Christ has risen, Alleluia! Do not be afraid!
In today’s Gospel we witness Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” encountering the resurrected Jesus. These two women, in Matthew’s account, are the first humans to see the Lord after he rose from the dead. And the first words he addresses to them are “Do not be afraid.” Why did he say that?
Well, maybe, because they were afraid. He knows they will be fine, and so there’s no need for fear, but respects the way they feel. In today’s fragment we read “[Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary] went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed.” Let’s pause.
This is not a typical mix of emotions. We all know how fear feels like. We all know how joy feels like. But how often are you “fearful yet overjoyed?” Well, the cause for this unusual emotional state is a very unusual sequence of events. Right before the scene in the fragment the Church chose for us to read today, the following happens: Mary and Mary go to the tomb, certain that Jesus is dead (they saw him dying on a cross, 36 hours ago, and had two really hard, most probably sleepless nights); an earthquake occurs (!); an angel (!) descends from heaven (!) and rolls back the stone; the Roman guards (the occupants, remember?) “are shaken with fear and become like dead men;” and the angel says: [paraphrasing] “Do not be afraid! Jesus is not here, he has risen from the dead! Go tell the guys.”
We are used to this fragment. We know this story. We have read it many, many times. But think about it! Pain and tears -> earthquake -> angel -> news of the resurrection! This is shocking. And this is the greatest news ever. In the minds of Mary and Mary, suddenly, everything has changed. Suddenly, Jesus is not dead and defeated; Jesus is the Conqueror of death, of hell and of Satan. Jesus won. In this sense, they won. They were, and are, on the right side. On the God’s side. Even if they doubted for a while, now they know. So, they are overjoyed! But still, they are afraid. Even though the angel already told them not to be afraid, they are. Because earthquake, and because angel (!), and because we have no idea what’s going to happen now, but we know it’s going to be very different from now on.
Fearful yet overjoyed.
It’s ok to be afraid today. Jesus knows that. His “do not be afraid” is not a rebuke – “how dare you be afraid on my feast day!”; no, it’s a comforting promise. He knows us. He loves us. He won, died and resurrected for us. He’s got it. So, if for any reason – and we are not short on those these days – you feel fearful, that’s ok. Work on the joy part. For, Christ has defeated death. Christ has saved us.
Let us celebrate. And let us go tell everyone: Christ has risen, Alleluia! Do not be afraid!