After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
I love angels. They make very dramatic appearances all over Scripture. They always come with good news, but before they deliver this news, one of the first things they say is, “Do not be afraid.” When an angel appears to Zechariah, he says to the priest: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John” (Luke 1:13).
When an angel appears to Mary, he says to the young girl: “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus” (Luke 1:30-31).When an angel appears to Joseph, he says to the carpenter: “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20).
When an angel appears to some shepherds, he says to them: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10). And, in today’s passage, when an angel appears to the women who go to Jesus’ tomb, he says, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. But he is not here; he has been raised.” And of all the good news that angels have delivered, there has been no better news that this.
Why? Because Jesus died and rose again, and through his death and resurrection, we too died and rose again — to new life; to eternal life. There will truly never be news better than this, yet there is fear in many of our hearts. Why?
Why does good news make us fearful? Because it heralds change. And we are afraid of change. I can understand this. Change is terrifying. When we get used to a certain way of living, a certain way of being, we don’t want the discomfort that change brings.
I always think of the butterfly. Before it can spread its wings and fly, it is a caterpillar that is earthbound, crawly sluggishly though life. One day, the caterpillar stops eating, hangs upside down from a twig and spins a silky cocoon. Within its protective casing, the body of the caterpillar is radically transformed, eventually emerging as a beautiful butterfly that can fly. I imagine how terrifying this experience must be for the caterpillar, but unless it goes through this, it will never fly.
I know there is change all around us. And it is making many of us fearful. Are you looking for an angel to say something to you? Well, I may not have wings, but I have a message for you on the eve of Easter. “Do not be afraid. The Lord says, “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).