May I begin with a confession? May I begin by sharing a secret?
I understand their fear.
In the early morning or late at night, when I am face to face with what our Lord asks of me, I understand the fear of the women in this Easter Gospel. When I pray and it is clear to me how our Lord desires me to serve Him as His priest, as His son, and as His Christian, I understand their fear.
I am afraid.
“Be not afraid!” says the Angel.
“Be not afraid!” says our Risen Lord.
Do we understand why they were afraid? If we look at Easter and only see bunnies, pastels, Cadbury eggs, and honey-glazed hams, then there is nothing to fear. If we look at Easter as a social event, an official arrival of spring, or a break from school there is nothing to fear. Do we understand why they were afraid?
No one fears bunnies, hams, or vacation, why were they afraid? They were afraid because Easter isn’t about bunnies, hams, or vacations; Easter is about the claim that God makes on us. All the things that Jesus said, all the things that Jesus did are magnified now that He has conquered sin and death. Jesus, in His words and actions, claims our life as He rises from the dead. That is scary.
St. Paul expresses this claim on our life in terms of yeast and dough. “Clear out the old yeast! Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” In His resurrection, Jesus claims us as His witnesses. In His baptism, Jesus claims us as His missionaries. In His resurrection Jesus calls us to be saints, and nothing less.
Of this I am fearful.
Consider the women in the Gospel. As the reality of Jesus’ resurrection sets in, as they run off to the Apostles and other disciples, they are filled with joy and fear. Joy, because their dear friend has conquered death by the power of God. Fear, because their dear friend is asking them to follow Him. This is no child’s game. This is as serious as life and death and Jesus invites all who would call Him friend to be conformed to Him- not partially, not fearfully, but fully and completely. Jesus calls us to be saints, and nothing less.
This is terrifying.
I consider my own sin, my own failings and I am afraid. I am a weak man. I am afraid. When I pray and consider my mission as a priest, how God wants to use me as His priest in this parish, I am afraid. Jesus wants all of us to be saints. If we are not afraid we are ignorant or naïve. Jesus desires all of us to be saints, whether we come to Mass every Sunday or if I haven’t seen you since Christmas. Jesus desires you to be saints. And so do I.
Do you think this is impossible? Do you think it will never happen? Some people brag, “The next time you see me in Church, Father, will be at my funeral!” Consider the words of St. Peter in our first reading, bolding preaching Jesus Christ. Do we forget so quickly that this is the same Peter who trembled with fear at the accusations of a maid girl? Do we forget that this is the same Peter who crumbled around the warmth and light of a fire? Do we forget that this is the same Peter who boldly said: “I will never forsake you!” and not 6 hours later had denied His Lord 3 times? This very same Peter, full of the fear of sin, is now St. Peter. Do you think this is impossible? Do you think it will never happen?
Do not be afraid! I say it to myself, I say it to you, I say it to the world, do not be afraid!
Jesus Christ has conquered sin and death by His own death and by rising from the grave He has given new and abundant life to all of us who live in the grave. Do not be afraid. Dive into the life of the Church, dive into the life of the Sacraments, dive into the life of Scripture and prayer. This same Jesus Christ who suffered and died for our sins now gives us the power to live as He lived. Do not be afraid! Listen to the invitation of Jesus to follow Him completely, to the depth of our souls. Take courage from His work. Allow His light to drive out all darkness, all doubt, all fear, and transform us into His saints.
This is my Easter prayer for you, for Fr. Joe, and for myself. Do not keep Easter at arm’s length; do not keep Easter only as candy, ham, or vacation. Dive into the life of Christ. Do not be afraid.