April 13, 2020 (Monday) - Fearful, Yet Joyful - A Reflection on Matthew 28:8-15

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.” While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, “You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.

In my very abbreviated reflection yesterday, I had said that despite the current situation in the world, nothing should take away from the joy of the risen Lord. I had a few people ask me how it was possible to be joyful at such a time when there was the very real prospect of losing jobs, running out of money, not being able to get provisions, even losing people we love. So, what was that about not being afraid? We are fearful, and we will continue to be fearful, no matter how many angels tell us not to be afraid.

Agreed, but as we can see from today’s reading, the two are not mutually exclusive. One can be fearful, but joyful as well. Scripture says that after visiting Jesus’ empty tomb, the women left with fear AND great joy! We can be joyful in the midst of our fear. When Paul told us to rejoice always (Philippians 4:4), he was in prison at the time. I know that we are beginning to feel like prisoners now, locked in our homes, but he was in a real prison. One with bars. And no social media! But he never lost his joy!

Paul also went through a lot of other stuff. He was lashed, beaten with rods, pelted with stones. He was shipwrecked and lost at sea. He was in constant danger from all kinds of people and all kinds of things. On several occasions he went without food, not out of choice. (See 2 Corinthians 11:24-28 for a full description of his trials.) Was Paul afraid? I am sure that there were occasions when he was. But he remained joyful. How is this even possible? Because he didn’t focus on the bad stuff; he focussed on the good. And that, of course, was Jesus and eternal salvation.

We need to focus on Jesus, too. Do you remember the time Peter walked on water? He was doing this amazing thing that nobody had ever done before. Other than Jesus, of course. Was he joyful? Oh, you can bet he was. He’d have been ecstatic. Was he afraid? Oh, most certainly, but that didn’t stop him from walking on water. So, you see how the two can go together? Then Scripture says: But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:30). Now this is ANOTHER kind of fear, one that sinks us. And when Jesus — or angels, or whoever — tell us not to be afraid, this is the fear they are cautioning us against! The crippling fear.

So how do we avoid it? Same answer: keep your focus on Jesus. Where was the wind when Peter was doing his water-walk? It was still blowing, no? The storm hadn’t ceased. So what happened? He took his eyes off Jesus and SAW the wind which unnerved him. His focus shifted. So the moral of the story is simply: Don’t take your eyes off Jesus. He’s got you! And he will have you walking on water in the middle of this storm!