Many churches with stained glass windows somewhere have a nativity scene and one showing the Resurrection of our Lord. Many including the one dedicated to John W. Priest, the architect who designed this building show Jesus surrounded by prostrated soldiers.
Those that depict such a scene are exercising more than a little artistic license because no canonical gospel speaks of the event in quite this way.
Only in this account attributed to the tax collector Matthew has any mention of soldiers and here, if you remember, they become catatonic at the appearance of the angel who rolls away the stone.
Our gospel reading is the only one in which the women see the stone in front of the tomb moved. In each other case they arrive to find the stone rolled away. In John’s gospel only Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb; in the others it is her and Mary the mother of James with or without Salome.
In every case, Jesus is already gone from the tomb although like our narrative for today, Jesus is present in the Matthew and Johanine account but not in the other two. In Luke the entire group of women who had followed Jesus from Galilee come to the tomb expecting to complete the funeral rites.
The important themes are that Jesus has left the building and that women are the first to know. Some have trouble believing because the versions are not very comparable.
Yet police will tell you that eye witnesses are notoriously not able to give coherent testimony as to what they saw and that when everyone has the same version, they have been coached.
Also remember that the gospels are written late in the time of the first disciples as the church tries to capture the memories of who Jesus was and what he came to do. Nearly every story gets embellished the more times it is told.
But it is women who first learn of this. My thought is that such a sequence of events puts all the apostles except Mary Magdalene on an equal footing in terms of the revelation that Jesus is gone from the tomb. And then the reports start circulating about Jesus’ appearances to members of the community including those core disciples we call apostles.
But with a few variations, this is the same story every year. God scripts the death of Jesus and then raises him from the dead to show that God is omnipotent—all powerful—and the promise of resurrection has been kept with Jesus as the first fruits as Saint Paul writes elsewhere.
Matthew and Mark’s accounts share an important commonality—the messengers inform the women that the core disciples must go to Galilee to see the Lord.
Go to Galilee. Go home not because the party is over but because the party is about to begin. Go to Galilee because that is what is asked of you.
Yes, we have the guarantee of everlasting life established for us on that first Easter morning but like the message given to the two Marys by the Angel and Jesus to pass to the other apostles—we must be willing to journey to the Galilee where Jesus waits.
What kind of Galilee awaits us as a Resurrection people? I believe it is a place of hope despite human-fostered economic conditions. That it is a place where we freely concentrate on living out our baptismal vows, where mission to those in need is so common that focusing on it is almost an after-thought. This Galilee is what Jesus has in mind.
It is a place where there is always a hand out to help someone begin again, where those who were prisoners are truly liberated to pursue productive lives as tax-paying citizens.
It may even be a place where the very wealthy demand to pay more taxes so that all may benefit from what government is supposed to be doing well.
It is a place where community means more than a group of people in physical proximity to one another.
It is the hint of the new Jerusalem for all of humanity. It is our enduring hope as followers of him who died for us and rose to new life.