“Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went away quickly from the tomb,
fearful yet overjoyed.…”
From the moment we are born, we are brought into a world of the unknowns - and fear becomes a part of our lives. Today's Gospel offers us two very different but very human looks at fear.
For Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, it is a fear of the unexpected and the unknown as they encounter an empty tomb. Just before this Gospel begins, the women are told by an angel, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified.” They hurry away and their thoughts must been racing as they try to make sense of something incomprehensible. Jesus' body is gone? An angel has told them not to be afraid? What in the world has happened to Jesus?
And then he is there himself: Jesus is coming toward them, greeting them and we can imagine their stunned reaction and their joy as they embrace him. The first thing he says to them are the words we have heard him speak so many times, “Do not be afraid.” He is telling them to trust in him, to trust in this experience and in this unknown. Then he gives them the mission to spread the news and let others know that they will encounter him. Their fear has been turned to joy by the presence of Jesus in their lives.
The other fear is in the second part of the Gospel: while the Marys are hurrying back to the city, the guards, now wide awake and frightened, tell the chief priests what has happened. Jesus' body is gone! The elders and chief priests are also deeply afraid, but their fear is the kind all of us have rooted in the darker parts of our souls. Their fear is about losing power and control and having the people begin to believe in Jesus, this unlikely King of the Jews. This kind of fear, so tangled in our insecurities and lack of trust, creates more complexities. Lies are created, money exchanged. In case the soldiers fear for their jobs, they are reassured: “if this gets to the ears of the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.”
We can imagine the very different reactions to fear at the end of this story. Mary Magdalene running back, filled with joy, bursting with the incredible news for the Apostles: Jesus is alive! He is risen! In the face of their disbelief, her story of her encounter with Jesus will tumble out in joy and laughter and is rooted in the truth.
It is this same kind of knowing we see in the first reading as Peter feels the truth deep in his soul. It gives the timid and afraid leader the courage to fearlessly proclaim the story of the resurrection. Peter stands up and raises his voice loudly to tell to the crowd that God raised Jesus up, “releasing him from the throes of death.”
On the other side? The guards trudge home, puzzled, afraid of what they don't understand, afraid of being caught in this lie. The chief priests are soured with fears, lies and deceptions. Who among us can be trusted with the truth? Will the frightening truth leak out? Can we all keep our stories straight? What will we lose if people find out the real story? They move farther from the truth and the Good News of Jesus' life and resurrection.
Dear Jesus, on this great day after Easter, help us to hand our fears over to you. Today, in all of the terrors and anxieties that we face, both those that are real and those that are not, we ask for the light of your truth to shine in our hearts. Give us the sense of your presence deep in our hearts and fill us with your Spirit so that our hearts find a new courage to proclaim you with joy.
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