It’s Easter, and we had an earthquake here this afternoon – a tremor so subtle that it we weren’t sure at first that that’s what it was. We all just felt a touch dizzy, standing on the sidewalk, and then my husband realized that the cars were shaking a little. Nothing too unusual for southern California. Easter afternoon, though. Could there be a more fitting time for an earthquake? When the life finally ebbed out of Jesus, hanging on the cross on the first Good Friday, “the earth shook;” then again on the third day, there was a “violent earthquake (when) an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.” So the quake today was really fitting.
An earthquake can be a pretty scary thing; I’m sure if I’d been present for one the first Easter quakes – much more dramatic than our little rumble today – I’d have been petrified. The soldiers standing guard at the tomb clearly were, as they evidently fainted. Jesus’ mother and Mary Magdalene, also present at the time, must have been terrified too, because the angel’s first words to them were: “Do not be afraid.” Whether their fear stemmed primarily from the earthquake, the angel, or the absence of Jesus’ body in the tomb – who can say? All three rolled together, no doubt.
But before today I never really paid attention to the Bible’s note about Mary’s fear at the tomb. Jesus’ conception – the first moments she became aware of his life – were terrifying; that I knew. But Jesus’ resurrection – the first moments she became aware of his new life (the reversal of his death) – were also terrifying. The angel’s words are like bookends on either side of her earthly experience of her Son’s life. “The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will ‘be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.'” (Lk 1:30-31) Those words kick everything off for the mother of our Lord. But they’re also there at the end. And then after his death the angel returns and tells her, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.” (Mt 28:5-6) [Note: wrong Mary. See Amy’s excellent comment below that clarifies this point for me in a knowledgable and humble way!]
Mary is the first one to know about the coming of her Son; she’s also the first to know about His resurrection. Each time the event is incredibly scary.
We all know the fear that can grip the heart of a mom. Pregnancy’s fear when it hits you that you’ll soon be responsible for a life. The fear of childbirth. The fear of failing in your task as a mother. The fear of messing up your kid somehow through poor parenting. The fear for your child – that something bad will happen to him. The fear of death – that you’ll lose him or that he’ll lose you. Mary must have had all these fears just as we do (and many were realized)… and then some. Imagine the pressure of raising God! Imagine the pain of losing him!
Yet at the start and the end of his life, the angel speaks plainly and directly to her: “Do not fear.” God the Father must have whispered the same message to her hundreds of times in the thirty-three years that came between these two angelic directives as she raised Jesus. God’s message for Mary reminds me there’s no reason to fear as I mother; perfect love casts out fear. And while our own love for our children is imperfect, God’s love for our kids – and for us – isn’t. It’s blissfully perfect. We can rest in that; it’s a love with a purpose, a love that always protects and perseveres. Easter, more than any other day of the year, is the day we remember that fear has no hold on us. As we mother through every stage of our children’s lives, we can continue to hold onto the words the angel uttered to the mother of our Lord – before he was born and after he died – do not fear. The resurrection puts flesh, literally on the words. Praise God, this Easter Sunday, for that!