“Do not be afraid! He Is Not Here….

…He is risen!”

I can only imagine the weight of the first eight words that greeted the women on Resurrection morning, at the tomb.

In a time of mourning a loved one, we are more emotional, more vulnerable and not well prepared to handle further shock. These women arrived at the tomb that morning to pay final respects and care for Jesus’ body. Their hearts were heavy and, without a doubt, there must have been a sense of hopelessness because of unfulfilled expectations. Jesus, their teacher and mentor, was gone. Jesus, their promised Messiah, had died without setting the Jews free from Roman rule. Still they loved Him and their visit to the tomb was part of the process of releasing Him and moving on with their lives.

“Do not be afraid.” the words must have momentarily weighed so heavily on their hearts that the next words were lost. The moment someone says, “don’t fear”, we instinctively anticipate bad news. And they got it! On the heels of that advice to not fear came the announcement, “He is not here…”

For a moment their hearts must have frozen in time as the questions raced through their minds? “What did the soldiers do with him? What happened to their beloved friend?”

And then, I imagine, one of the women’s eyes must have popped wide open. I don’t know the temperaments of these two women, named Mary and Mary Magdalene, but I know what it’s like when my friends and I are together. If I have a ‘revelation moment’ about something, I let out an involuntary cry of delight. If it’s exceptionally good news, I might scream and jump up and down excitedly without a second thought.

Odds are that if either Mary or Mary Magdalene was natured anything like me, there was, at the very least, a cry of delight! They probably hugged each other and cried happy tears—because that’s what women do— as they shouted, “He is risen! He is risen! Did you hear the angel, Mary?? Jesus is risen! He’s alive!”

The angel, though enthusiastic, I expect was the calming factor in the equation. He told them to come and have a look at the empty tomb and then go quickly to tell the disciples. My guess is that they would have run to tell the disciples without even looking into the tomb if they angel hadn’t called them down to earth—however ironic that is—and encouraged a common sense approach. In essence I think the angel was saying, “Look for yourself and see the evidence so that when you are questioned you won’t second guess yourself, but you will know with confidence that Jesus is no longer in the tomb.”

When the angel told them to run tell the disciples, they did with intense and mixed emotion. Matthew 28:8 says that the women hurried away, afraid, yet filled with joy. As they rushed to find the disciples, suddenly Jesus appeared before them and they ran to Him, fell down before Him and clasped His feet as they worshipped Him.

“Don’t be afraid,” Jesus said, just as the angel had. This message, first from the angel and then from Jesus, speaks powerfully of God’s understanding heart. He understood that the natural, human response, in a moment of extreme shock, is fear. He didn’t tell them, “Pull yourselves together–believers don’t act that way! Don’t you know who I am? Have you no faith or maturity at all?” No, Jesus spoke with understanding and grace into their humanity.

Jesus then echoed the angel’s instructions by sending the women to tell the disciples everything and instruct them to go to Galilee where He would meet them. Matthew doesn’t tell us much about their time in Galilee and chooses to jump to the final interaction with Jesus before He is taken to heaven in a cloud.

Sometime after they reunited in Galilee, Jesus met with the eleven disciples and ‘passed the baton’, so to speak, telling them to spread the great news of the gospel. His parting words were comforting the disciples with this promise: “Surely I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.”

This Resurrection Sunday, or Easter, as we call it, I don’t know what is happening in your life. Maybe your heart is filled with anxiety or panic, like the two women when the realized their Jesus was gone. Maybe you have known Him for a long time and you feel as though He has suddenly abandoned you. You expected Him to set you free from some bondage you find yourself enslaved to, but He didn’t and you are disappointed. Maybe you are afraid because you don’t know what is happening in your life.

Today, regardless what is going on in you or around you, I offer you the words of the angel, “Don’t be afraid…. He is risen!” There is still hope.

Cling to the parting words of Jesus, “I am with you always!” and invite Him to be the peace in your chaos, the calm in your confusion, the love in your empty and broken heart.