Sabbah Day Thoughts — Matthew 28:1-10 “Ahead of Us”
Lupe Gonzalo rises at four or five in the morning. She piles into the back of a truck with other farmworkers and is driven to Florida fields in need of harvest. There, she is given a bucket and told to fill it with tomatoes or strawberries or beans as many times as she can during the course of a long day of backbreaking labor. Some days, there are no bathroom breaks, no lunchbreaks, no water breaks. “That’s your job,” Lupe says, “That’s what you’re there to do.” For women, like Lupe, the work carries worse problems than hunger and thirst. Sexual harassment and sexual violence are common—and speaking out about your experience can cost you your job. It feels hopeless.
Manuel Nazario and his people the Weenhayek have fished for a living for longer than anyone can remember. They ply the banks of the Pilcomayo River that rises in the foothills of the Andes in rural Bolivia. They wade in the water and cast nets, just as their ancestors did before them. But these days when he casts his net, Manuel worries. Climate change, irregular rainfall, drought, and runoff from mining operations in the mountains have troubled the waters. His catch is far less plentiful than it once was, and it only seems to be getting worse. He wonders how he will feed the twenty-seven residents of his village, who depend on him for leadership. He feels powerless.
Smitha Krishnan a Dalit—an untouchable—woman, was accustomed to a life lived on the margins of Indian society. As part of the lowest social class, she was unable to draw water from the common well, prevented from attending school, and forbidden from entering temples. Then her husband died, just before the last tsunami. Then, when the storm came, her thatch and mud house, with everything in it, was swept away, including the sewing machine that she used to earn a living as a seamstress. Widowed and homeless with five children to care for, Smitha despairs.
As Mary Magdalene and the other Mary walked to the tomb in the darkness before dawn, they knew how it feels to be hopeless, powerless, and filled with despair. They had accompanied Jesus to Jerusalem for the Passover. Earlier that week, their beloved friend had been welcomed like a conquering hero, with the singing of psalms, waving of palms, and the spreading of cloaks along the way. But with each passing day, tension had mounted. Powerful enemies had emerged among the Pharisees, scribes, and priests. They challenged Jesus’ authority and feared his charismatic appeal to the people. Betrayal had come from within their ranks, as a trusted friend traded his loyalty for thirty pieces of silver. In a trial orchestrated under the cover of darkness, Jesus had been falsely accused, condemned, and turned over to the Romans for execution. At the judgment hall of Pilate, the same crowd that had welcomed Jesus rejected him, shouting for his blood.
On Friday, the Marys watched as the one they had hoped would redeem Israel was beaten, scourged, spat upon, mocked, and marched through the city streets to his brutal death, flanked by criminals. The women knew all about hopelessness, powerlessness, and despair. Even so, on Sunday morning, before the sun had risen in the east, they found the courage to offer a final kindness. In Matthew’s telling of this story, there are no anointing oils or burial spices. Just two women, vulnerable and alone, who came to the grave to hold vigil, to weep and lift their voices in the wailing cry of grief.
We know how it feels to be hopeless, powerless, and despairing. Those feelings find us when we stand at the grave of our beloved. They leave us weeping over unforgiving hearts and broken relationships. They find us as we contend with mental illness. They trouble us as inflation surges and we worry about money. They keep us up at night when we ponder the future of our warming planet, and they rob us of peace as we read of the seemingly unending cycle of gun violence. Some days, it feels like the pain and suffering, the cruelty and greed of our world are more than a match for us. Some days, we feel like the two Marys. Some days, we feel like Lupe Gonzalo, Manuel Nazario, and Smitha Krishnan.
At the tomb, the two Mary learned that hopelessness, powerlessness, and despair are no match for God. The earth shook, the stone rolled away, the guards fainted, and an angel, flashing like lightning in the half-light of dawn, told them a mystery. God’s love had won the victory over sin and death. Jesus lived, and even now he was going on ahead of them to Galilee. There was work to do—good news to share. Then, like a big exclamation point on the angel’s astounding words, there was Jesus! He filled them with joy, quelled their fear, and sent them forth as the first apostles with the assurance that he would be with them, just a step ahead, waiting for them in a world where death no longer had the last word.
