It’s interesting that the Resurrection of Christ caused such intense fear, alarm and confusion to those in the immediate vicinity. Of course, nothing like this had ever happened before in the history of the world. Jesus had a way of freaking people out during the whole course of His public ministry. The Easter readings from the Gospels of John and Matthew mention moving large stones from the entrance of Jesus’ tomb in order to somehow release His resurrected presence into the world.
Consider the account of Matthew’s gospel from last night’s Vigil service:
“(T)here was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. (That’s a great visual in itself). His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow. The guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men. Then the angel said to the women in reply to their inquiry of Jesus’ whereabouts, “Do not be afraid!” Do not be afraid. Really?!
In today’s gospel Mary Magdala discovers the empty tomb and runs (frantically?) back to the apostles causing John to run (frantically and nervously?) to the tomb followed by the slower and older Peter. One can almost feel the anxiety. And this on top of the trauma of the crucifixion 3 days earlier.
Yet consider the reaction from the Roman guards: “(T)hey were shaken with fear of Him and became like dead men.” Among the followers of Jesus there was more of a heightened sense of concern and even excitement in their reactions. The opposite of ‘dead men.’
That’s a lesson in itself. Belief creates excitement and hope along with the fear, nervousness, anxiety and confusion. A lack of belief in the reality of Jesus causes death.
All through the Scriptures when the angels of the Lord appear or when Jesus shows up after the resurrection, the reaction is some type of fear and bewilderment. Jesus and the angels often begin their appearance with a reassuring “Don’t be afraid.”
Is there still a sense of fear and nervousness about the resurrection in our lives? Why would we be fearful or nervous nowadays 2000 years later?
One reason might be that, like the disciples in the Acts of the Apostles, (Acts 10:41) ‘Jesus commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead.’ Can we actually do this? Do we regularly give a witness, testify, to our encounter with the resurrected Christ? How He changed our lives? How we once were lost and now we are found? How we once were blind and now we see? Has our testimony changed over the years?
Today’s second reading from Colossians (Col. 3:1) says, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.”
Have our Lenten practices helped us to recognize when we are seeking and thinking about what is above as opposed to what is on the earth? What’s that even mean? That’s bound to make some of us a little nervous or anxious if we have not recently discussed this subject with our closest loved ones?
A few verses beyond today’s gospel (20:15) tells us that Mary Magdala first thought Jesus was the gardener. An interesting first impression. Gardeners were not royalty but certainly appreciated when they excelled in their professions. Jesus was among many roles, a gardener, one who cultivates souls and lives. The competent gardener knows what type of nutrients the vines and plants need to thrive in the various conditions of weather and other circumstances. They know the enemies of soil and plant life. It’s a daily job of caring and attention. Despite its importance it can get a little tedious or laborious over the years. So many variables and uncontrollables.
Nurturing, cultivating and protecting souls might require such things as instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful, admonishing the sinner (or the errant we say in our modern culture), bearing wrongs gracefully. All these can cause some nervousness, anxiety and downright fear at times. All these things were required and empowered by the resurrection and coming of the Holy Spirit. Very apropos to confuse Jesus with the gardener.
Another aspect of the Resurrection that might have us fearful or anxious is this idea of the stone removed from the tomb. In today’s gospel from John (20:1) it says that, “Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb.”
Last night’s Easter Vigil Gospel from Matthew (28: 2) says, “an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it.” ‘Sat on it’ almost gives a sense of real victory. Even confidence.
As we prepare to testify during the next few weeks of Easter season, we might consider these questions:
What stones or boulders needed to be removed from our lives before the resurrected life was unleashed in us? Some resentment we have been harboring for far too long? Sin? Pride, greed, anger, envy, lust, gluttony and sloth? I’m sure we all examined these areas closely in our Lenten reconciliations…… right?
Or maybe some of the stones or obstacles to resurrected life are unhealed emotional or spiritual wounds. At each and every Eucharist we declare that God need “only say the word and our souls shall be healed.” Our souls get roughed up quite a bit on planet earth. Do we ever talk to our loved ones about our spiritual hurts and ailments?
Consider again today’s gospel and the readings that follow during Easter season.
The disciples were looking for the body of the crucified Christ. Understandably they still did not grasp the sense of the Resurrection. They had seemingly conceded that life is tragic and then you die. What’s new? Easter comes and goes each year, so what has really changed since last Easter? Have we had a series of well-developed conversations with our loved ones about our experience of the Resurrection? Do our loves ones, the people we spend most of our time with when we are NOT in Church, even believe in the Resurrection? Does it matter? Did the kids and grandkids participate in an Easter egg hunt? Was that, and a great family banquet, the extent of Easter? Were there some great parties over Easter break?
The resurrection really matters in our lives when we are able to share with others the new life we have found in Christ. The wounded world we live in desperately needs this holy witness.
Today’ bulletin contains some reflection questions to consider during this week and throughout Easter season to help us become better witnesses. This homily is also on our website if you wanted to reconsider some of the questions I offered.
And now we will renew the original baptismal vows we made to help us stay focused and faithful to our call to discipleship.
The Easter readings from the Gospels of John and Matthew mention moving large stones from the entrance of Jesus’ tomb in order to somehow release His resurrected presence into the world. What stones or obstacles were removed in our lives during Lent and Holy week to unleash our resurrected life into the world? How has our life changed? Who will help us stay faithful to God’s new or renewed calling in our lives?
Paul’s letter to the Colossians exhorted them (us) ‘to seek what is above’ and ‘think of what is above, not of what is on earth.’ How has our Lenten fasting, prayer and almsgiving liberated us from too much attention to the world of material things? How have we learned to hear God’s priorities over human and Satan induced priorities? Who is supporting and guiding our new vision or path in life?
In John’s gospel Mary Magdala mistakes the resurrected Jesus for the gardener. How might we learn to imitate Jesus the ‘gardener’ in our efforts to help cultivate the lives and souls of others? Hint: Consider the Spiritual Works of Mercy.
What new places will you TRY to hide the Easter Eggs next year?
Draw and decorate an Easter egg with colorful religious symbols.