What more is there to receive from this text, which is so familiar to us? That might be one of the first questions, and perhaps the most important question to ask ourselves, since we are studying a particularly familiar text this week, Matthew 28:1-10. This is the “Easter story” in the gospel of Matthew. [Some notes on the text are here.]
Extra-familiar texts pose special problems for us. We read them too fast. We think we already know what they say. We typically ignore the details, not pausing to really notice them. If we have heard them “preached” a lot, we often assume they say just what and only what those preachers told us they say.
No disrespect to the preachers, but if we can slow down as readers, and ask ourselves something like “what haven’t I noticed here before?” we will likely see something more. The text has more to say to us. This is a theological point, not just a literary one, although it is a literary one, too.
For instance, this is something I have noticed in this text this time: the timing, and the way it [purposely?] echoes Genesis 1. Light is dawning, the first day of the week; cataclysmic forces that remind us of creation itself – earthquake, lightning – break forth; the light itself is from a source beyond that of the sun, ultimately. A whole new creation is underway, eh? Which we gather from the literary parallels with the story of the very first creation. I’m sure I’m not the first person ever to notice that, but this is the first time that I myself ever really noticed it, in Matthew.
[And that, in turn, leads to the question: what does it mean that a new creation is beginning on that “first day of the week”? Where – and more importantly, when – does that leave us?]
So: what do we ourselves notice going on in the text? A big question, always.
A second always big question: if we lay this text alongside what is happening in our own lives now, and what is happening in our world now – if we set those two things next to one another – what do we see and hear then? How does what we are living through modify the meaning of the text for us? How does the text modify the meaning of our experience? What do they “say” to each other?
Working our way through those two big questions would probably take us more time than we ever have in class. But here are a couple of additional questions, just in case anyone wants to pursue them:
What does this text have to do with “freedom” and “redemption”? [We may think this is obvious. Nevertheless, if we seriously ask ourselves this question, and then try to answer it, we may realize we have to think about it. Thinking more deeply is seldom a bad thing.]
And while we’re at it: why are “freedom” and “redemption” important themes for us in the first place, do we think? Should they be? Why? Whose freedom are we talking about here? Once again – what do we mean by “freedom”? Or “redemption”?
Does it mean anything special that there’s an angel in this text? What? [For instance, if we went through the gospel of Matthew and found the other places angels appear, what would that tell us? What conclusions would we draw? Why? What if we went outside the gospel of Matthew, assuming that made some sense, then what? Thoughts? Feelings?]
One other literary detail: the appearance of the angel stupefies the Roman guards, but not the women [I infer, since the angel speaks to them, suggesting they are conscious]. What’s that supposed to mean, do we think?
[More personal] Assuming we readers are, possibly, meant to identify in some way with these women, does this little detail have any implications for us? What implications? Why?
And whatever else we do this Easter – let’s celebrate new life!
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.1 Peter 1:3-5
Image: “Conversation,” Camille Pissaro, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.