What Are You Afraid Of?
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome, went and bought spices so they might anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, after the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will help us to roll back the stone from the entrance to the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man there, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right-hand side, and they were alarmed.
But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He is not here. Look at the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples, and Peter, that he is going ahead of you, to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he said.” So the women got up and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
So what are you afraid of?
When was the last time you asked… were asked… or answered that question?
It reminds me of something I think my parents asked me – and that I have asked my own boys – when they couldn’t sleep, thanks to a bad dream. “What are you afraid of?”
In fact, it seems like something I ask my own boys whenever they don’t want to do something or try something new. “What are you so afraid of?”
And when I read and hear about Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome, “fleeing from the tomb, for terror and amazement seized them” and that “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid,” it’s tempting to think they were scared of something like ghosts, or zombies, or of seeing dead people – like I used to be afraid of the basement when I was a kid; or of scary movies; or of things that go bump in the night. (As a boy, I could take the stairs four at time, with my blood pumping and the hairs on my neck standing on end, if I was alone in the neighbors’ basement after someone had turned out the lights.)
But these women weren’t children. It was daylight. The sun was up. And they were together, not alone.
So, I’m inclined to imagine that the Maries and Salome – the first women to hear the Good News of the resurrection – where amazed and terrified for more than we give the story credit for. I’m inclined to think they were afraid because the fullness and truth of God’s promised love was actually being revealed; because it really was coming true; because what Jesus had been telling them all along was fulfilled, “JUST AS HE SAID” it would be, in spite of what happened the Friday before.
See, I think maybe they were scared, not of ghosts or goblins; or of darkness or the walking dead, even. I think maybe they were scared, instead, of God’s grace and good news; about this new life and light that was about to shine itself into the world in a way that would change everything. And I wonder if they were scared because all of that was more than they bargained for; more than they had prepared for; more than they were ready to live into, no matter how true they wanted it to be.
And I wonder if we aren’t scared enough by all of this, enough of the time.
Because this Good News is more than we bargained for, it seems. This news goes against our better judgment, most days. This forgiveness of sins, this resurrection of the body, this life ever-lasting stuff changes everything – or it should – if we receive it and believe it, full-stop. And I wonder if it shouldn’t scare the hell out of us – in a good way – more often than it does.
Because it is a terrifying proposition to live in the light of God’s love.
It is a frightening thing to welcome the stranger, and mean it; to forgive a sinner, and mean it; to turn the other cheek, and wait for what’s next.
It is terrifying to love your enemy, rather than to take up arms against them – so we build bombs, stockpile weapons, and pack heat, instead.
It is scary to speak the truth in love and to deal with the consequences – so we keep quiet.
It is risky and unsettling to give our things and our stuff and our money away – so we keep more of it for ourselves.
It is scary to admit fault, to ask for forgiveness and to change your ways – so we don’t.
It is frightening to see God in the face of those who live and behave and believe so differently from what is comfortable or familiar or safe to us – so we keep to ourselves.
It is terrifying to get old, to get sick, to creep closer to the grave and all that comes with it – so we do all sorts of things to pretend or deny what cannot be avoided.
So, I think it’s okay – and faithful, even – to be unsettled, if not scared, terrified, and frightened of this good news – like those first women were – because that would mean we were believing it… embracing it… receiving it… and letting it have its way with us, in some new way.
So what are you afraid of? And what would it mean to engage it, embrace it, face it head-on on the other side of Easter’s empty tomb? And what if you did that – running scared, if need be – but trusting Easter’s good news that God’s ways win every time, much to our surprise and in spite of our fears. Weeping may last through the night, but joy will come in the morning. Light shines in the darkness. Dying leads to new life.
So what are you afraid of? Jesus has been there and done that… Jesus – and the love and grace of God – will be there, on the other side of the whatever scares you most… just like he said, just like he did, just like that love and grace was and is and always will be…
Amen. Happy Easter.