Special note for 2020 and COVID: "Afraid yet filled with joy..." This passage definitely has a great deal of fear, change and uncertainty. Yet at the heart of it is joy and resurrection. I think this passage, while seemingly not as a emotional as John's Gospel, gets at the heart of the emotional ambiguity that Easter 2020 is bringing for all of us: Afraid, yet filled with joy.
Summary: The angel tells the people "no longer be afraid." This command concerning fear is in an on-going tense. We should never be afraid any more! Jesus has won. I would offer a pastoral way to hear the command to no longer be afraid. As Christians, we can no longer be afraid of grief. Not that we will avoid grief, but that we do not have to fear visiting the tomb. We can "go there" and mourn and even mourn with others. The power of the resurrection is revealed as we let our hearts experience the sadness of our goodbyes. Only one who knows they will say hello again can give a proper good-bye and miss a person!
All in all, what strikes me this year about Matthew's account of the resurrection is still how chaotic is seems. I have always pictured Mark as the chaotic writer, but Matthew's account seems very unsettled. It does not even seem to calm down once Jesus shows up.
ταφος ("grave," 28.1): The translators get this word right. I point it out because I find a pastoral nugget in this: Amid the midst of grief and sorrow, the women want to look at the grave. In our culture, we are often taught, especially as Christians, to avoid the grave, to avoid reflecting on grief. We are taught to live in joy of resurrection. This is true, but I sense that in order to experience the power of resurrection, we must also go to the grave and be confronted by the power of death. Furthermore, I think our encounter with the news of the resurrection, even of our loved ones, produces a mixture of fear and joy, echoing the emotions of the first disciples.
σεισμος ("earthquake," 28.2): We've had this idea before in Matthew...during Palm Sunday the whole city shook with the cheers of the people! Also, after the crucifixion, an earthquake caused the centurion to confess his faith. Interestingly, σεισμος can also mean storm. Jesus slept in the boat during the storm in Matthew 8:24; he emerges from the hull to calm the storm and disciples. Likewise, Jesus will emerge from the tomb to calm this σεισμος, including the disciples. Perhaps in both stories the disciples remain of little faith...
See also εσεισθησαν ("shake," aorist passive of σειω, 28.4). In this case, the guards were shaken. The resurrection will shake everyone and admittedly cause fear. The world has been turned upside down!
φοβου ("fear," 28.4 as a verb in 28.5): While Matthew's portrayal of the resurrection is perhaps not as stark as Mark's, Matthew still has fear! Worth noting is that the imperative verb (do not be afraid) is in the present tense: "Stop being afraid and keep not being afraid." The resurrection means we have nothing to fear, truly, nothing to fear.
φοβεισθε ("fear", as a verb, 28:5) The verb here is the plural, something we do not observe in English. These are words to the community of faith, not just the individual. They are also present tense, suggesting the disciples were afraid and that they are no longer to be afraid.
εσταυρωμενον ("crucify," passive perfect participle of σταυροω, 28.5): The perfect tense in Greek implies that the action still results in a current state. Jesus has been and still is in the state of crucifixion: Resurrection did not negate crucifixion. Jesus was and is eternally crucified!
ειπεν ("said" from λεγω, 28:6) I would argue here that you could translate this verb as promise. Why? Well, for starters, we have a language problem. Hebrew doesn't distinguish between "say" and "promise." God and humans have the same verb for speech, and so the English authors translate God's speech as "promise" because what God says God will do, God does. Admittedly, Greek does distinguish between the words. BUT: The authors of the Gospels never use the verb promise to describe Jesus' words, except the explicit promise of the Holy Spirit at the end of Luke's Gospel. Functionally, when they writes Jesus "says" this means "promise" because what he says will happen. So, I think you can go by the Old Testament/Hebrew rule: Everyone speaks, but when Jesus speaks, you can translate it as promise...
It is also worth noting that the angel emphasizes that Jesus is risen, "just as he said." The angel is challenging them to have faith, not just in the resurrection but in evidence of God's faithfulness. Even the story that should be about all the proof in the world is still about trusting a word, the word of Jesus, the word of the angels and finally the word of the women.
αστραπη ("lightning," 28.3): This word would be uninteresting to me except that it also appears in 24.27, "For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man." Jesus also predicts earthquakes in the second coming (σεισμος in 24.7). While Jesus has not returned a second time, lightning and earthquakes suggest a dawning of a new age in the resurrection. As Jesus said,
"Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." (16.28)"
The Son of Man has come in his Kingdom.
υπηντησαν ("meet," aorist of υπανταω, 28:9) This word can mean meet, but it is also used in Matthew 8:28 (also in Acts 16:16) to mean confront or oppose. This is an interesting idea of Jesus confronting them here! It is also interesting that Jesus does better than his promise; he meets them long before Galilee!
χαιρετε ("rejoice," 28:9) It means rejoice -- but it can be used as a greeting. A few things to note. First, in the LXX or New Testament, whenever it is used in the plural, it is a command, "Rejoice" and not a greeting. However, I humbly suggest that in Matthew 28, Jesus is actually saying "Rejoice!" He is meeting women at the crossroads of fear and joy - he commands them to rejoice. And what do they do? They fall down and worship! If you think this is too much of a stretch, you can note the profound difference in the scenes of greeting in the last chapters of Matthew's Gospel:
Matthew 26:49 Judas says, "Greetings (χαιρε), Rabbi."
Matthew 27:29 The solider mock him saying, "Hail (χαιρε), King of the Jews."
εκρατησαν ("seize", from κρατω, 28:9) This word actually comes into English in Demo-cracy. The people (demo) seize/hold (krato) the power! What is worth noting here is that there are only two times people seize Jesus: soldiers to arrest him and now women to worship him. There is something gripping -- literally -- about this scene. They are suffering trauma and now comes along Jesus. They hold him because they don't want to let him go. (In 2020, I wonder how many of us will hold loved ones the first time we can see after this COVID lock-down is over!).
Grammar and translation:
There are two things you shouldn't waste time tying to learn in a dead language: numbers and dates/times. Why? Because translators don't get these wrong! For example, in 28:1 you have the phrase: εις μιαν σαββατων. The literally means "the first of the sabbath." Which means, as it turns out, on the first day after the sabbath (akin to Monday being the first day of the week). It doesn't mean "the first thing on the Sabbath!) Similarly, I would want to translate, οψε δε σαββατων as in "late on the Sabbath" but it really means, in this case, "after the Sabbath was over." When it comes to time/dates, just trust the people that spend their lives translating. There is nothing theological at stake; they just spent time learning the ancient idioms!