Matthew likes to remind us that Jesus is with us. In Matthew’s gospel a holy messenger warms the cold feet of the reluctant Joseph by telling him that Mary’s baby will be Emmanuel, God with us. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus assured his friends that wherever even two of them gathered in his name, he would be there. In the last parable that Matthew recorded, the Lord told his friends that wherever they encountered people who were hungry or thirsty, sick or in need or imprisoned, he would be there, too. Jesus lives, at our side, in our midst, a step ahead.
As the women ran with fear and joy through the streets of the waking city with news that would forever change the world, they trusted that Jesus was with them. If they had any doubts, if their hopelessness or powerlessness or despair threatened their mission, those feelings were swept aside in the Galilee when Jesus met them and sent them forth to the ends of the earth with good news and great love. Jesus lives. He’s always a step ahead of us. It’s a message that we need now more than ever, as we weep at the grave of untimely death, and lament the brokenness of our relationships, and mourn the future lost to mental illness, and despair over a warming planet and the ubiquitous news of guns in our schools. Yes, there is hopelessness and powerlessness and despair in this world, but there is also Jesus. He walks with us still and calls us to be good news in a world bowed down by the powers of sin and death.
One of the enduring ways that this congregation has followed Jesus amid the world’s hurt and pain is through One Great Hour of Sharing. Whether you saved your change in a fish bank throughout Lent, or you chose to use those offering envelopes, your contributions have brought good news to neighbors in this country and around the world who struggle with those familiar feelings of hopelessness, powerlessness, and despair.
Your offerings allowed Presbyterian Disaster Assistance to work with local partners on the ground in India to help Smitha Krishnan. With our help, Smitha found shelter, a sewing machine, and other essentials. She now lives with her children in a permanent, disaster-resistant home. Smitha says, “Because of gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing, I am able to feed and clothe [my children], and when they get sick, I am able to take care of their medication, too.”
One Great Hour of Sharing also helped Manuel Nazario, that indigenous fisherman in Bolivia. Through a generous grant from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Manuel’s people are learning new ways to thrive, despite climate change and environmental degradation. Working with local partners, the Weenhayek people are developing irrigation systems and collecting rainwater. They have seeds and gardening tools. They are learning to grow fruits and vegetables organically and sustainably. With a diversified diet and enough to eat, they no longer depend on the traditional practice of casting their nets to ensure their future.
One Great Hour of Sharing has helped Lupe Gonzalo, too. The Presbyterian Hunger Program partners with farmworkers to ensure that those who bring food to our tables do not go hungry or work in inhumane circumstances. We support the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a human-rights organization that works to bring safety and justice to the fields where our food is grown. Lupe appreciates our generosity. She says, “For us farmworkers, the support from Presbyterians across the country has meant the world to us . . . we don’t feel like we’re alone . . . we’re walking together.”
On Easter morning, Jesus, continues to go on ahead of us, my friends, sending us forth to be bearers of good news. He’s out there still. And when we rise to respond to his calling, there is something Christ-like in us, something that no grave can ever contain. Jesus awaits. Let’s go forth to make this world a little less hopeless, powerless, and filled with despair.
Greg Carey. “Commentary on Matthew 28:1-10” in Preaching This Week, April 9, 2023. Accessed online at workingpreacher.org.
Melinda Quivik. “Commentary on Matthew 28:1-10” in Preaching This Week, April 20, 2014. Accessed online at workingpreacher.org.
Kathryn Schifferdecker. “The Foundation of Christian Hope” in Dear Working Preacher, April 2, 2023. Accessed online at workingpreacher.org.
David Lose. “Easter Courage” in Dear Working Preacher, April 16, 2014. Accessed online at workingpreacher.org.
–. “A New Day for Farm Workers” in Special Offerings: One Great Hour of Sharing. Accessed online at pcusa.org.
–. “Restoring Dignity to India’s Most Oppressed” in Special Offerings: One Great Hour of Sharing. Accessed online at pcusa.org.
28 After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here, for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers and sisters to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”