February 12, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today I am taking the good news from the beginning of the last chapter of Matthew — 28:1-7.
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.”
Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Joses, have been with Jesus through all his travails. There were at the crucifixion, at the foot of the cross. They were at the tomb when Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus cleaned and wrapped the body and laid Jesus in his tomb. Now, they are the first to see that the tomb is empty and to hear the angel report that Jesus is risen.
I can imagine the grief that Mary and Mary experienced. Most of us have grieved for someone we loved with all our hearts. In the first hours and days it is like being in a state of shock, of suspended knowing. It’s as if my mind and body could only absorb the loss in small stages, otherwise risking being swamped and sunk, being irretrievably lost. In this altered state I was able to go through the motions of living, of making necessary decisions, but it was like an out-of-body experience as if it were someone else living my life, manipulating my mind and body.
Mary and Mary had witnessed the most horrifying kind of death. They mourned the loss of their love, the loss of their hopes. It took something extraordinary to pierce this veil, this fog of grief, in order to bring them to an understanding of what they were seeing and to prompt them to action. The earth shook beneath their feet and a radiant angel appeared. I can imagine their startled fright. Shock upon shock. How much more could their minds and hearts withstand? And then the tomb was opened to reveal its emptiness. Where was Jesus? Who had taken him? How did they get past the guards? Questions can flash through the mind in nanoseconds without stopping to search for answers, to reason.
The angel calmed their fears. How many times had Jesus told his followers to be not afraid when confronted with something beyond experience, beyond comprehension, beyond reason? The angel gently helped them open their eyes to what they were seeing. He first spoke to their hearts letting them know that he understood they had come to be close to the one they loved above all others, the one to whom they had given their hearts unconditionally. He acknowledged the love that drew them, that motivated them. Then he reminded them of what Jesus had told them, that he would be raised up. They could see and realize that Jesus remained true to his promises. He was faithful to his promises; he was faithful to their love for him. The angel invited them to see for themselves, to let all their senses confirm what their eyes were seeing and their ears were hearing. He shook them out of their wonder and reverie, commanding that they spread the news. He even gave them the words to use so they wouldn’t have to grasp for some way to tell what they had witnessed. Lastly, the angel gave them the most precious gift of all. He promised that they would see Jesus again in Galilee as Jesus himself had promised. Sweet Jesus!
It’s often in those times of abject grief, of suffering, of hopelessness, that God breaks through the veil of fog to let me know that He loves me, that He is true to His promises. But first He tells me to not be afraid. Don’t be afraid that I don’t have the strength to endure, that I will perish. Don’t be afraid that I am alone. Don’t be afraid to let everything go — my defenses, my independence, my doubts. Don’t be afraid to be loved. When I no longer resist, His loves comes flooding over me and raises me up as from death. I am released from my tomb; I am risen in His love. A new day dawns. Sweet Jesus!