This morning’s gospel is the first of many accounts of post-resurrection experiences of Christ. (MT 28:8-15). When Mary Magdalene and her companion (“the other Mary”) found the empty tomb and were told by the angel guarding the tomb that Jesus had been raised from the dead, they left quickly, “fearful yet overjoyed” on their way to tell the disciples. I was interested in their state of heart as they ran. It is perhaps akin to anyone who has had a spiritually transforming experience. The joy and exhilaration that impels one to share such an experience with others might be tempered with the fear of being labeled delusional or “holier than thou” or who feels personally unable to measure up to the responsibility of what one is called to by the experience. Mary Magdalene, whose image has finally been rehabilitated by the Church, is now known as the “apostle to the apostles” precisely because of this passage where she has been chosen to announce the “good news” to the others, as well as because of her close relationship with Jesus. Consequently, however, she suffered the jealousy of those who did not believe Jesus would have chosen a woman for such a key role in the band of his followers. The very good news in the subsequent lines of today’s text is that they met Jesus on their way. He said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” Having the courage of that exchange with Jesus must have sustained Mary in the role she assumed in the days that followed.
Throughout the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, the imperatives to Fear not! and Do not be afraid! appear over and over as God speaks to people and communities. As human beings, fear is an automatic reaction written into our bodies, but as we grow in the consciousness of God’s all-embracing love and begin to trust that we will never be abandoned, the power that fear holds in our lives can be overcome. It is simplistic to think we will never face distress or danger but learning to choose trust over fear is possible. It reminds me of the dictum: “The way out is the way through.” Facing our fears with Christ as a companion who has accomplished that, even in the loss of his life, can lead to small and large resurrections of our own. Mary Magdalene had lost a great deal when Jesus died. As she faced the fear of a life without him, she came to know a deeper and more pervasive joy that called her to a new relationship of love. And so it can be with us as we ponder the Easter mysteries during the next 50 days.