Excerpted from 2023 Lenten Guide: A Season of Renewal, a Lenten Guide for Lectionary Year A from the North Carolina Council of Churches.
After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers and sisters to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Have you ever been afraid and bravely raced towards the very thing you were afraid of, all the while wondering why? Or have you ever been told not to be afraid, not to worry, not to be concerned and instead of being assuaged, your fears increased? Today is Easter Sunday and I acknowledge the hope we celebrate and embrace on this day; but on this Easter Sunday, I am also captured by the fact that “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” in the story were told “Do not be afraid” (v. 5).
We usually jump to the part of this story where Mary Magdalene and the other Mary left the tomb to tell his disciples “with fear and great joy” (v. 8) what they had seen and what they had heard. What likely stands out in our minds is the part where we are told they went with great joy. Our brains jump to the good part, the part where they see Jesus and hear, “Do not be afraid” (v. 10). We skim over the part where they are afraid even as they go with joy to tell Jesus’ disciples what they have seen and heard.
Naming our fears doesn’t make them disappear, but neither does pretending our fears don’t exist. Sometimes we are the ones who have to be brave and run towards the things we fear. Sometimes we have to say the words no one else will say. Sometimes we need to speak up because the voice of many is more powerful than the voice of only one. Sometimes we must tell the story of injustice again when everyone is ready to move on so that our fears can be met by the entire community.
I imagine Mary Magdalene and the other Mary ran with hearts beating out of their chests, minds racing about what they would say, while wondering if anyone would believe them. Maybe they considered not telling anyone at all. Maybe they considered telling a strategic few to see if anyone would believe them. Maybe they wondered why us? Like Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, sometimes it is us called to face the fear. Isn’t that what Easter is really about? Jesus crucified and buried even when he was afraid. Fear doesn’t get to dictate our actions to us unless we allow it. We can choose courage, love, and hope in the face of injustices that would have us believe that fear, hatred, and despair are the only way open to us. This Easter season let’s remember that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were afraid, but they told their story anyway.
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