Saturday, April 8, 2023
Easter Vigil

Go and preach the gospel

The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy TX 77450

Wow that’s a very different version of the resurrection remarked the folks in the Tuesday morning bible study. Well, that’s because its Matthew’s version of the story and yes it is different in many ways for many reasons.  John’s version is designated for the Principal Service on Sunday morning, and it is the story that so many know. The version from the particular lectionary year is suggested for the Vigil and that’s why I am using it this evening.

I think the Matthew version is particularly appropriate for the Vigil in part because we have two baptisms today. To new members who are raised to new life by the waters of baptism in just a few minutes. However, there is more to baptism than just new life. There is the fact that they become ministers by their baptism and yes all of you are also ministers called to go and do ministry. Now let me see if I can tie this all up together.

Each gospel has a different flavor and in fact often a very different account. For each gospel is written at a different time for a different audience. You must know the when and the who behind each gospel to make sense of it.

The Gospel of Matthew is written some 30 to 40 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The community of Matthew is one of three groups trying to set the future course of Judaism. By the time Matthew’s gospel is written the temple and all the temple worship is gone. The rabbinic movement has really grown since the priesthood disappeared with the destruction of the temple.  Without the temple as the central piece of worship Judaism is at a crossroads. What do they do now? Matthew’s community is trying to persuade a predominately Jewish audience through the gospel that Jesus is the messiah and represents the future of Judaism. There really are not two distinct religions yet, that will take another 30 or 40 years for the split between Judaism and Christianity to be finalized. Understanding this is critical to any reading of Matthew’s Gospel.

Therefore Matthew portrays the resurrection in very different terms. “Tell my brothers what has happened and to go to Galilee where we will gather.” In Luke and John they gather and hide in fear. In John they then go back to their lives mostly as fishermen before Jesus interrupted it. In Mark the women run away and say nothing to anyone and that is truly where his gospel ended. Others extended it, but Mark ends abruptly. However in Matthew they go forward to Galilee to meet their risen lord. They go in expectation, in hope and most of all in faith.

The angel in Matthew, appears to a cast of characters that is very different in Matthew. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (we really are not sure which Mary) go to the tomb. Unlike other accounts they are simply going to sit vigil at the tomb. They do not worry about rolling the stone away because they do not intend to enter the tomb only to sit and mourn. There are guards there for in Matthew the temple authorities have posted a guard because they feared the disciples would steal the body. Matthew 27:62. And these guards reappear later when those in power try to discredit the resurrection by proclaiming that the disciples did indeed steal the body. These forces represent those in power that Matthew’s community is in competition with for the future of post temple Israel.

The angel’s appearance is quite striking complete with earthquakes, thunder and the blinding white appearance of the angel. The resurrection is witnessed by women and only by women in Matthew. The guards are completely overcome and become like dead men. Once again, God has chosen the least in society for this monumental revelation for in Matthew’s society the testimony of women was not admissible in court. So this revelation is quite striking in terms of even the women understood and responded in total faith.

Now here is where Matthew’s account really differs from Luke and John. The disciples do not hide in fear. Only in Matthew are they not hiding in the upper room. They do as they were told and left for Galilee to the mountain where Jesus had directed them.

Galilee is not only a place outside of Jerusalem but includes the land of the Gentiles. This is a set up for the Great Commission that concludes Matthew’s Gospel. It is in Matthew that we get the Great Commission to go and preach the gospel to the world baptizing in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

There is a reason that we have baptisms on Easter and if we don’t we reaffirm out baptismal promises. There is a call to action in Matthew’s gospel. Go is the first command, not hide but go.

Matthew’s gospel has the famous passage about not hiding your light under a basket. Matthew’s gospel ends with the great commission to go out baptizing in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit

Jim Wallis wrote on Thursday in Sojourners: “He is risen” is much more than an optimistic expression. It is not an empty platitude or wishful thinking, but the assertion of that in the midst of all the personal and collective pain, brokenness, injustice, and oppression that we see or experience, Christ is victorious. And we start over every Easter with a new affirmation and conviction of the hope that will always change both our lives and the world.[1]

So to those who are being baptized, you join with us and the rest of the disciples in the command to not just go home tonight, but to go and proclaim the gospel by word and deed as the baptismal promises say. I cannot stress this enough that you join the rest of the members of St. Paul’s, the Diocese of Texas, the entire church in being ministers of the good news. That is what Easter people are called to do and we are all Easter people.