Formations 03.31.2024: Risen in Radiant Victory

Icon of the Resurrection by Wikipedia user Surgun100, 2009

Matthew 28:1-10

Matthew’s account of the first Easter follows the same outline as the other Gospels: women go to the tomb in the early morning, an angel announces that Jesus has been raised, and eventually Jesus himself appears to his followers alive from the dead.

But each Gospel is also unique. Only in Matthew do we read of an earthquake and the guards falling “like dead men” (v. 4). Where Mark describes the women’s fear, Matthew has them filled “with fear and great joy” (v. 8). Before they can get to the disciples to tell them their good news, Jesus appears with a message for the male disciples: they will meet again in Galilee.

As we read the resurrection story again this week, there is a place for reading the Scripture closely, plumbing its details for spiritual insight. At the same time, Bible study always risks missing the forest for the trees. That is especially true on Easter Sunday, when our first order of business is to celebrate God’s salvation, powerfully displayed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

From the start, Christians have celebrated Easter by singing. Often, the theme of these early Easter hymns is how Christ’s resurrection strikes a blow against evil and death. In the second century, Melito of Sardis sang:

Trembling for joy cries all creation;
What is this mystery, so great and new?
The Lord has risen from among the dead,
And Death itself He crushed with valiant foot.
Behold the cruel tyrant bound and chained,
And man made free by Him who rose!

Another hymn, of unknown origin but probably written around AD 400, sounds a similar note:

This is the Night,
Which throughout the world
Frees all who believe in Christ
From the vices of their time-shackled existence,
From the lightless dungeon of sin,
And restores them to grace: unites them to holiness.

This is the Night
In which Christ broke the chains of death
And rose in radiant victory
From the pit of Hades.

I love the notes of liberation in those hymns. The enemy has been defeated, and we have been set free. However you conceive theologically of Christ’s atoning work, being set free is a wonderful way to describe it. We’re no longer enslaved—to sin, to death, to darkness, to ignorance—because Jesus has won.

This week, explore the depths of this power passage from Matthew. Lift up the details that make these verses unique. Ponder their deep meaning.

But then step back and breathe a prayer of thanksgiving that all of this was done for us. Join the church in every place and age in celebrating the difference that Jesus’s resurrection makes.

“Fear and great joy,” indeed!

“Catholic Prayer: Easter Hymns and Music,” CatholicCulture.org <https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/prayers/view.cfm?id=1298>.

Discussion

• What details in Matthew’s text tell us that something momentous has happened?
• What do the women’s reactions tell us about the event?
• How can we recapture the sense of both awe and joy that the women felt?
• How does the resurrection make a difference in your everyday life?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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