And so we begin the season of “after Easter”. For me, this is a season of adjustment, a time when we begin to understand some of the implications of God’s creative new reality. To say “Jesus is risen” is to first note an event. That’s important, of course, but that can’t be all. We must also push toward meanings and ask: how does the resurrection of Jesus change the world? and how does it change me, and my experience of things?
In Matthew’s resurrection narrative (Matthew 28), we are told of two women (both named Mary) coming to the tomb on the first day of the week. We are told of an earthquake and an angel coming to roll back the stone. We are told that the soldiers stationed to guard the tomb were so frightened by this moment that “they became like dead men”. Fear can do that to us: fear results in a kind of deadness.
But something qualitatively different happens to the two women. The angel tells them not to be afraid. Jesus is risen, and they are to tell the disciples. And then this revealing little phrase:
“So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy...” (Matt. 28:8, NIV).
For about a decade now, I have been fascinated by the post-Easter appearances of Jesus. There are about 10 or so such episodes, when Jesus makes himself known in his new reality to both groups and individuals. What is fascinating is how these appearances go beyond being mere proofs that he lives (although they are that); these experiences are also examples of the deeply restorative nature of human encounters with the risen Lord. Jesus showed himself to Mary Magdalen and restored her broken heart, he showed himself to Thomas and restored his faith, he showed himself to Peter and restored his calling. In other words, the resurrection is more than God’s statement that Jesus lives. It is also God’s call to live in the meaning of this new reality.
In the story mentioned above, we see how fear itself is being called into question. The resurrection of Jesus is sheer good news, absolute joy. The angel expressly tells them not to fear. And yet the two Marys leave in a mix of emotions: “afraid yet filled with joy”.
In the season of “after-Easter” we live in this complicated mixture of joy and fear, this uneasy union of the new and old reality. I wonder if this mixture of joy and fear is one way of seeing what it is we must now sort out, this relationship of what is dying and what is now being born. I can honestly say that my relationship with Christ has meant that Easter joy has invaded my heart. It really has. But I also admit that I far too easily slip back into old well-trodden habits of fear and my long practice of common human anxiety. Perhaps we are meant to see ourselves in these first two witnesses: we too know what it is to be afraid yet filled with joy.
On Easter Sunday we prayed this prayer:
Lord of Life: death could not hold you
You conquered sin and despair, sadness and the grave You gave us the riches of your grace
And now we have everything to live for: We live for love: for each other We live for hope: for the future We live for peace: for the healing of all that is broken, the finding of all that is lost We live for you
And so, on this resurrection day, we sing for joy: joy today, joy tomorrow, joy for evermore Amen.
In this season of “after-Easter”, I am determined to make more room for the joy part of the mixture. And this is because He is risen. We begin a new series on Sunday we are calling Jesus on Anxiety. Hope to see you there.