As I read the accounts of the Easter story, two words jump out at me: fear and peace. Let’s reflect on the role of fear and peace in the Resurrection story and in our spiritual life.
The earliest account of the Resurrection is found in Mark’s gospel. In eight short verses, Mark tells the story. As the three women arrive at the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body, they discover that the huge stone has already been rolled back. Peering cautiously into the tomb, they see an angel robed in white. They are “utterly amazed.” The angel tells them not to be afraid for Jesus is risen from the dead. Verse 8, scholars tell us, was the original ending of Mark’s gospel. This verse tells us how the women respond to the angel’s news: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
Mark’s gospel originally ends not with three women dancing around and singing alleluias, but with three women running away from an empty tomb, scared out of their wits! And who can blame them? For the totally unexpected has happened. Jesus is risen from the dead. The women’s response to such an earth-shattering event is not a shallow, “How nice!” but a terrified, “My God! Now what?”
Easter reminds us that fear has a rightful place in our spiritual life. We should, in one sense, fear God. Why? Because (in the words of Donald McCullough) God is “wholly other, radically different from anything in creation, terrifying in greatness.” A healthy fear of God means we never reduce God to some sort of “cosmic bellboy.” The difference between God and us is inexpressible. Jesus, of course, spans that chasm. By revealing God’s great love for us, Jesus helps move us to ever greater trust in God. But profound reverence will always be a necessary component in our relationship with God.
The Easter story tells us there is something else we should fear: evil. In fact, Easter is so incredibly wonderful because Good Friday was so incredibly awful. Easter warns us to take evil seriously. It tells us never to underestimate evil’s power. All we have to do is read our headlines and we’ll see ample evidence of evil’s power. The Easter story does not downplay evil. But it promises us that evil does not have the last word. Goodness does. And goodness is brought into the word primarily by selfless loving.
The second Easter word is peace. “Peace be with you,” Jesus says to his terrified disciples after the Resurrection. We who claim to be disciples of Jesus are called to bring peace to others just as Jesus did. In his book Touching the Holy, Robert Wicks tells of seeing two contrasting tombstones in a cemetery. One was the large imposing marker of a deceased general, which listed all his battles and accomplishments. The other was a small stone of a young woman who died at age twenty-one. Her husband’s inscription read: “Everywhere she went, she brought flowers.”
Easter is a good time to remind ourselves that when we die, we do not take with us anything we have earned or accomplished. We take with us only who we have become. We might ask ourselves: Am I becoming more and more a person of peace? Do I bring flowers wherever I go?
My Easter prayer for all of us is this: May our legitimate fears drive us more and more into the arms of our almighty and all-loving God. May we take evil seriously, responding with goodness born of selfless loving. And may we become true Easter people, bringing the flowers of peace wherever we go. Amen.
Another key word for Easter is, of course, the word Alleluia, which means “Praise God!” This song is Kelly Mooney’s spiritual lyrical adaptation of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
Any thoughts on Easter? Fear? Peace? The song?