My Favorite Angel: Easter Reflections on Matthew 28:1-10
April 20, 2014
The angels in Matthew's gospel remind me of my UPS man. He's very focused on his job. He is there to deliver a package, not to sell it to me. "Hey Mrs. M., I understand your husband has seasonal allergies. Here is a humidifier from the Sharper Image. It got an excellent Consumer Report rating. There is a rebate coupon enclosed. I highly recommend it."
He's there to deliver a package, not there to be my buddy or to empathize with me. "Hey Mrs. M., how are you feeling about this humidifier? I know anxiety can be part of the process of receiving a package so I just want to reassure you that it will be a positive addition to your home and to encourage you in the big step of accepting it into your home."
No, my UPS man is there to ring the doorbell, hand me the package, and hold out the clipboard for me to sign for it.
The angels in Matthew's gospel are like my UPS man. They are focused on their job—to deliver the Good News. They are not there to sell it to us. They are not there to be our buddy or to empathize with us. They're there to deliver their package, and it's up to us to sign for it, open it, and use it.
The Good News is only ever preceded by one short, preliminary sentence: "Don't be afraid."
"Don't be afraid, Zechariah, your wife Elizabeth will bear a son and you will name him John."
"Don't be afraid, Mary."
"Don't be afraid, shepherds. I bring you good news of great joy that shall be to all people."
"Don't be afraid, Joseph, take Mary as your wife. Her baby is conceived by the Holy Spirit. Name him Jesus; he's going to save all people from their sins."
"Don't be afraid," the angels say. And then they deliver the package, you sign for it, open it, and use it.
I especially love the angel in Matthew's version of the Resurrection. This is an angel who knows how to make an entrance. He comes in with a flourish! This is a buff angel. He rolls back the large, sealed stone. This is an angel with attitude. After he rolls back the stone, he sits on it, and crosses his angelic arms. He glances over at the guards who are displaying certain physical symptoms of extreme terror we won't go into. He doesn't tell them not to be afraid, I assume, because he doesn't care if they are afraid or not. That message is being reserving for someone else, or two someone elses.
This angel rolls his eyes, as if to say: "Take that, Caiaphas. Take that, Pilate. That's what God thinks of your effort to put the Messiah in a tomb! A tomb as a prison for the Prince of Peace, the Son of God? Think again! A tomb for his final resting place? I don't think so."
Then, for his main message, he turns his bright angelic eyes toward Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (whom in Matthew is probably the mother of Jesus) and says: "Do not be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here. He has been raised, as he said."
Matthew wants to make sure we notice these three little words "as he said." Because in Matthew's gospel, Jesus told you so—three times. Jesus tried to deliver the good news package to the disciples in his gospel three times, but they refused to sign for it.
Why do we—like them—despite the witness of Scripture, tradition, and our life of worship and service, still come to so many situations looking for death when we have been promised life is waiting there for us?
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.