Lectionary Year A
April, 1999
John 20:1-18 and Matthew 28:1-10

Step V: Hermeneutical Bridge

I. JOHN 20:1-18

(JFC) How 'bout using the questions and confusions of Mary and the disciples to begin to get at the very mystery of the event then as well as now? Here we respond to both the originally communicated message and the contemporary hearers of it. Questions abound. Confusions run rampant in the report of that morning's activities and discoveries, partial as they appear to be. Even Christ voices questions. Are they rhetorical and/or manipulatively seeking to open up further truths? How better to motivate those present there at the tomb to seek to discern more than they do on their own so far? Jesus' statement identifying God as His Father and theirs and His God and theirs might bring all the comfort sought there that day and anywhere else any day, even here and now. Is that verse the "center of gravity" in this text? At least it might be the most theologically responsible part of it.

(FS) Center of gravity: on the dawn of the third day, the tomb is empty! "Christ is risen, indeed!" Two "leaders" among the circle of apostles run to the tomb to see. Where the synpotic gospels speak of several women going to the tomb, John mentions only Mary Magdalene. In John, she is first to actually see Jesus-- he won't let her prolong to reunion "clinging" to him, but sends her on to spread the word of his resurrection and "homegoing".

Why Mary? In my setting (U.S.-Mexico border) women are not often fully admitted to positions of spiritual leadership. Yet Mary is the one who first sees Jesus (in John's Gospel) and is sent off to be the first evangelist.

Samuel Pagan, a Puerto Rican seminary president and biblical scholar, has written an interesting essay on Mary titled "Maria...Simplemente Maria". ("Mary...Just Mary") It appears in Spanish in the journal "Apuntes: reflexiones teologicas desde el margen hispano" (Winter 1993, 213-219). I would like to share some of Dr. Pagan's thoughts on Mary's place in this narrative:

"In the absence of the closest companions (of Jesus) at the cross, the Magdalene is courageously present, defying the religious and political authorities. There before the cross, the gospel accounts present the stoic and firm figure of Mary Magdalene, out of whom Jesus had cast out seven demons. After knowing the hell of being completely captive, she no longer feared the Roman soldiers; furthermore, upon enjoying the love of God manifested in the liberating action of Jesus, the Magdalene could do nothing else but be present, together with the other Marys, at Calvary. HER FIRM SOLIDARITY AND HER OPPORTUNE GRATITUDE GAINED HER THE FAVOR OF BEING CHOSEN TO BE THE FIRST PERSON WHO SHOULD ANNOUNCE THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS." (p. 217, emphasis mine).

She is so intent on annointing the body of Jesus she shows no evidence of fearing the religious consequences of touching a corpse (Num 19)-- that morning, "there are two resurrected ones: Jesus and Mary. Christ, by the power of the Spirit of God; Mary, by the power of the love and forgiveness of Jesus." Jesus calling her "Mary, just Mary", and not "The Magdalene", reaffirms her dignity-- the past is gone, also as good as dead and buried; only the present and the future matter for her now. "The gratitude of a liberated woman was the setting necessary to change her onto one who is sent; that is to say, an Apostle of the gospel of the Kingdom." (218)

Mary was liberated, first from total captivity ("7 demons") and then from grief and anguish. Jesus sends her at once to fulfill her "Easter mission". Some bridges:

1.) What is our "Easter Mission"? Does this day important enough to us that it makes a difference in our lives, and the life of our church-- something we have to tell people about?

2.) Mary was told, "Go and tell..." What would we tell about? How has Jesus' resurrection freed us?

II. MATTHEW 28:1-10

Mention of the earthquake is to be remembered as a pairing with the earthquake at Jesus' death. As such we have a workable preaching metaphor for a major shakeup in the cosmic order of things both in the world which encounters the gospel and in one's personal life which is anything but right side up after such an encounter. It happens whenever we die with Christ as well as whenever we enter into new life with him. The earthquake is the punctuation for Mattthew on either entry point. It is a continuous life journey or drama of earthquakes and deeper peace both as we are "dying" and as we are "resurrecting" in the process of wholeness, which in another way of speaking, is the process of transforming our "being" into God's ultimate purpose of recreating us into pure doxology to our creator. The Cosmic aspects of the bodily victory rescues us from merely defining or relegating the meaning of resurrection to "therapeutic growth" or any pantheistic interpretation of the event.

Dr. Hare, of Interpretation, calls our attention to the picture of the angel sitting upon the stone. This is unique to Matthew. This picture "seems to make an almost humorous mockery of the futile efforts of Jesus' enemies to confine him to the tomb." I agree, I think it is not only a sense of humor but humor with a bit of a swagger! I thank Matthew for that and I thank God. Shouldn't the faith exude this type of infectious confidence in the face of death? (The movie, "Life is Beautiful" suggests such.

Hare also takes notice that Matthew exludes Peter from the tomb scene in spite of the fact that Mattthew has an overall intense interest in Peter. Mark includes Peter and Luke has him running back later.


