With Fear and Great Joy
Matthew 28:1-10New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Resurrection of Jesus
28 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 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. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he[a] lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead,[b] and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Our story begins as the day dawns on the first day of the week. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, perhaps Mary the mother of Jesus, come to the tomb. The beginning seems quite ordinary: loved ones visiting a tomb. This bright and early morning could have been the same story that many experienced before this and many after this. The story of death. The story of loss. The end of the story. And yet for this Easter story the grave is not the end. God is about to dramatically intervene.
“Suddenly there was a great earthquake.” An angel of the Lord descends from heaven and rolls back the stone and sits on it. The guards cannot handle this overwhelming scene. The guards, who should be the epitome of strength, are weak and become like dead men. The women, who in biblical times were perceived as weak, are strong and clearheaded. Yet the women who came to visit Jesus’ body- do not faint. They stand to hear the angel’s message. “Do not be afraid.”
The phrase, do not be afraid, or fear not, is found in the Bible over one hundred times. I think it is one of the most important messages that God gives to us. And I think one of the reasons God uses this message so often, is that we can never be truly rid of fear. Fear is a part of life. And yet, we are not to be paralyzed in fear. We should not allow fear to stop us from hearing the good news. We should not allow fear to stop us from knowing Jesus. We should not allow fear to keep us from living, and loving, and experiencing the goodness and joy of this life. Our scripture says the women left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. “With fear and great joy!”
Joy and fear are emotions that often go hand in hand.
When we experience joy- we must do this wholeheartedly. We can’t experience a little bit of joy- rather joy is an overflowing experience. To experience joy, we must open ourselves up to living in the present moment. And when we open ourselves up to the present- we are vulnerable. You can’t experience joy without vulnerability. Being vulnerable means that we are also opening ourselves up to other experiences. Being open to joy and love- also means being open fear. When we are truly living, we are experiencing everything on life’s spectrum. We will feel more joy- we will know more love- but we will also experience fear, loss, and grief.
- Imagine learning to ride a bike for the first time. To balance- you must let go of the ground and trust your body. You feel the joy of riding with the wind in your face. Yet at the same time, there is still the possibility that you will fall. There is joy and fear.
- Imagine holding your precious baby or grandbaby for the first time. There is pure joy at the beauty of this new life. And fear, because this gift is beyond our complete protection. Joy and fear.
- Imagine applying for that job, or that perfect school. The hope of what it may bring also brings the fear of rejection and disappointment.
- Imagine allowing ourselves to fall in love again- after a broken heart- with fear and great joy!
Allowing yourself to hope can be a risky thing. It means putting yourself out there. It means being open to the world. When the women see the angel of the Lord, they are afraid. When they see the empty tomb, they allow themselves to hope. They are living in both fear and joy. They are joyful because they have hope that the good news, may indeed be true. That Jesus, their beloved teacher, is alive! That they will see him again. That he is waiting for them in Galilee. They are fearful because they may again be disappointed with grief. They have experienced something so unexpected- they do not know what will happen next- they are afraid. They are experiencing fear and great joy! They are so overcome with these emotions that they are running- they run to tell the disciples. “They left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.”
And what happens next is perhaps the most surprising thing of all- they run into Jesus. Jesus in the flesh. In their fear and their joy and their running- they encounter God. They meet the risen Christ.
In our lives, when we experience joy- we too run into God. When we allow ourselves to hope. When we allow ourselves to live in this present moment and experience joy- even though it also means befriending fear, we find God. Our joy is a holy testament to the resurrected Christ.
Suddenly Jesus meets them and greets them. It’s important to note the words that Jesus greet Mary and Mary with. Our translation says, “Greetings!” And yet the root word is the same as the root word for joy- it is a greeting of joy. Jesus’ emotions mirror the women. And yet, what is not present? Fear. In the new creation- Jesus is filled with joy, without fear. What a beautiful promise for each of us. Someday we will know the perfect love that casts out fear, completely.
After Jesus greets the women- they worship him. They take a leap of faith. And Jesus again repeats the message. “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” The women are privileged to be the first witnesses to the resurrection. The first to carry the good news that Jesus is alive, that God has not left them. They are to tell the brothers and sisters that they will see Jesus in Galilee. Galilee- the place where Jesus healed, and preached, and performed miracles. The place where Jesus taught his disciples. Jesus will go ahead of them Galilee. The women carry this word of hope, with fear and great joy.
Hope may be a risky thing. But a life without hope- is not a life truly lived. A life without hope is a life without: joy, love, purpose. The account of Jesus’ resurrection is a story that needs hope. As Christians, we do not have the privilege of being first-hand witnesses to the resurrection. Rather, God invites us to hear the story and believe.
As followers of Christ today, we stand with the women at the tomb and ask, “Could it be true? Could this good news be true?” We may be afraid to let ourselves believe this good news. And yet God calls us to take a leap of faith- to allow ourselves to hope, and to experience the joy. This joy comes from knowing Jesus. God tells us, “Do not be afraid.” We are called to take a leap of faith and open our eyes to the evidence of the resurrection all around us.
Our story began early in the morning on the first day of the week. And that story did not end in death- but new life. And every Sunday, the first day of the week, early in the morning- for the last two millennia- Jesus’ followers gather to share the story of God’s love for the world. Just as we gather today to share the story, to remember Jesus’ words: Do not be afraid, I am going ahead of you. The message of hope and joy. The hope of Easter is that death is not the end of the story. Jesus defeated death- and was raised to new life. The hope of Easter is ‘for you.’ God promises you new life in Christ. A life of joy and love. A life that continues with God beyond the grave. A life that will unite us with those we have lost who are now with God. That is the hope of Easter.
May you be filled with the hope and joy of Easter today, and every day. Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Amen.