“Don’t be afraid.” It’s the first word of Easter. The angel speaks this word because angels know this about us: We are almost always afraid. There is almost always something to be afraid of.
This past year has even made us fear each other. Some may fear those who are prejudiced, or we may fear political opponents whose desires conflict with what we see as our well-being, or we may fear each other as potential virus carriers. We’ve learned to keep our distance from one another, and not just physical distance. That’s the way things are now. But fear has never been far away.
The women who visited Jesus’ tomb carried spices. It’s the work the living do for the dead, one of the only things we can do. It’s practical work, but it’s also a gesture of love; it’s what we do when we can’t fix it.
They came to the cemetery. They hadn’t thought through their trip very well. Grief is sloppy like that. They didn’t know how they would actually get to Jesus: who would roll away the stone? They certainly couldn’t. They feared it would be a wasted trip, that there was nothing they could do, not even prepare Jesus’ body. They feared they were helpless to fix any of it.
That is what frightens us. Sooner or later, we all come to the end of our power, the end of our influence, and we recognize we are vulnerable because we lack the capacity to fix what has gone wrong.
Do you remember when you thought your parents could fix anything? My mom tells the story of believing her dad could fix anything. For the most part she was right: he was a brilliant engineer. Then one day mom learned the hard lesson that even dad can’t fix some things. Her balloon popped. She laid it on her dad’s work bench because dad can fix everything.
I think one of the worst feelings as a parent is when your child realizes for the first time that you can’t fix it, especially when she is desperate for you to do just that. We are all vulnerable. And that makes us afraid.
Everyone comes to the end of our capacities to make things right, to keep things alive. Everyone is vulnerable. You know what I’m talking about. This year we’ve worried about catching the virus and potentially spreading it to an at-risk loved one, so we are anxious when people get too close. Jobs have been eliminated without much warning, businesses have been shuttered, and we don’t know what’s next. Some of us have watched helplessly from afar as a loved one has struggled and even died. Some of us didn’t even get to say goodbye.
We do our best to avoid it, to protect loved ones, and many of you in the healthcare field have dedicated your lives to protecting others from death. But sometimes death wins. And we are all vulnerable, which is why fear is never far away; which is why the first, and perhaps most important, word of Easter is “Do not be afraid.”
At the end of the day and at the end of our lives, there is only God. When death comes, there is no more work to do. There are no more tasks to complete, there are no more battles to fight. There is only God. And because God is love, we can trust that all will be well and all manner of things shall be made well. Don’t be afraid. You can trust in love.
The women didn’t have to move the stone or prepare the body. Jesus wasn’t there. Death hadn’t won this time. Mark’s Gospel says the women didn’t say anything because they were afraid, but we know that changed. They faced their fear and chose to trust love. They found their voice and proclaimed the good news that God’s love is stronger than death and we need not be afraid.
There are so many graves, more this past year than there should have been, each one with a life that once was, each one with a name and a story. But don’t be afraid! The love of God that calls you by name, the love of God that is with you and for you, the love of God that will never let you go, that holy love: you can trust it with your life.