Easter Vigil – Sister Barbara Thiella, SNDdeN

Apr 7, 2023 | Gospel Reflections

April 8, 2023

Matthew 28: 1-10

The four Gospel writers describe Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection with stories and details familiar to their own communities. Matthew begins his recounting with a story about two women who first meet Jesus alive after his death on the cross. Matthew incorporates concepts from the Hebrew Bible (OT) to enhance the depth of the story for his Jewish-Christian community. Matthew 28: 1-19 describes the experience of two believers who have spent the last two days, remembering and grieving.

Early in the new week Mary Magdalene and another Mary decide to visit Jesus’ tomb. As they approach, an earthquake dramatically shifts their experience (OT). They do not realize that their sorrow will move into unexpected joy.

First, the two women notice that the stone has rolled to the side of the tomb; sitting at its entrance is an angel, brilliant to see (OT). (They barely notice the guards who appear dumbstruck, possibly from the earthquake.) The angel (OT herald) speaks calmly to Mary Magdalene and Mary, “Do not be afraid. You are looking for Jesus and he is not here. Come and see. Just as he said, he has been raised. Go tell his disciples that they will find him in Galilee. Behold, I have told you.”

Acting on the angel’s direction, the women leave. Then, Jesus meets them on the way; after Mary Magdalene and Mary embrace him, Jesus repeats the angel’s greeting, “Do not be afraid. Go to my brothers and tell them to go to Galilee: there, they will see me just as you have.” In naming brothers as the receivers of this message, Jesus deepens the meaning of follower to member of the family.

Several words and phrases strengthen the dialogue: “Do not be afraid;” “Tell others of your experience,” “behold,” and, on the way.

Spending time with this gospel reminds me of another Easter. Years ago, my parents met me in Oakland for the Easter Vigil at the diocesan cathedral. As the vigil begins, the church is in total darkness with music playing from its four corners; light moves slowly among the congregation. At the church entrance the cantor, holding high a large candle, steps inside and proclaims “Christ is risen.” The congregation responds then each person passes the flame from the one candle to all the candles of the community. Like Mary Magdalen and Mary, sorrow and night slowly end for the congregation: new light and moving music connect us Jesus and with one another. We hear, “Do not be afraid; Go tell others that they, too, may know this Jesus.” Oh God, who makes this most sacred night radiate with the glory of the Lord, stir up in us the holy Spirit. In and with and through Jesus Christ may we become part of “the way,”- an extension of Jesus’ light and joy in this, our time. As my family left the Vigil my mother said, “I never will fear death after this night.” When she did die years later, she was so beautiful – radiant with joy – as she let go of one life to trust in Jesus after death. I know that the Easter Vigil was in her heart and spirit.

Let us take one last look at the rhythm within Matthew’s first Easter story. First, Mary Magdalene and Mary behold; then the angel points the way: both respond and Jesus comes. In this moment the Spirit of God lights their lives. Today, the same Spirit enkindles our hearts to know, love and serve.

Look at the empty tomb, believe what you see, then tell others. Like Paul in his Letter to the Romans, we embrace new life and know sorrow turning into unexpected joy. Like my mother, we can see ourselves with God, no holds barred.

Today God is known, loved, and served by Jesus living in us, his sisters, and his brothers. Let the church cry out, “Alleluia! Let us rejoice for Jesus is truly alive and risen from the dead.”


Matthew 28: 1-10

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.
And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it.
His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow.
The guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men.
Then the angel said to the women in reply, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified.
He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.
Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.’
Behold, I have told you.”
Then they went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce this to his disciples.
And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them.
They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage.
Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid.
Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”


Meet Sister Barbara Thiella, SNDdeN

Sr. Barbara Thiella, SNDdeN, daughter of John D. and Edna F. Dutcher Thiella, was born in San Francisco, California, on April 26, 1939. She was the first of two children. Her brother John is an attorney. Barbara entered the California Province of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in 1957, receiving the name Sr. Andrea. She attended Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, earning a degree in liberal arts and a California teaching credential. Then, she studied at the University of San Francisco and obtained a graduate degree in theology and a California credential in school administration. Later, she received a credential from the State of Hawaii. Sister Barbara has spent half of her years of ministry in formal education and the other half in leadership roles for the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and the Catholic Church at the diocesan level. Within Notre Dame schools, Sister Barbara has served as a teacher and administrator in the Dioceses of San Francisco, Monterey, Sacramento and Honolulu. She also worked at the University of the Pacific, Stockton, as a Campus Minister. As Vice Chancellor in the Diocese of Oakland, Sister Barbara facilitated the Second Pastoral Convocation and the ensuing Diocesan Pastoral Council. The California Province of the Sisters of Notre Dame called her first to direct personnel planning and then to be a member of the California Leadership team. Since 2000, Sister Barbara has been Chancellor in the Diocese of Stockton with a particular care for diocesan ministries that offer resources and training to 34 parishes and 12 missions. Sister Barbara has used her training and skills in pastoral theology and administration, research and development, in service to the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, dioceses in the Northern California Province, other religious communities, schools and seminaries. As a woman of the Church, Sister Barbara offers her life to affirm goodness in persons and institutions and to build together with others towards an inclusive community. As a Sister of Notre Dame, she cherishes the gospel call to seek for goodness in all aspects of life. The communal dedication of the Sisters of Notre Dame challenges and strengthens her own following of Jesus Christ.