We have just heard Matthew’s account of the discovery of the empty tomb and the appearance of the resurrected Jesus to the two Marys. It is a fast moving account that sees both the women and the guards heading in different directions to account for the one event.
Indeed the empty tomb needed to be accounted for. An earthquake, an angel descending from heaven like lightening, the stone rolled away from the sealed and guarded tomb. It is all too much for these soldiers. They are terrified into becoming ‘like dead men’.
But why such a fuss on the part of heaven?
It would appear that it had nothing to do with Jesus’ escape. He was gone from the tomb long before this angel was sent. The heavenly messenger was not sent to let the resurrected Jesus out.
He was sent to let these visitors in.
Our messenger begins with the following: ‘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 and see the place where he lay.’
This angel was sent simply to let the mourning women see that Jesus was not there.
The whole scene is terrifying for everyone concerned. Even as the women leave the garden to convey the angel’s message we are told that they are filled with both fear and joy. As yet they have not even seen Jesus.
But when he does appear their immediate response is to fall at his feet in worship. From here they simply obey – taking the message to the disciples. It is an exemplary response to the events of Easter.
But of course the women are not the only witnesses responding to heaven’s appearing.
The soldiers too are saw these events. But as they recover, perhaps explore the tomb, and establish the facts they head straight to the shelter of those who killed Jesus. There the chief priests themselves, we are told, were given a private, eyewitness account of ‘…everything that had happened.’
It is quite a thought. Even though the guard and the women are both eyewitnesses to the empty tomb they respond so differently. The two Marys leave the grave in the fear and joy of God, the soldiers simply in fear of those they habitually obey.
From here the guard and chief priests agree to testify to what they clearly believe to be a lie. They may not know exactly what did happen but they do know that this did not. They are so sure of this that they expectantly make plans for when their story unravels.
They have turned to money and bribery in the face of God’s conquering of death. Indeed they seem incapable of imagining that there is any other possible response. Their actions amount to a laughable absurdity. They are taking on the God of all armed only with the emperor’s coin and and a story they know to be untrue. It will never be enough.
But there are two women who have responded infinitely more wisely and honestly. And this even though they probably do not understand God’s actions any more than these religious leaders. They too are described as scared.
But this fear was tapered with joy – enabling them to responded in humble worship and obedience.
And the ounce of faith found in that joy amounted to a world of difference.