Yesterday a friend was describing what a difficult Easter Sunday this was for her. As a faithful Catholic Christian, she was happy with the joy of Easter coming after what probably all of us could agree has been an incredibly long and hard Lent. But not being able to get together with her family and friends just undermined things. She was trying to make it as good and happy as Easter usually was for her, but she was struggling saying that there was a sadness, a silence, a fear in the air -even on Easter Sunday. Which is very true. We need to remember that it is more than okay to have two very opposite emotions going on at the same time. That not only is this perfectly natural and normal, but in fact, the worst thing we could do would to tell ourselves that to be a faithful person celebrating Easter means we have to pretend we’re excited and happy and deny any negative feelings.
That’s not a personal opinion, but what we hear in this Gospel from St. Matthew. Mary Magdeline and the other Mary have just been to the tomb, found it empty and met the angel who announced that Jesus has been raised from the dead and they are to go and share that good news with “his brothers.” As we pick up the scene in this gospel passage, Matthew describes them as “fearful yet overjoyed.” On the surface we think it’s contradictory. But it’s not contradictory – it’s honest – and it makes sense. Good Friday was real to them… betrayals, denials, abandonment – those experiences were sadly very known. The finality of a sealed tomb they had experienced before. This Easter news was completely new and radical and unprecedented. Of course they’re excited to hear it, but can’t immediately forget all the things that were their realities moments before they reached what turned out to be an empty tomb. They’re honestly feeling fearful yet overjoyed.
What they discover is that in that honesty they encounter the Risen Christ himself. Jesus meets them in that space of seemingly mixed emotions and confirms the truth that is the cause of their being overjoyed and then immediately pivots to lovingly, gently speak into the other feeling with those four beautiful words “Do not be afraid.”
With Lent, with Holy Week concluded, the joy of the scriptures, the joy of the Easter Season comes through in a way that will probably continue to bring about that feels contradictory for each of us. It was probably easier in a sense to enter into the Passion and Death of Jesus because we were able to relate to a lot of those different experiences on a very personal level and felt that comfort of uniting with Jesus. This joyous event, this new, resurrected life; this freedom from the things of our earthly existence holding us back; this freedom from fear for the most part – it’s hard to relate to those, it’s hard to believe in that. Especially as we continue to have to stream Mass and after we’re done, we can’t help but hear coronavirus updates, and are ordered back into isolation by local officials.
Jesus wants to continue to meet us in our fears. Not just to be a supportive presence in a time of need but to keep our hearts, our eyes with a vision on His Resurrection… Reminding us that the same Holy Spirit that God the Father unleashed to raise Jesus from the dead that same Holy Spirit has been unleashed on each of us at our Baptisms and Confirmations. Lent made us focus on the ways we stray, the ways we fail, the ways we turn away from the Lord and get made right. Easter is the opportunity now to focus on how through Jesus’ death on the Cross we have been reconciled with God – and as his sons and daughters, the Father wants to raise us up too. He wants us to have the new life, the freedom that His son Jesus now has for all eternity. May we continue to be honest with ourselves and with Him about all that we’re feeling, all that we’re experiencing so that He can continue to meet us and speak into all of them. Helping us to acknowledge our realities yet calling us into new life that will lead us to being overjoyed… eventually for all eternity.