The canonical journey through the Gospels ends in an amazing miracle—the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. Matthew’s account—the Gospel in our series—begins with the narrative of Mary Magdalene, with the other Mary going to the sepulcher on “the first day of the week… And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow… the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen.” (Matthew 28:1-6).
The themes which are underlined in the Resurrection narrative of Jesus are quite clearly themes which are intentionally related to the beginning and the end of the Torah; the beginning and the end of the Prophets, the second section of the Hebrew Bible; and the beginning and end of the Hebrew Writings, the third section of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament). In the interpretive study of the Bible, this is called biblical intertextuality.
The Gospels stress that Jesus rises on the “first day of the week.” This is the day when God began creation. He created the light (Genesis 1:1-4). This is a resurrection theme. Genesis 50 ends with the death of Jacob and Joseph. Yet there is a hope of resurrection. This hope is depicted in narration of Jacob being buried in the Promised Land. Deuteronomy 34 ends in the death of Moses, yet before he dies he sees the hope of resurrection in the Promised Land. Hebrew Prophets begins with Joshua 1, with a new resurrected community in the Promised Land. Malachi, the last prophet, ends with the hope of resurrection. A new Elijah would proclaim this resurrection (Malachi 4). The Hebrew Writings, the third section of the Hebrew Bible, begins with Psalm 1. It describes an ideal human being who is compared to an everlasting tree—a resurrection theme (Psalm 1:3). Hebrew Writings then ends with the hope for a new resurrected earth, where the land will “enjoy its Sabbaths.” (1 Chronicles 36:21).
It is clear from this brief overview that at crucial junctures, the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) looks forward to resurrection. The resurrection narrative of Jesus the Messiah, in the Gospels, stresses that all these aspirations in the Hebrew Bible are fulfilled in Jesus, the resurrected Messiah. Through him, there is the hope for a new resurrection for humanity and for all creation.
When Matthew describes the resurrection of Jesus, he intentionally stresses themes which are found in the Creation narrative of Genesis 1. Allow me to explain some of these themes, in the following section.
In Genesis 1, “on the first day”, the very first entity God created was “Light.” Themes of light also surround the resurrection narrative in Matthew 28. This is the distinct opposite ofthemes which surround the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. Intertextually, these themes are related to the state of the universe before creation. Genesis 1:2 reads, “ The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” Matthew notes that when Jesus was crucified, “there was darkness over all the earth (land) from noon till 3 PM. About 3 PM Jesus cried out the words of the Messianic Psalm 22, Eli Eli Lamah Sabachthani, My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:45, 46).
The themes that are stressed in the crucifixion and burial of Jesus bring the universe back to state of pre-creation. There is darkness. There is earthquake, and the like. Yet it should be mentioned that there is a note of hope, seen in Genesis 1:2—“the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters.” These words suggest that despite the seeming hopelessness, there is the hope of creation. The crucifixion and burial narratives give the same sense of hope—something good will come out of this horrible de-creation. This hope finally materializes in resurrection, just as the foreboding darkness of pre-creation finally and distinctly results in creation.
Much can be written about the intertextual relationship. Let me stress one more theme. It is significant to note that the women were told by the messengers (angels) of God, “Go quickly, tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead.” (Matthew 28:7). This is the crux of the message of resurrection. Jesus the Messiah’s resurrection initiates a new creation. He conquers death, which is the consequence of de-creation, and then initiates re-creation through his resurrection.
Why is it that it is women who are the first ones to proclaim this crucial resurrection message? May I suggest that it is because women have historically and internationally suffered the most awful consequences of de-creation and human fallenness.The first act of re-creation and resurrection is an amazing elevation of the status of women. They are told to proclaim the word of resurrection. It seems to me that this carries intentional intertextuality, with God proclaiming in Genesis 1, “Let there be light, and there was light . . . God called the light day.” The first “proclaimers” in the resurrection narrative are poor women who were ostracized by society: Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary. It seems clear that the resurrection narrative seeks to resurrect the status of women to what it was meant to be in the creation narrative. The Resurrection of Jesus the Messiah carries amazingly complex ramifications.
This canonical reading makes it very clear to me that the call of Christianity today is to be a Resurrection Community, a Re-creation community. In doing so, the Church is called to transform all aspects of de-creation in the world today into re-creation and resurrection.
May we live the message of resurrection: “He is risen from the dead.”
Dr. R. Boaz Johnson, Chair, Department of Biblical and Theological Studies; and Director, Division of Christian Life and Thought