230409 – Behold!

Yr A ~ Easter Sunday ~ Matthew 28:1-10


You’re expecting something great, right? I mean, when you hear a really interesting and unique word like ‘behold’ you know that you’re being asked to behold something remarkable, or impressive. That’s actually the definition of behold – to observe something remarkable or impressive. Behold! It instantly captures the imagination, and fires up our receptors, and puts us on the edge of our seats. Behold!

Now, you’d think something as wondrous and special – and remarkable and impressive – as the resurrection of Jesus deserves at least one ‘behold’, but there are none to be found in today’s reading. Well, that’s not actually true. In fact, there are 4 ‘beholds’ in Matthew 28:1-10, but you’d only know that if you read the Greek version. In English, the editors of our bibles have chosen to translate the word idou (Greek for behold) by using these words: suddenly, and indeed. But ‘suddenly’ only means something happened quickly. It may surprise, but it says nothing about it being remarkable or impressive. And ‘indeed’ indicates an emphasis, but doesn’t come close to communicating what ‘behold’ does.

Let’s look at these four ‘beholds’. But before we do, we really must note who is doing the beholding here. It’s women. The gospels differ slightly on which women were at the tomb, but it’s consistently always women. Women are never named explicitly as disciples (well, there are a couple of places, kinda, but that’s for another day) – so it’s ‘remarkable and impressive’ that women are the witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection, and women are the first people to share the news. Behold!

Now for more beholding!

The first ‘behold’ is in verse 2 – and suddenly there was a great earthquake because an angel rolled back the stone of Jesus’ grave and sat on it. No doubt it happened suddenly, but surely that’s worth a behold! And behold, a great earthquake, a rolling stone, and a perched angel. Behold indeed! (see what I did there?)

The next one is in verse 7 – Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.”

Now try this: Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised, and behold he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.”

That’s remarkable and impressive! Jesus isn’t just raised; he is raised and has a purpose, and is inviting his followers to join him back in the place where they all began, and where something new will emerge.

Then, also in verse 7, the editors didn’t even give a ‘suddenly’ or an ‘indeed’. The angel says, “This is my message for you,” but in Greek it says, “Behold! This is my message for you.” It’s not just any message. It’s a message worthy of a behold! If I stood here every Sunday and said, “It’s sermon time. This is my message for you,” you’d think that was just normal. But if I said, “It’s sermon time. Behold! This is my message for you,” you’d rightly be expecting a message that was pretty remarkable and impressive.

Matthew 28:8 So the women left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

No ‘behold’ here, but did you catch that detail? It’s a subtle point, and easy to miss. The women have left the tomb, and they’re on their way, running, to tell the other disciples – but they haven’t encountered the risen Jesus yet. They’ve only encountered the angel. In Matthew’s version, Jesus does not appear and meet the women in the garden. In fact, only in John’s gospel does Jesus appear to Mary in the garden, at the empty tomb. In both Mark and Luke he appears later.

Matthew’s gospel does have a story of Jesus meeting the women, but it’s as they are running to tell of their angel experience at the tomb, and the promise of meeting Jesus in Galilee. Jesus doesn’t appear in the garden, he meets them on the road. Can you guess what word accompanies that meeting?

Matthew 28:9 – Suddenly Jesus met them (on the road). Except you know better now. What does it really say? And behold, Jesus met them (on the road). Jesus, whom they had seen crucified and die, whom they had seen entombed behind a large stone, whom they had already begun to mourn, met them while they were running at full tilt toward the other disciples with a message of renewal and hope. Well, if that ain’t worth a ‘behold’ I don’t know what is!

Can you imagine how those women felt in that moment? And behold, Jesus met them on the road and said, ‘Yo!’ Howdy? ‘Sup? They’re just as good offerings as ‘Greetings!’ which is what the reading has. It’s just such a weird way to say it. The Greek word is the one they’d use to say “Hail” – an ancient word used to address someone – but it’s more than just a salutation. That exact same word is translated many times in the New Testament as “I rejoice!” That makes waaay more sense to me. In whatever capacity your theology imagines Jesus being raised, surely it’s a momentous and powerful thing, and surely it’s deserving of something more than ‘howdy’. “I rejoice!” Yes! I rejoice at seeing you. I rejoice at meeting you on the way. I rejoice at new life, renewal, resurrection.

And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’

Go to Galilee and there we will see one another. That would be something to behold! It seemed like the end of everything, but now we have a new beginning. It seemed like all hope was lost, but now there is hope for a new day. Out of one kind of dying a new kind of life emerges. This pattern of dying and rising, of endings and beginnings, is the heart and soul of the Christian way. We journeyed through the hard parts of Jesus’ story this week, and one way of knowing and experiencing Jesus (and maybe our faith) died. And now, today, on Easter, we discover that there is a new beginning – a new life has been entered into.

And maybe the best little tidbit to remember here is that you didn’t have to be present that first Easter Sunday, in the garden, with the women, to experience the risen Christ. In fact, neither did they – because, behold, Jesus met them on the road. That is a wonderful thought. Jesus met them on the road, on the way. Jesus meets US on the road too, as we strive to follow his Way.

Jesus’ presence became real for them, not when they were searching for him, not when they were mourning him, not when they were worshipping his memory on Sunday morning – but when he met them on the road, as they were actively engaging in witnessing to his living presence (even though they had not actually experienced it yet).

Easter didn’t just happen once, 2000 years ago. Easter, resurrection, is always happening. Easter – new life – renewal – happens every time we are walking in Jesus’ way, and are courageous and vulnerable enough to be open to experiencing his waiting presence.

Behold! He is risen. He is present. He is in this place and every place. That is remarkable! And impressive! Behold! Hallelujah.