Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
I love the Easter Vigil. Finally, “the strife is o’er”, the Alleulia has returned, Christ is risen. In this service we quite literally, touch, taste, see and smell the resurrection. We see the face of Jesus in the person next to us, we touch the hands of Jesus when we greet each other in peace, his sweet fragrance is all around in the incense and flowers, and we taste him in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Resurrection is a full-body experience...not just an intellectual exercise or a matter of faith.
And yet...in the gospel of Matthew, before we read of joy, we read of fear. In these 10 verses, the word “fear” or “afraid” is used in almost every other verse. We are told that the appearance of the angel is so frightening that the guards faint. We are told that the angel tells the two Marys not to be afraid, but it is with fear that they run to tell the disciples what has happened. And when Jesus appears to the women, he also tells them not to be afraid.
It would be easy for us to criticize the fear that is found in this joyous passage, but for Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, this was a fearful time. They had lost their friend, their teacher, their spiritual companion to a horrific death by others who were guided by fear. Perhaps they were fearful that they would also be arrested, tortured and executed. Perhaps the movement of the friends of Jesus would die with him, and the long-awaited kingdom would never come to fruition. Perhaps life would just go back to “normal” instead of being filled with the extraordinary love, healing and forgiveness that they had experienced while with Jesus. That dawn there was a lot of fear...fear of the unknown.
There are a lot of unknowns in our lives too. As Pema Chodron once said, “Fear is a universal experience” because we, like the women at the tomb, are faced with loneliness, death, and not having anything to hold on to when life falls apart around us. But we also have a choice. When faced with fear, we can be like the guards and faint, or we can choose to be courageous. The women at the tomb were courageous. Even though there was much to be afraid of and worried about, with great joy they told the disciples of the resurrection; when they could have been cowardly, the two Marys went ahead and shared the good news.
So on this good night, let us move from a place of fear to a place of joy. The Resurrection is all about joy of unexpected new life and hope. No longer do we need to be afraid. No longer do we need to be in darkness…we can rejoice in the breaking open of the Kingdom of God. When the two Marys encounter Christ on the way to tell the disciples, the word that he speaks is “Chairete”…a form of greeting that literally means “Rejoice”. This word “rejoice” is repeated three times in the exsultet (the chant from the beginning of the service):
Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels…
Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth…
Rejoice and be glad now, Mother Church…
All of heaven and earth, and the people of God are invited to rejoice.…so let us rejoice together!
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.