Do not be afraid!

At the end of the wonderful movie Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart and Claude Rains walk together into the night, as Ingrid Bergman’s plane takes off.  (Don’t worry, they’ll “always have Paris!”)  It’s a happy ending, because rather than arresting Bogart for killing the evil villain, Rains instead orders his officers to “round up the usual suspects.”  

Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” are the usual suspects.  These two have been with Jesus every step of the way.  They saw him die (Matthew 27:56); they helped bury him (27:61) and now they go to his tomb (28:1-10).  It only seems fair that these two women become the first Apostles (apóstolos meaning “one who is sent off”): “Go quickly and tell my brothers…” (vs. 10).

Before the women are “sent off,” the scene is a flurry of excitement and urgency (no laid-back tale this!).  Look at the words: suddenly; earthquake; his appearance was like lightning and his clothing white as snow; shook; go quickly; they left the tomb quickly; ran; suddenly; go!

Yet notice that nowhere in the New Testament is there an account or description of the resurrection itself. Not a single one!  Clearly, meaning and purpose is much more significant than the mechanics of it all.  And so, the angel acts as an interpreter in this text, as angels tend to do from Zachariah onwards.  And a scary angel he is: his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow (vs. 3).  This is attention-grabbing in the extreme, almost like Jesus in his transfiguration.  No wonder the women are afraid.  In Mark’s Gospel, the scene ends suddenly and sadly, as the women are too afraid to fulfil their mission.  However, in Matthew’s Gospel there is also “great joy” (vs. 8).  Where fear reduces the women to silence (Mark 16:8) joy leads to proclamation.  

For us too, here and now, the focus is on fear, which can very naturally become overwhelming and lead to silence.  We are sick.  M. Scott Peck once wrote: “Sickness leads to chaos, which, through hard work and a touch of grace, leads to growth and resurrection.”  In sickness, patient and doctor work together over days, weeks, months, even years of treatment and therapy.  Watch someone learn to walk again; watch as another round of chemotherapy commences; watch as a new medication is tried and then adjusted.  Being sick is hard work!  Through grace, and hard work, growth and resurrection is possible: without which there is only silence, including the Great Silence of death.  

In the Resurrection, the hard work is done by Jesus through his suffering and death.  Humankind contributes nothing, brings nothing to the table.  Our works are conspicuously absent: the absence of friends now in hiding.  Abandonment is the order of the day.  Only deniers and betrayers venture out into the open; scourging, mocking, torturing and executing.  The motto of the ELCA is “God’s Work, Our Hands.”  That seems to me like a pretty good description of the crucifixion!  Truly, in this life-giving exchange, we are just beggars – as Luther puts it – this is most certainly true.

The women have space in their hearts for joy, even in the midst of fear.  “So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples” (vs. 8).  And it is as they ran that they met the Risen Lord: “Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him” (vs. 9).  And, it is through joy that we too meet Jesus, even while we are fearful or mourning or weeping.  Joy is the crack through which God’s love comes to us.  As Leonard Cohen’s poem and song outs it: 

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

God finds a way to reach out to us: do not be afraid.  Even while we are beggars: do not be afraid.  Even when confused and when all seems lost: do not be afraid.  The light of Christ comes in through cracks too small to see with the naked eye.  

Jesus is raised.  The Kingdom is among us!
Pr. Ken Blyth