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How do we talk about resurrection and new life in a world where fear and grief seem to be the dominant emotional and mental states?
COVID-19 and its effects have taken a toll on us. We are afraid of losing loved ones, our health, jobs and housing.
On the other hand, others have already moved beyond some of this fear as they are already in a state of grief – grieving the loss of health, loved ones, shelter, jobs, financial security and basic essentials.
And then, there is this collective grief of the ones who perhaps have not lost anything significant but are grieving anyway – the freedom to go to the store, church, school, a theater or a restaurant.
How do we talk about resurrection in this kind of world?
We are not the first ones to experience resurrection amid grief and fear. One of the lectionary texts for this Easter Sunday, Matthew 28:1-10, highlights the emotions of the women who went to the tomb. They were like us, afraid and grieving.
They were grieving the death of Jesus. Like many people today, they were experiencing a deep loss.
The one who had given them much hope had died two days before, not due to natural causes, but due to torture and violence.
Theologian Jon Sobrino highlights different ways to interpret Jesus’ death. While it is true that theologically speaking, he died to bring salvation to humanity, historically speaking, he died because he kept challenging the powerful systems of his time.
What happens when a person keeps challenging these systems? Eventually, he or she is killed by the system. In this sense, Jesus became a martyr of God’s reign.
As the women went to the tomb, they were afraid. And rightly so. The tomb was guarded by soldiers who represented the power of the time. Could these soldiers apprehend them too? Were they going to be tortured and killed like Jesus?
In spite of their fears, the women found the courage to go to the tomb. As if all this were not enough, the narrative mentions there was an earthquake as an angel of the Lord descended from heaven to move the tomb’s stone. The scene was such that the soldiers shook and became like dead men.
I can imagine the women were petrified with all that was happening. The angel recognized their fear, and his first words to them were, “Do not be afraid.”
Then he proceeded to share the good news that Jesus had been raised from the dead, that he will meet the disciples in Galilee, and that the women were commissioned to share this good news with the rest of the disciples.
How clearly did the women hear the angel’s words? We do not know. What we know is after the encounter with the angel, their feelings became mixed for they were “afraid yet filled with joy.”
Immediately after, Jesus himself appeared to the women, telling them the same message as the angel, and emphasizing again, “Do not be afraid.”
Can fear and joy coexist together?
While joy is often associated with happiness, in the Bible it is also related to peace and hope (Romans 15:13), strength (Nehemiah 8:10), encouragement (Philemon 1:7), temporary suffering (James 1:2-3) and remembrance (Psalms 13:5-6 and 103:2).
Perhaps the women knew this deep meaning of joy, and that is why they could experience joy at the same time they were experiencing fear.
They could remember with peace and encouragement God’s and Jesus’ past actions, and this brought them hope.
Regarding grief, I am sure they continued experiencing it. While it is true that Jesus was raised from the dead, he was not exactly the same.
For example, his body was different (John 20:19). In addition, he was about to leave them in order to ascend to heaven (Acts 1:6-11).
Fear, grief and joy could coexist in the lives of these women and the early disciples because they had seen the resurrected Jesus.
Even though they continued living in an oppressive and difficult environment, they could remember all of Jesus’ actions, words and promises. This was their source of joy amid fear and grief.
At this time of global uncertainty, fear and grief, we also can have joy because we also have experienced the resurrected Jesus. We can remember his past actions in our lives and his faithful promises.
Matthew 28 ends with the story known as the Great Commission. Jesus is gathered with his disciples in Galilee and asks them to continue with his work.
At the same time, he makes them a very important promise that has sustained Christians through the ages. “And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
As we remember what Jesus has done for us in the past, even in the middle of this very different Easter Sunday, we can have joy, peace and hope because Jesus is the same one yesterday, today and always.
Editor’s note: This article is the final part of a weekly “Lenten Lectionary” series for Lent 2020. Each week, we published an article reflecting on the lectionary texts for the forthcoming Sunday. Previous articles in the series were:
Lenten Lectionary | Are You Angry When Your Cheese is Moved? | Terrell Carter
Lenten Lectionary | Journeying with Jesus into the Wilderness | Merianna Harrelson
Lenten Lectionary | Your Lenten Journey to the Far Country | Richard Wilson
Lenten Lectionary | Will You Boldly Push the Boundaries? | Aurelia Davila Pratt
Lenten Lectionary | A Blind Man’s Journey to Believing in Jesus | Austin “Mack” Dennis
Lenten Lectionary | Grief and Presence Amid COVID-19 Virus | Julie Pennington-Russell
Nora O. Lozano is professor of theological studies at Baptist University of the Américas and executive director of the Christian Latina Leadership Institute in San Antonio, Texas.
Nora O. Lozano es profesora de estudios teológicos en la Universidad Bautista de las Américas (Baptist University of the Américas) y directora ejecutiva del Instituto Cristiano para Líderes Latinas (Christian Latina Leadership Institute) en San Antonio, Texas.