Easter Monday 2017

The Three Women at the Tomb by Benozzo Gozzoli (d. 1497)
The Three Women at the Tomb by Benozzo Gozzoli (d. 1497)

I think one could make a case for calling Easter Monday ‘Spin Monday’. The gospel of the day (Matthew 28.8-15) ends with a classic damage limitation exercise being conducted by the authorities. The spin put on the empty tomb is like spin in every age: just enough of the truth (an empty tomb) to leave people wondering whether the interpretation offered is correct or not. A comparison may make this easier to understand. This morning there are varying interpretations of Turkey’s referendum result. Western media are hailing the 51.4% ‘yes’ v. 48.59% ‘no’ of the votes counted as ‘a narrw margin’ — conveniently forgetting that the U.K.’s E.U. referendum result, 51.9% ‘leave’ v. 48.1% ‘remain,’ was apparently a ‘decisive vote in favour of Brexit’. Oh, the irony! But spin is like that. It is seductive, and its manipulation of truth unsettling, but it doesn’t affect substance. The facts remain the facts, whatever interpretation we choose to put upon them; and for us this morning the fact is, an empty tomb and the experience of the women related to us by the evangelist.

The prominent part played by women in the resurrection narratives of the Easter Octave is something to ponder. I’d say they come out of the story remarkably well: they are constant, concerned with practicalities rather than status (who will raise the stone for us? where have they put the body?), uncomplicated in their love, and obedient to the command given them to ‘go and tell my brothers that they must leave for Galilee; they will see me there.’ But there is something more. As today’s passage says, they were ‘filled with awe and great joy’. Awe isn’t something we pay much attention to these days. Joy, yes; we quite like being joyful. But we rarely talk about being awed, and even the ‘awesome!’ of popular speech is so trivialised as to be meaningless. Awe is a strange mixture of wonder, terror, dread, and reverence. To feel awe, we have to forget ourselves — forget about our status, our safety or anything else, and simply experience the truth of what is before us. It is the perfect antidote to spin. The women come away from the tomb believing, and meet Jesus on the way; the guards return to the city worried about their own fate and end up colluding in a cover-up. I think the women got it right, don’t you?

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