What terrified them? A sudden stirring in the early morning shadows, startling their still sleepy sensibilities? The shocking angelic vision they beheld inside the tomb? The staggering message they heard?
As I reflect on the Easter story, I think what terrified them was their realization that everything had changed. Nothing was as it was supposed to be.
Mary, Mary, and Salome came to the tomb in a final act of devotion to anoint for proper burial the body of their friend, Jesus. They expected to find his dead body. They found no body, but rather somebody. An angel with an amazing announcement: “Jesus has been raised.”
Mary, Mary, and Salome fled not because of death. The expected end of all things. The way things are supposed to be. What terrified them was life!
Sometimes I think – based on nearly 40 years as a pastor loving and listening to people and 60+ years of living with and learning about me – what frightens is not death, but life.
By “death,” I don’t mean the cessation of earthly life (though I do believe our awareness of our mortality can frighten us).
Rather – and always speaking only for myself – by “death,” I refer to moments when I…
Settle for less than my best, far short of my dream of who I’m called to be, or…
Sit wallowing in memories of my bad choices or musing sullenly about difficult circumstances, or…
Speak in the self-justifying language of “What if” and “If only”, or…
Shout, cry, blame others – parents or genes, God or fate – “It’s your fault for the way I am!”
This kind of “dying” is my chosen immobility of refusing to enter my soul’s wilderness to encounter my greatest brokenness (even though it’s been my experience that this journey of self-discovery holds the possibility of healing and new life). This kind of “dying” is like hiding in the “warden’s office,” remaining rational, refusing to feel, thinking I’m in control, even though the “inmates” of all my unresolved feelings are really running the asylum I call “my life.” This kind of “dying” is like refusing to remove the too-small suit of armor of my self-protective defenses against challenge and change, even though I’m suffocating.
As bad as this sounds and is, sometimes I prefer the death of remaining in the tomb I’ve built. At least I know what to expect. Things will be the way they’re supposed to be. There’s no great happiness, but also no great surprises. Though I relinquish the possibility of joy to retain my sense of control and security (always rediscovering that I remain uncontrollably insecure), it doesn’t matter. For this “death” no longer frightens me. I’m used to it.
What frightens me is life, which always involves change and growth and the challenge of my power, my freedom to choose, and my responsibility for the consequences of my choices.
Therefore, what frightens me is Easter and Jesus’ resurrection, what it symbolizes, what it signifies. The promise of new life that comes through the death-defying act of wading into the seemingly bottomless water of my most profound pain. Walking into the seemingly endless wilderness of my soul-deep sorrow. Running the risk of faith that as the stone was rolled away from Jesus’ tomb, the stones of my immobilizing fears can be rolled away from my tomb, so that I might rise and walk out with my eyes wide open into life’s sunlight and shadow, equally embracing both.
If I dare take this risk, again and again and again (O, how I wish I only needed to do it once and that would be the end of it, but it doesn’t work that way, at least not for me!), then, to the cry, “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” I will know how to say, “Not only Jesus, but I, with him, am risen, indeed! Alleluia!”