Here in North Carolina, Easter is usually heavy on pastel dresses and azaleas. It’s festive and celebratory, with mini-quiches and punch. Turning to your neighbor and telling them “don’t be scared” would seem socially inappropriate, if not down right misguided. On Easter, we are decidedly not afraid.
But note the details of the Easter story. The setting: a tomb at dawn, still cloaked in semi-darkness. The action: women enter the scene to experience a violent earthquake (not the first that week, with the midday darkness and earthquake several days earlier); they meet armed guards and an angel likened to dangerous elements of nature: lightning and snow. Cue the foreboding music and the fog machine. If you’re not yet feeling appropriately on edge, the armed guards — presumably the brave ones — are shaking and becoming “like dead men.” There is no quiche here — this is a scary story!
We are living in a scary time now. Despite the blue sky and sunshine and flowering trees and singing birds outside my window, uncertainty surrounds every aspect of our lives. Death hangs over even beautiful moments. We are never care-free. Easter seems swallowed up in a perpetual Holy Saturday — we are waiting and waiting and the outlook is grim.
But the message the angel brings to the brave, brave women at the tomb where Jesus was buried and has risen doesn’t make sense to someone living in a pastel-coated world. “Don’t be afraid” isn’t something you say when the world is rosy. “Don’t be afraid” is a word of hope in a scary story, a story like the one we’re living in. It’s a message for a semi-dark morning with angels and earthquakes and armed guards. It’s a message for a world of contagious viruses and dwindling face masks and makeshift morgues. We are in the middle of something scary and Jesus is risen.
Even after the women talk to the angel, even after he tells them Jesus is no longer dead, but alive, the women hurry away — afraid, yet filled with joy. They don’t suddenly adopt the power of positive thinking, turn their frowns upside down, and trust in Jesus. The world is dark. They are still afraid. Our life in Christ isn’t meant to consist solely of bright sides and perkiness. Jesus is risen, and it is still scary. But, it is also filled with joy. We can be afraid, yet go forward to the things God has called us to do — even staying at home, even mourning — with the message of joy in the midst of fear.