“Do not be afraid,” the angel proclaims to the two Mary’s as they approach the tomb. I am not sure the angel’s words were all that comforting. After all, the two Mary’s had a lot to be afraid of. First and fore most they had experienced an earthquake as they walked from the village to where Jesus had been laid. Second, the two Mary’s are in the presence of a supernatural being who is shining like a star. Add to these two factors the fact there were soldiers guarding the tomb and they risked being arrested simply because they had come to prepare the body of a Roman criminal, the Marys had a lot reasons to be afraid.
Add to this the fact it seems whenever an angel has told someone to not be afraid, it usually meant God was planning to turn their world upside down. Thirty-three years earlier, the Virgin Mary was told not to be afraid and then she discovered she would bear the child of God. Nine months later, the Shepherds are told not to be afraid and led to the place where God had entered the world.
So don’t be afraid we are told just before discovering that the dead has been raised to new life. Afraid. . . overwhelmed, I think both would be fairly reasonable responses to discovering that the one you loved has returned from the dead. Afraid. . .overwhelmed are both appropriate responses to discovering that the world has started afresh.
This is where the empty tomb brings us, from desolation to hope, from grief to joy, from doubt to awe as we accept that God is powerful, more powerful than darkness and death itself. At Christmas we are told, not to be afraid for God is now with us. At Easter we are now told not to be afraid for not only is God with us, but also through the cross God has destroyed the power of death itself. In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul will celebrate this new reality by stating, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither, death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
With God and the hope of the resurrection, as the angel tells the two Maries have nothing to fear. I am reminded of a former colleague from the State of Connecticut. Every time a new administration came to power, I would always get nervous as they inevitably would begin tinkering with staffing. Afraid of being laid off, the anxiety of the staff along with me would always move towards a fevered pitch. To this Tom would always tell us, “stop worrying, the worst they can do is cut your hair.” “Cut our hair?”We would ask, and then Tom explained that after two tours of duty with the army as an infantryman and having faced enemy fire, he had learned not to fear death. From his perspective, he knew if he could face death, he could deal with anything life threw in his way.
This is the message of the empty tomb, with the power of death now destroyed we have nothing to fear. This is the Good News of Easter and as Peter tells those gathered around him in our reading from Acts, this is a message for all humanity, for “God shows no partiality.”
This however is only the beginning of this morning’s story. The Maries arrive at the tomb, nervous and afraid of what they might find. Then, they are told to tell the others and to seek the resurrected Jesus in Galilee. The underlying message is that what they have seen and what they have heard needs to be shared. Shared with the disciples, and shared with their fellow Galileans.
But why in Galilee? Why is it there that Jesus has returned? Galilee is their place of safety. Galilee is the place where they first experienced the incarnate God. And it is from Galilee that the movement has begun and from where it now must spread forth. And we, who have gathered to celebrate the resurrection, who are the adopted children of God, who are redeemed though the blood of the cross and the tomb, we too must also move from this place of safety and Go, as Jesus instructs the Maries, to find him in Galilee.
Where is Galilee for you? Where is that place you have experienced the risen Christ in your life and where is that place God has called you to be. For that is where you will find your Galilee, that is the place you will continue to experience the risen Christ, and that is the place where others are waiting to hear your story of the risen Christ.
So do not be afraid! For God is with you, death has been destroyed, and Jesus waits for you in Galilee where we must share this Good News with others. And yes, it is very good news.