“They went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed.”
Fearful … yet overjoyed.
The response to the resurrection has been varied. The soldiers at the tomb were terrified, so much so that they were like dead men. We will hear later that Thomas doubted that it even happened, despite what his friends told him. And tonight, we see the first witnesses – the women – fearful, yet overjoyed. They hear the message of the angel, and they immediately become evangelists – messengers themselves of the Good News. And even so, they are fearful.
Where does that “Easter fear” come from? Because it is the fear of the evangelists – the fear of the first women entrusted with that good news. They felt it, even as they had seen and heard the angel’s report. That morning, the Mary’s were full of “Easter fear.”
Perhaps, they are afraid that this message is too good to be true. How could their friend and Teacher be alive now? No one comes back from the dead, do they? Well, He had raised Lazarus, hadn’t He? What if … what if He could do that Himself? He had talked about it – references to being “raised up” and the “third day” – isn’t this the third day? What would He look like? He had been so badly beaten. So many people wanted to be rid of Him; what if they find out that He’s back? What if they come for us?
What if everything that we dared to believe is true? Easter fear is not like other fear. Easter fear is holy fear; it is wondrous fear. Easter fear wonders if anything will ever be the same again – and then how wonderful will our lives be because of this mysterious event that we are now witnessing. That was the fearful feeling that the women at the empty tomb were experiencing that first Easter morning.
… and, maybe, it’s the same kind of fearfulness that you and I are experiencing now. Here – in the midst of the strangest Easter that I have ever encountered – we are living through a moment that promises uncertainty and manifests suffering. We are confused, thrown off our routines, and left wondering what is next.
In the end, Easter fear is the dawning realization that things as we know them will never be the way they were. Everything is changing; things will never be the same. But, this fear leads to Easter joy.
Easter joy comes from the awareness that one has had an encounter with the Risen Christ. It’s the joy of those holy women. It will be the joy of the Apostles as Jesus enters the Upper Room. It’s the joy of understanding that, now, things will never be the same.
It’s the same joy of a newly married couple on their wedding night – when they begin to realize that the love they have just celebrated and sealed is going to be their new reality for the rest of their life.
It’s the joy of a newly ordained priest as he celebrates the Eucharist for the first time and knows that this same Jesus will be feeding people by his hands forever.
It’s the joy of parents as they look upon their newborn child with wonder and absolute love, imagining what she will become.
Easter joy is what we know this night – when we come to realize that what we now experience is only a sliver of the good things that God has in store for us from here on out. It’s our awareness that the empty tomb of this early morning is not an end but only the beginning. And it comes for us with a real encounter with Jesus, who meets us this day and tells us: “Get ready for some really wonderful things! Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
Friends, this night, you and I should be like those holy women at the tomb. We too should be filled with Easter fear and Easter joy – as we also encounter the Lord and are sent to His brothers and sisters. We are part of this incredible story that we have heard recounted tonight – beginning with the creation of the world and culminating in Christ’s victory over sin and death. We now share that victory; we are now part of a new story – a story of God’s power at work in us. Easter is not just some event long ago, that happened to other people, and exists only in our memories (or even only in this particular church). No. Easter is right there with you – even in the midst of our separation and difficulty. No one can take that away from us, because it is Jesus who shares it with us.
Tonight, friends, we are charged by Jesus: “Do not be afraid. Go.” Step outside tomorrow morning and declare to your neighbors, “Jesus is Risen!” Even as we languish in our human fear of sickness and suffering, we are filled with Easter fear and joy to proclaim what the Church has known and announced from that first Easter day: Jesus Christ is risen. Alleluia!