1 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And suddenly there was great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. 3 His appearance was like lightning and his garment white as snow. 4 For fear of him, the watchmen trembled and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women; "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, the one who has been crucified! 6 He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said; Come see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he was raised from the dead and now he is going before you in Galilee; there you will see him. Now I have spoken to you. 8 And after they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, they ran to bring the message to his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, "Good morning," and the women came toward him, took hold of his feet and worshipped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid! Go, bring the message to my people in order that they leave and come to Galiliee where they will see me."


      Matthew challenges his first readers with the question of what will be real for them. Will it be the "received world" or will it be Jesus, crucified and resurrected? This is no less of a challenge for today's readers and hearers of this resurrection story.
      The resurrection was not an impressive story for outsiders to hear in its infancy and is probably even less impressive today. I listened to a colleague tell the experience of explaining to a Himalayan swami the unique Christ story. In talking to a swami of the upper Himalayans about this, one has to remember that this particular group of mountain dwellers are renowned for their highly developed powers of mental telecommunication and transmutation of matter. The swami didn't think that Jesus coming back from the dead was very impressive. They believe, practice and train in the idea, (true or not) that they can learn how to leave thier bodies when the body gives out and then occupy another donor/host. So you have the other extreme of Eastern culture and thought which also may find Jesus a difficult story to embrace with their minds.
      Most of us though, in western culture, have been raised in the dominant rational scientific thought and world view which can, at times, mistakenly try to interpret and test it's capabilities on all facets of life as the only acceptable interpretation and view across all dimensions of reality.
      This approach, which narrows itself to emphasize "cause and effect", is in reality part of a larger rationality and larger world view of faith. (Leslie Newbigin discuses this further in his latest book.) The scientific community shares many common assumptions with the world view of faith. It's assumptions come from a community of those who share common beliefs, are based on faith in certain principles and accept the limit of not raising the question of meaning.
      Matthew's faith story is for those who can come to a place in their "being" where they can and want to affirm what they can "believe" more than what they can "know." For any person to embrace the story of the living Christ, an earthquake of reversal will be necessary to shake up our standards of culture and thought in order to develop an opening in the set ways of our hearts.
      This was the case of the young man and his wife who went to visit Rev. Frank Harrington of Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. He said they "had come to discuss membership with me. I asked him 'what's holding you back?' He held up his hand and moved his thumb and forefinger so close to touching that you could barely see the space that existed between them, and said 'I am this close.' I asked him what theological barrier was represented by the miniscule distance. He answered with two words: 'The Resurrection.'
      He was not only not close, he was not even in the neighborhood. No Resurrection, no hope; no New Testament, no church; and to quote Paul, we of 'all people would be the most miserbable.' I told him, 'John you are not close at all. There is more, much more, to making a commitment to Jesus Christ. The Resurrection is the heart of it all.'
      Some weeks later, I received him into the church on profession of faith and baptism. This fall he will be ordained as a minister. Jesus was very dead but now he is very alive. This central reality is the source of our hope." (Frank Harringtion, First Comes Faith: Proclaiming the Gospel inthe Church).
      It seems that the only thing that will make the story fit into the mindsets and close the gaps of doubt and disbelief of Matthew's first readers and especially the readers and hearers of today, is a good old fashioned earthquake!

New Life On A Dead Mountain

Used by permission from Lectionary Tales for the Pulpit by Merle G. Franke.

      Death came to a mountain. On a fine day in 1981 the hot, angry innards of Mount St. Helens were coughed up through the top of that peaceful mound in the state of Washington. And death spread its searing hot waves down the slopes. In the immediate area of the volcanic eruption nothing escaped the hot lava. Thousands of trees were turned into spooky smoking reminders of what they had been. Countless animals were unable to escape the relentless heat of the earth's deadly fountain of death. Besides the lava were the millions of tons of ash that floated through the air and settled unsparingly in rural and urban areas alike. The layer of ash several feet thick lay like a smothering blanket over much of the mountain. Mount St. Helens was dead.
      Or so said all the officials and "authorities" who viewed the destruction. Naturalists and biologists and other scientists took turns flying over the smokin ruins, and one after proclaimed the death of the mountain. Those who loved the awesome beauty of the outdoors mourned the loss of a vibrant area of growth and life. The grey death shroud of a suddenly active volcano had snuffed out life on the slopes. Mount St. Helens was dead.
      Yet God's creation holds more surprises than all the naturalists and other scientists can imagine. Or believe. In a scarce few years following the great eruption that killed the mountain, hikers and other curiousity seekers ventured back up the slopes of death, the very slopes that had indeed died under the grey, smothering blanket. Venturing close to the afflicted areas, two biologists were startled to see green shoots of plants sticking their heads above the ash that still covered the ground. In another area rangers saw tender pine trees poking their heads above the ash.
      Two crusty old mountain men whose lives had been shaped by and in the mountains poked their curious way slowly up the sides of Mount St. Helens. "That ash was supposed to be a seal t make sure everything was dead and stayed dead," one old-timer said to another.
He grunted his disagreement with what was "supposed" to be, and said, "But you know better than that, you old walrus."       "Of course I do, and so do you!" the first replied. "I'm just saying that a couple of feet of ash aren't going to keep this - or any other mountain - dead for long."
      "I wonder what them scientists are going to say when they get back to their laboratories. About the fact the mountain ain't dead after all." They both chuckled at the thought of the new life on a dead mountain.

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