Alleluia, Christ is risen! (And you say?) He is risen indeed! Alleluia . . . . .
Do you use that greeting during the Easter season? It’s a custom, especially in Eastern Orthodox churches, that instead of saying hello, you say to your Christian brother or sister “Christ is risen!” – and she or he says “Christ is risen indeed!” And maybe you even exchange a triple kiss on alternating cheeks!
So . . . Alleluia, Christ is risen! (Response: He is risen indeed! Alleluia . . .) Let’s celebrate!! A day of pure joy!
But according to Matthew’s gospel joy is not the only thing that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were feeling when they ran off that first Easter – when they left the empty tomb looking for the disciples. There was joy for sure but also great fear. The message delivered by the angels is clear: “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised.”
This message – “Do not be afraid” – is, in many ways, at the core of Good News. It’s announced throughout Scripture by angels and messengers at key moments in the biblical story. It always announces the empowering words of faith and courage – the very essence of the gospel.
In this scene from Matthew, the women’s fear is totally understandable! Matthew describes what is probably the most alarming and awe-inspiring picture of the resurrection of the four gospel accounts. First, there is an earthquake . . . it reminds us of the earthquake that erupted when Jesus died.
And the stone . . . it’s still blocking the entrance to the tomb when the women arrive on scene. Then an angel of the Lord appears and rolls back the stone. The angel’s appearance must have been frightening – with a face like lightning and clothes so white and so bright and so awesome. This angel is so terrifying that the guards at the tomb immediately faint in terror.
So it’s no wonder these women are afraid – and no wonder that the angel speaks words of comfort and courage:
“Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised.”
However, the message doesn’t stop there: after the fear, and after the words of courage, comes a an invitation and a directive:
“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.”
And they do it – they respond! They come and see and then run and tell. … Matthew describes in their obedience a mixture of fear and joy.
I wonder if that isn’t the reality of our lives also. Don’t we live lives filled with both fear and joy? . . . Fear of what may happen to us – and to our children – in a dangerous world; joy in the blessings in everyday life, joy in family and friends.
There’s the fear of whether we will have a job in the year to come; joy in the colleagues that surround us.
… fear about the future of a loved one struggling with illness; joy in the gift that person has been to us.
… fear about the future amid political and social problems in the world; joy in the present moment surrounded by those we love.
… and maybe there’s even some fear about the future of our church; but there’s joy in our call to serve God and joy in the people of our community.
As for the women in the gospel story, I think it’s important to note that the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t take away all their fear. But it does enable them to keep faith amid their fears . . . to do their duty and share the Good News in spite of their anxiety.
Sometimes we’re tempted to believe that committing to faith in Jesus Christ should smooth out all the rough places in our lives – solve all our problems. Instead, I think that the gospel gives us the ability to keep on our feet amid the troubles – and not just to be able to persevere, but even to flourish when life is difficult.
“Do not be afraid” . . . Jesus himself repeats this message when he appears to the women. And this gives us insight into our own lives in our world. There is, definitely much to fear in our mortal lives. But the resurrection of Christ creates the possibility for joy and hope and courage . . . and so much more.
Jesus’ resurrection changes everything. In the resurrection, we have God’s promise that life is stronger than death, that love is greater than hate . . . and that all the sufferings and difficulties of this life are transient — real and present, and sometimes very painful, for sure, — but they do not have the last word.
Fear and joy . . . despair and hope . . . doubt and faith . . . . . . these all are the two sides of our lives. But in the end we know the resurrection promise that joy, hope, and faith will ultimately prevail. It’s a powerful message!
Christ’s resurrection demonstrates that our God is a God of new life and never-ending possibility. The good news of Christ’s resurrection does not take away our fear – even though there are times when we wish so desperately that it would. But it does offer courage and hope with the assurance that God will have the last word . . . and that word is one of light and life … grace and mercy … love and peace.
In the Maundy Thursday homily, I suggested that the story of the Triduum – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday (including the Easter Vigil continuing into Easter day) – – – it’s like a theatrical play in three acts. That means that today is Act III – the final act. We’ve come to the end of the play. And Matthew – the playwright – has left us holding this tension between joy and fear. And he’s left us still seeking, still looking ahead to a meeting with Jesus in Galilee.
As believers in Jesus Christ and seekers of Jesus’ truth, we grow in faith when we continue to seek – we grow deeper in our relationship with Jesus when we keep looking ahead to the next meeting. We continue to seek because, somehow, we’ve already encountered the Holy Other – we’ve already seen the Risen Jesus. In our baptisms we have been buried with Jesus in his death – and we know that we will live with him in his resurrection.
The joy and the fear at the end of Matthew’s gospel is still always waiting to be embraced . . . it’s waiting for you and me. How will you live the resurrection story? How will you tell the resurrection story?
As for Matthew’s three-act drama? You and I are continuing to write the script. You and I are living the sequel!