I think my mother’s last words to me were, “Make sure they lay me out in my pink dress and headscarf.” Not really what I hope to focus on with my final utterance to my kids. (Especially since I already told them to cremate me and toss the ashes in Lake Superior. I don’t have the slightest concern about what I’ll be wearing.)
Last words matter to us. But what about first words? Preachers and theologians have focused a lot on Jesus’ last words on the cross. But what about his first words after the cross? Might they matter as much as if not more than the last?
We’re at the end in our series on encounters with Jesus. I have loved getting to know him better. Next week—something new! But this week, we finish with the beginning—the resurrection.
Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb. Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.”
The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.” (Matthew 28.1-10)
We have a Jesus who sees us first
An unsuspecting group of women go off weeping to a grave, and instead of a dead body in need of spices and rewrapping they get this. A decidedly NOT dead body. And what are the first words out of the resurrected Jesus’ mouth? “Don’t be afraid.”
First of all, how like the Jesus we’ve been meeting is this? No clouds opening and sunbeam spotlight on him, with angels doing a tap number about how great he is for what he’s done. No talk of what this all means in the great cosmic scheme. No focus on himself at all. His first words focus on—the women. And how they must feel.
Because fyi, despite all our Easter happiness and joy today, seeing someone you watched die be not dead and chatting with you would be terrifying. I am giving these ladies a lot of props for standing there and not completely freaking out and running away screaming.
If you still want proof that Jesus is God, look at this. Any human would have made this moment All. About. Me. I would. You would. We would be ordering up the photoshoot with USA Today and signing autographs. Setting up an NPO. Offering our services to the political party of our choice.
But not Jesus. He looks at these faithful women, sees into their hearts, anticipates their need, and makes it about them.
Don’t be afraid.
Even in resurrection, he calls us to humility and looking outward by his own example. The immense power of the resurrection is used not for personal gain or public display or political security but to teach us to follow his example.
Telling those who need to encounter the resurrected Lord—don’t be afraid. Come to the tomb, see for yourself, and don’t be afraid.
We have a Jesus who empowers us for a job
There is another reason he says don’t be afraid. The second time, it’s because he’s about to give them a job. Go. Tell the guys. (Who, of course, did not roll out of bed to get here before you, awesome ladies.)
Jesus appreciates our worship and loves our study to know more of him. But he commands our feet hit the floor.
Go. This is not a tea and crumpets party I’m kicking off now. It’s a kingdom. It’s a movement. It’s an upside-down inside-out party where scared people act, hurting people heal, blind people see, and dead people live. There is room for absolutely everyone except for bystanders.
Go. Go how? Go the way Jesus tells his other disciples to go later—by feeding and loving his people well. (John 21) Go be agents of the kingdom here and now. Spread the news, by words, deeds, and example, that there is a new world order and its hallmarks are peace and grace.
Can you see the beauty of the call? It’s so needed in a world whose hallmarks lately seem to be arrogance, offense, and fear.
We have a Jesus who gives us a job to do and supplies the resurrection power to get it done. If only we refuse to be afraid. And if we don’t . . . there’s always this gem in there.
We have people who obeyed afraid
Look at this again. “The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message.” They were scared as heck—and they ran to obey anyway.
They obeyed before they had even seen Jesus himself.
They obeyed uncertain of their success. (Would those men believe anything they said?)
They obeyed without knowing the next step.
They obeyed scared.
Could that be what you need to hear this day after Easter? When all the joy and faith of Easter is still fresh in your heart? Before the elections, tragedies, or personal anxieties of the world return with their hope-suffocating tendencies? What is that thing God wants you to move forward on? Will you obey scared?
Jesus’ first post-death words, with all the options open to him, were “Don’t be afraid.” That’s a Jesus we can surely love.