mountain to which Jesus had directed them” and it is there that they too, encounter Jesus alive. It is here we find one of the most popular scripture passages and epic endings of any book of the Bible. It has, over time, acquired the name of “The Great Commission” but it turns out Jesus has been commissioning the disciples all along. This particular one is a culmination of one chapter of their journey and the launching into another.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
Christ’s words swell to a crescendo that does not drop off, the screen doesn’t fade to black, but rather Jesus’ charge gathers us, here and now, into the sending. We become participants in the joyful news, that we do not find Christ among the dead, for he is alive! It is only an ending in the sense that it is a defeat over death; for in the resurrection, we experience the new commission for us through Jesus. Alleluia!
If you’ve missed any of our previous daily readings, you can find them all archived here. We hope these readings are helping you encounter God this season!