Resurrected. That was the last thing the Marys expected to hear when they went to Jesus’ tomb at daybreak the first day of the week. The whole week – Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, him being betrayed and abandoned by his closest friends, his arrest, crucifixion, and burial – was surreal and unbelievable. And now this?
Matthew’s account of what the women experienced when they arrived at the tomb is dramatic. Epic is probably a better word. A massive earthquake, an angel of the Lord descending from heaven, rolling back the stone, and sitting in the empty tomb of Jesus is enough to terrify anyone. Matthew tells us the guards “shook and became like dead men.” In other words, they fainted in terror! The Marys were grief-stricken, heartbroken, and now, afraid.
Angels, at least in the Scripture, are messengers who arrive at key moments of tension and drama in the biblical story. They usually begin their announcement with, “Be not afraid.” They are heralding a restorative and empowering word of courage. The Marys – and certainly the guards – certainly needed a word of courage now! No doubt they were wondering, “What was that?!? What just happened? “
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” ~ Matthew 28:1-10
There is a lot going on here. First the angel speaks words of courage and comfort – Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Then the angel has a command – go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ And the women do just that. They come and see and then the run and tell, all with fear and great joy. Therein is the message of resurrection.
Isn’t that what life is this side of eternity? A mixture of fear and joy? Fear of what may happen to our children and joy that they are such a blessing in our lives. Fear about the prognosis of a loved one struggling with an illness and joy of what they mean to us. Fear about the messy state of affairs around the world and joy in the little kindnesses shown by a stranger.
The message of the resurrection is that they can keep faith even when afraid and share their good news in spite of their anxiety. The resurrection doesn’t take away their fear. The resurrection allows them to persevere and flourish even when life is difficult. Fear and joy, despair and hope, doubt and faith, are the two sides of our lives in this world.
The resurrection changes everything: life is stronger than death, love is greater than hate and indifference, mercy overcomes judgment, humility is more powerful than arrogance, peace trumps violence. While all the sufferings and difficulties of this life are real and painful, they are transient and do not reflect the final reality.
The resurrection changes everything in the epic drama of God and humanity. It is a reverie. It announces that this is a new day, God has a new message, and is calling us to a new life. The fearsome and joyous news is Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!