Matthew 28: 1-10 NRSV
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; 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 to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
How appropriate for devotions about “encounters!” Ten verses recall four encounters – angel and two Marys, angel and guards, Jesus and Marys, and (imminent) encounter of Marys and disciples. Their commonality is the central biblical theme of fear and joy when in God’s presence. “Fear” in the biblical sense of “awe” is essential in worship and to acquiring wisdom (Prov. 9:10), but God and God’s messengers say “Do not be afraid” (i.e., scared out of your wits) when they visit humans. Matthew’s account at the tomb reminds me of Luke’s start of Christ’s earthly journey, when the angel proclaimed (KJV), “Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people…” The “sore afraid” Christmas shepherds went and told, as did the Easter women. The guards’ fright made them truly as “dead men,” for life apart from God is death. But the women left with fear and “great joy” to tell the good news, and their response to Jesus was to worship before he uttered his “do not be afraid.”
You may wonder how you would have reacted to the scary and inexplicable events of that first “Holy Week.” Like the locked-in disciples? Or the women? Some say that the women weren’t extra courageous, but just following their feminine instinct to be curious and obey. Give them credit! They stayed conscious, heard God’s message, worshiped, and evangelized, which changed the world. They too were “angels” (“messengers of God”). What messages does Christ give you and me and how do we respond?
Thank you for challenging me anew each time I read this passage. Don’t let me think of this as a nice pastel story for an Easter card illustration. Make this a fearful, joyful, and commissioning story for me too and for your church, in these times in which your Living Word is so desperately needed to bring hope and reconciliation throughout the world. In the strong name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Carroll Leslie Bastian