It’s the original Easter morning; Mary Magdalene and the other Mary are walking to the tomb of their friend, Jesus. They are headed there to finish preparing his body for death. They just experienced an exhausting week with Jesus. Just last week, Jesus rode into Jerusalem as a king atop a donkey. He made many people mad, so mad that the ones who welcomed him and celebrated him last Sunday shouted “Crucify him!” on Friday. This was such an eventful week; the government put guards outside the tomb of Jesus to make sure no one would steal his body.
Put yourself in the shoes of Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, and the guards as you read Matthew’s account of what happened on that original Easter morning. There is confusion, fear, and anxiety. This is what I want you to internalize as you read. The sun is rising just as it did that morning; we are almost 2,000 years removed from this day, but those emotions of confusion, fear, and anxiety are still very real and present in our lives today.
Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. – Matthew 28:1-8, ESV.
We read from Matthew’s account that there was an earthquake. Have you experienced an earthquake? What was that like? This earthquake set the stage for the confusion that Easter morning. The Marys went to see the tomb, they experienced an earthquake, and when they arrived, they encountered the cause of the earthquake, an angel.
As this angel descended from heaven, he caused the earth to shake. This angel rolled back the stone, a stone that was put there to keep the disciples from stealing the body of Jesus. This angel who shook the earth with his appearance rolled that stone away, and as the Marys approached, they saw this angel. His appearance was like lightning. What must that have been like?
Can you imagine the confusion here? The Marys are mourning; they lost someone they dearly loved. He was brutally killed. Just last week, He rode into Jerusalem like a king on the back of a donkey. If you know of his last few days, you know he has had an eventful week, and the crowd that praised him turned on him and killed him on Friday. The Marys must still be processing this. If you have lost a loved one, you know that nothing is clear in the days following the funeral. It’s a blur. You are exhausted, you are emotionally depleted, and you are grieving. You know the future is ahead of you, but you still live in the past.
This is not just a simple story we are reading here. There are high emotions and grief working in the lives of these two Marys who loved and must deeply miss their friend, Jesus. They go to care for his body, and they experience an earthquake and encounter an angel.
Fear and Anxiety
There are others here in this confusing scene who are not associated with Jesus. They are not as emotionally drained as the Marys, but they are encountering the same thing and moved to fear. They didn’t have a relationship with Jesus like the Marys did. They are here to do a job, and the angel arrives and messes up their one job. They are afraid. So afraid that they probably fainted. As guards, they would have been symbols of the power of the government. When the angel shows up, they are utterly powerless.
So the Marys show up, the stone is rolled away, the guards are passed out, and there is an angel that looks like lightning. The confusion of the Marys is understandably moving toward fear. Wouldn’t you be afraid if you were the Mary’s? I would totally understand if they just turned around and said, “Nope, not today.”
I cannot imagine what I would feel or do if I approached the burial place of a dear friend who was just killed violently, and I experienced the earthquake, the stone rolled away, and some passed-out guards lying around. Maybe the Marys did begin to turn. Perhaps the confusion turning to fear was too much for them.
The angel speaks. This angel says the typical things angels say to humans when humans encounter angels. “Do not be afraid.” The very presence of angels must cause humans to fear. The guards passed out. The angel stops the Marys and lets them know he is safe. He knows why they are there. He knows who they are looking for. The angel says, “I get it. This situation appears scary, don’t be afraid. It’s okay.”
It’s important to note that the angel points them to Jesus even though He wasn’t there. The angel invites them into the tomb to see that Jesus has risen. Let me just say that in any other case, if you are confused, emotionally drained, and fearful and you encounter a man who looks like lightning, and he says it’s okay, come on in to this tomb. In any other case, don’t go in. This just has bad things written all over it. You would do good to avoid this situation in any other case. But this isn’t just any strange situation. This is the greatest morning of all human history.
The angel gives the Marys a job to do. He tells them to let the others know. Go tell his closest friends, his disciples, that Jesus has risen from the dead. The angel gives them hope saying that Jesus will meet them in Galilee. The Marys will see Jesus there.
Fear and Joy
Put yourself in the place of the Marys. What would you be feeling? Would you be excited? Would you be cautious? Would you be curious? They were probably all of that. Scripture says they quickly departed to go tell the disciples with fear and great joy.
I understand why they were joyful. They were excited to see their loved one Jesus again. They were going to share some really good news with their friends. There is plenty to be joyous about this morning.
What do you think they were fearful of? It’s possible they could have been afraid of the angel; what if he was misleading them? Maybe, but I think the fear that set into the Marys as they ran to the disciples was this, Jesus had risen; what does all this mean? Our friend was just killed; we buried him, and we were just on our way to finish the process of preparing his body for burial. Now we are running to our friends to let them know Jesus is alive.
He really was who He claimed to be. Jesus really is God. Jesus really is making us right with God. Jesus’ death really meant something because He is now alive! We have had 2000 years to wrestle with this as a church. We have had our lives as Christians to process what does the resurrection of Jesus.
What Does All This Mean?
The Marys had just a few years with Jesus, and they were probably confused by his parables most of the time. They saw his miracles, the way he interacted with people. They saw the Jesus we read about, and they knew him more intimately than we can know.
They were just hit with all the implications of his teaching with the news that Jesus is alive.
They were just hit with all the parables coming into focus.
They were just hit with the love Jesus had for those he had lived life with was now for all people of all time.
They were just hit was some pretty heavy things.
What does all this mean?
So that is where I want to leave you. Think about what does all this mean? What does it mean that Christ is alive? What does it mean for you? What does it mean for your family? What does it mean for your friends? What does it mean for your church? What does it all mean?
This post was adapted from my Easter Sunrise Service message on April 17, 2022, at White Plains Baptist Church in Scottsville, Kentucky.