The Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 5.27-32 John 20.19-end
I should like us to think about a verse in St Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 28 verse 2.
“The Angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat upon it. Alleluia. Alleluia.”
This verse is sung at Mattins as the antiphon before the first psalm at Mattins on Easter Day and during the following octave. It always gives me a thrill as it marks the great celebration of Easter, announcing so confidently and decisively the Lord’s resurrection. The door of Christ’s tomb is opened for all to see. The powerful archangel has pushed the heavy stone back and his task accomplished he sits on it. Those final words of the antiphon “and sat upon it” seems to suggest that he is not going to budge. It is final. It is finished.
We are not to suppose that the angel came to let Jesus out of the grave. No, Jesus is risen and gone before the stone was rolled back. The angel descended from heaven to let the visiting women and ourselves see the tomb empty and hear the message “the Lord whom you seek, whose dead body you wish to anoint, is not here, he is risen and goes before you to Galilee. There you will see him.”
Nicholas Mynheer, who carved the stone sides of the altar in our Resurrection chapel, has depicted the angel and the myrrh-bearing women on the north side of the altar.
The angel is huge, powerful, authoritative. The three female disciples are terrified and dumbfounded. The angel’s mouth is open and he holds his finger upright, demanding attention to his message, which the women must deliver to the apostles.
The four Gospels all record that female disciples visited the rock tomb where the body of Jesus had been placed after his death on the cross. It was early Sunday morning when they went to complete the burial rites. They found the grave open and the body missing. They say they saw angels who spoke to them announcing that Jesus had risen from death and was alive. But details of the event vary.
St Matthew says that Jesus himself met them, St Luke says the women remembered the Angelic message. St Mark reports that they were so terrified they told no one. What are we to make of it? We cannot be sure what actually took place in the dawn of the first Easter Day but we can conclude the meaning of what took place.
What can we draw from the stories of angelic personages at the tomb? We might reflect on what the Bible says about angels and in particular those who are mentioned by name.
Who was the angel who came from heaven to roll away the stone and announce the resurrection of the Lord Jesus? Was it the archangel Michael or Gabriel or Raphael, or Uriel?
Michael was the commander of the armies of God, the fighter who is represented as trampling down Satan. Who better to deliver the news of Christ’s glorious victory over evil and death achieved by his passion and saving death on the cross.
Gabriel features in the Bible as the messenger of the Incarnation. Jesus, the Son of God, was born of the Virgin Mary to save the human race and reconcile us to God. Jesus has achieved that and it would be appropriate for Gabriel to announce the Good News.
Raphael the bringer of healing might well announce that Christ’s passion and resurrection has healed the human race from the wounds incurred by our sins.
The Archangel Uriel is less well known but is mentioned in the apocryphal Second book of Esdras. His name means God is my light. Jesus Christ is the Light of the World and his resurrection shows that so brilliantly.
“The angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat upon it. Alleluia, Alleluia.”
Crispin Harrison CR
DELIVERED BY PHILIP NICHOLS CR