What exactly was the good news that the women carried in their hearts as they ran back to Jerusalem that morning? They didn’t understand it fully at the time. But over the centuries the Church has come to realize more fully what that Easter morning good news really means.
Jesus has risen! He has overcome suffering and death! He has won salvation for mankind through the cross! And this salvation is more than eternal life. It is also life in the full, life without fear, here and now.
Many people in our world today live in fear. Some fear sickness or death. Some fear losing their money or the personal comforts they’ve surrounded themselves with. Other people live in fear of personal relationships – they’re so shy that they’re locked in prisons of fear. That’s only a partial list of some of the fears of us moderns, but my point is clear; many of us live in fear. But we don’t have to.
No need to live in fear
One of the realities of the resurrection and its culminations – the sending of the Holy Spirit – is that we don’t need to live in fear. Jesus has conquered everything that can harm us: He has conquered sin and death; the world, the flesh and the devil lie at his feet, vanquished from all time.
Yet we struggle with fear of these things because we are weak human beings. Jesus’ first followers also struggled with fear. When we look at some of the things they learned, we can learn how to overcome fear, too.
God urges us not to be afraid
In Mathew’s gospel God’s message to us is clearly stated: “Do not be frightened.” We need not fear because Jesus has “overcome the world.” We as his followers have the same assurance of victory given to us by John: “Who, then, is conqueror of the world? The one who believes Jesus is the Son of God” (1 Jn 5:5). We need not fear because the Christ whom you and I are called to follow is alive.
The crucifixion of Jesus left the apostles terrified. They hid themselves, convinced that they too would be hunted down and killed. That fear perished after they discovered that Jesus was alive. Their fear seems to have vanished completely when Jesus sent them his Spirit on the day of Pentecost.
Compare the men who secluded themselves in the upper room after the crucifixion (see John 20:19) with the men who boldly proclaimed God’s message and experienced his wonders (see Acts 2:1-4, 4:5-13, 12:1-11). What happened to their fear? It was driven out when the Holy Spirit entered. There was no room left in them for fear. They had experienced the love of Christ, the victory of Christ, and the power of His Spirit. They were busy building God’s kingdom. They had no time for fear!
We too can experience deliverance from fear. He promised us freedom from this crippling emotional response to life’s circumstances. All we have to do is use the authority he gave us: Cast out fear – call it by name and command it to leave you; then, ask for a fresh measure of the Holy Sprit’s power in your life. Repeat this simple procedure whenever you feel that old fear returning.
The resurrection of Jesus means that we don’t have to live in fear. It also means that we can have confidence in God in the face of death.
Is death the end?
Recently I had a conversation with a young man who wouldn’t accept the good news of redemption. As we spoke he told me bluntly, “I don’t believe in God.” “Is there anything inside you,” I asked, “which is searching for a deeper life?” “I think I am self-sufficient,” he replied, looking away. “What do you think about death?” “Dust to Dust”, he said, “ashes to ashes. When I die it’s all over. It’s all just going to be black.”
I saw the discouragement on this face as he heard what he was saying – that death is the end, that there is nothing after that, that all there is to life is what we are experiencing now. That pitiful young man, living a life without the hope of resurrection! He is not alone. Other people have tried to explain the resurrection by calling it a myth. It is simply too much for them to believe that Christ’s human body really came back to life.
The Truth of Resurrection
Pope Paul VI addressed these people when he declared the definitive Roman Catholic teaching on the resurrection. He stated that Jesus truly rose from the dead and that he walked out of the tomb. It was not a ghost or phantom of the hopes of the early disciples. What emerged from the tomb was the whole person of Jesus Christ – body, soul, and divinity. Jesus the human being and Jesus the Son of God, empowered by the Spirit of the living God, walked out of the tomb.
And we, like the women at the tomb, can also receive the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. It is precisely because of our belief in Jesus’ resurrection that we can have a bond of love with him. It is precisely because of this belief that we can know deep inside that we have the guarantee of everlasting life.
What a gift from God it is to wake up every morning and know that we have the hope of eternal life. We know that physical death is but a passing over from this life to the glorious, everlasting life that Jesus Christ has designed for his disciples.
How to respond to this Good News?
But it isn’t always so easy to accept this as good news. Mathew tells us that when the two Marys left the empty tomb they were half overjoyed and half fearful. This statement describes well how you and I can sometimes respond to our personal discovery of the risen Jesus. We can at the same time rejoice in God and be fearful of living in true faith with all our heart, mind, and strength. We can hesitate to reach out to the risen Christ because we are afraid of the cost of following him as Lord.
We need not be afraid though. When we accept the risen Jesus Christ, we also accept this strength, power, and grace.
See what he did for the women at the tomb: “Suddenly, without warning, Jesus stood before the women and said, “Peace” (Mt. 28:9). Amidst the fear and confusion, the incredible circumstances of the earthquake, and the chaos of the preceding days, Jesus brings this message, “peace”. Mathew continues: “The women came up and embraced his feet and did him homage. At this Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid” (Mt. 28:9, 10).
In our fear we, too, need to grab a hold of Jesus Christ. If you are experiencing doubt or anxiety, confusion or guilt, embarrassment or weakness, then hold on to Jesus Christ, embrace him and worship him. Cry out to him, “Lord, have mercy on me!”
It is at such moments that the Lord Jesus Christ desires us to intimately experience the power of his simple message to these women: “Peace… Do not be afraid.” Reach out to Jesus embrace him and say, “Lord, I need you. I love you. I worship you. I give my life to you. I surrender to you.” It is at that time that Jesus says most profoundly, “Peace. Do not be afraid. I forgive you and I love you.”
– – – written by Fr. John Bertolucci