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Easter A, Matthew 28
© Paul A. Porter
April 16, 2017
Many of you are fans of the Big Bang Theory, as are Cindie and I. One of the many running gags of esoteric scientific knowledge in the show has to do with the experiment known as Schrodinger’s cat. Raise your hands (and keep them up) if you’ve heard of Schrodinger’s cat; keep your hand raised if you can summarize what Schrodinger’s cat is; and now keep your hand up if you knew of Schrodinger’s cat before watching the Big Bang Theory. Yeah, me neither. Oh, bonus points: what episode marked the first appearance of Schrodinger’s cat? By the way, did you hear that a pilot for a spin-off is being planned called Young Sheldon? There’s your Easter surprise.
I had to look up WHY Schrodinger put the cat in a box with a poison vial that will open at some random time; I still don’t really understand it as quantum physics isn’t exactly my cup of tea. And there really isn’t a cat in a box with poison – it’s a thought experiment, demonstrating that the cat can be thought of as alive and dead simultaneously.
The leap from the Big Bang Theory, the tv show, and Schrodinger’s cat to Easter is not as large as you might think, though I grant that probably only a pastor would connect the two. The first leap is pretty strait forward: we view Jesus as both dead and alive. Or if you rather, died and has risen. The second leap is on a parallel path: we see Jesus as both human and of God (divine). Both of these are central to our faith; both of these are semester long college courses. Both of these will be set aside for today.
What made me initially connect Schrodinger’s cat and Easter, though, was this: the story is very old story and familiar; at the same time, it is made new today in our reading and meditation and going forth.
The subtle differences in Matthew’s account had not so subtle meanings for the early listeners; perhaps they can help shape how we hear the story anew today. Matthew tells of guards at the tomb. Those in power feared Jesus enough to kill him and feared his words enough to place guards at the tomb. God shakes the earth, not to be stopped by armed guards and an official seal.
“In both Mark and Luke, the stone is already rolled away from the tomb when the women arrive. In Matthew, however, Mary and Mary experience the earthquake and see the angel descend, roll away the stone, and sit on it. “The guards quake with fear at the events unfolding before them. Ironically, they react to the opening of the tomb by becoming like dead people.
The angel’s first words strongly contrast the guards with the women: “As for you, stop being afraid.” The angel is commanding them to reject their current state of fear, for his news brings great joy: “I know that you are looking for Jesus the crucified one. He is not here, for he was raised just as he said.” The resurrection has already happened. The stone has been rolled away not to let Jesus out, but to let the witnesses in. The story that begins with fear ends with overwhelming joy. Jesus’ birth is shadowed by many deaths, but Jesus’ death brings the promise of resurrection life for all” (Judith Jones, Working Preacher).
Each Gospel account of Easter morning have the women find the empty tomb. For Matthew, it is Mary and “the other Mary”. The first witnesses to God’s triumph are two of the same women who watched Jesus die. Having seen Joseph of Arimathea bury Jesus, Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” now come again early on the first day of the week to look at the tomb. With only a little digging into earlier portions of Matthew, it is clear this is Mary, Jesus’ mother. The evangelist’s decision not to identify her explicitly as Jesus’ mother may seem odd at first; the effect is to emphasize not her biological relationship to Jesus, but her role as his disciple soon comes into view.
The big twist in Matthew is that Peter and another disciple don’t come running back to verify the story. Perhaps the other Gospels include Peter’s verification as an embellishment, for few listeners of the time would trust an eyewitness account by Mary or any other woman. Matthew is clear: the women have witnessed the empty tomb, have encountered the risen Jesus and have received clear instructions to tell the disciples to go to Galilee where Jesus will greet them. And that is good enough for Peter et al., and by extension, the listeners.
That these women are the initial witnesses and messengers of the resurrection cannot be coincidence. Jesus, born of an un-wed mother from a backwater town, raised by a carpenter. Jesus, whose ministry was with the lowest of the low, who entrusts the earth-changing news of resurrection to the followers least esteemed by the “disciples”.
If not for the patriarchy of that time (and the following centuries), we should have the Gospel of Mary, or at least, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene and the other women. The women shared the same criteria as the four gospel writers and the apostles who go forth and preach such as the example today in Acts. Each experienced the ministry of Jesus first hand, each witnessed the resurrection and each went out to spread the Good News.
Whatever the reality, however the process, we know the story was told; we know the women and the disciples became witnesses of this Good, mysterious, incredible News. This continuation of Jesus’ ministry birthed a new understanding of God, evidenced by the transformation of the disciples from “persons who are under parental care as dependents…[to] adult believers who belong to the household of God (Mary Margaret Pazdan).”
I worry that our familiarity with and our distance in time from the story makes us a bit complacent. I worry that we treat the resurrection as the epilogue to the story, a bow that wraps up the life and death of Jesus, leaning on mainly the story that tells us of our personal salvation through Christ’s death. Here, too, Schrodinger’s cat informs us, reminds us that two things are going on at the same time: Jesus died for our personal salvation AND Jesus’ life and death are the outward expression of God’s love for all humanity. Without the latter, we miss how we are connected to the disciples as present day witnesses of God’s miraculous gift to humanity that is Jesus the Christ.
Hearing this story again, we need not be simply bystanders. We are witnesses today, witnessing by our worship, by our giving, by our service, by our action, to bring about God’s world as we come to know it through Jesus.
Our call as witnesses to God’s Good News is as relevant today as the women and the other apostles. If our witness – our actions, our service, our treatment of our fellow human as well as any evangelizing and testimony we might proclaim – if our witness falls on skeptical ears, we are in good company. But we continue on, for our imagination can feel that first Easter Sunday: our legs trembling as the earth shakes, our eyes wide agaze to see the angel descending, our hearts fluttering along with the frozen dread of the guards and our souls quivering in fear, and amazement, and wonder, as we, like Mary and Mary begin to understand our witness as our ears hear the instruction that Jesus has gone ahead. Jesus has gone ahead and will meet us there.