by Rev. Joseph Connolly
“…Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell the disciples to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’” — Matthew 28:10
A vibrant early morning Sun burst over the horizon of the Judean hillsides. In all those places where darkness had lurked before crystals of light splashed brilliant beams. This was a dazzling array, bristling with energy. It seemed to extend itself into new territories, just as a vivacious youngster might intrude, as if probing places it had never even been allowed before.
But all that was happening outside the cave. Inside the depths of this stone fortress, deep in the bowels of it, there was little light.
And it was not just dark. It was also wet, dank. There was a constant drip, drip, drip as pellets of water fell slowly from the roof into puddles on the floor. And so, a long way back from the opening of the cave an eerie essence of night enshrouded two women.
They were both named Mary. But most everyone, all their friends, called one of them Mags. Mags was her nickname because her hometown was Magdala.
Just before the Sun had made its entrance Mary, the faster of the two, was running in front of her friend Mags. She was afraid and decided she needed to hide. It was then, when Mary had made that decision, that this crevice in the side of the hill, this cavern, presented itself. She plunged into the shadows of the opening.
Mags did not, herself, think hiding was the best thing to do right now. But Mary and Mags were life-long friends, best friends. And when your best friend insists on something, you go along.
Mags, the more observant of the two, saw some lamps by the mouth of cave. Mags also had more foresight. She grabbed a single lamp and lit it before plunging toward the depth of night which this hole on the side of the hill presented.
That lamp was proving, however, to be of limited assistance. Given the moisture in the air, its wick had become a little wet. Hence, the flame often flickered.
Also, the cloth which stuck up from the reservoir of oil had gotten to a point where most of it had burned away. It would not be much longer before they needed to move back toward to the entrance of the cave just so they could see.
But for now they sat near one another on the hard floor. And Mary… Mary was weeping. After a time of sitting there next to her friend, just listening to her friend, Mags reached out and touched Mary’s shoulder. When she did that she realized Mary was not just crying. Her whole body was trembling, shaking.
“Mary,” Mags whispered, “Mary, everything will be fine.”
“How can you be so sure?” came the response.
“Listen to what the Rabbi, our teacher, Yehoshua, Jesus, said. ‘Do not be afraid.’”
“You saw Jesus. Please tell me I was not dreaming.”
“Yes,” said Mags. “I saw the Rabbi.” Her head nodded in the affirmative but she wondered if Mary was able to see this action in the dim light.
“Did you see the other one also?” Mary asked.
“The one whose clothes were as radiant as the Sun?” It was a memory Mags did not think she could easily forget. “Yes. I did. I saw that one.”
Mary let out a sob. “Tell me, tell me… do you remember what was said?”
Mags nodded again. “That one also said ‘Do not be afraid;…’”
Mary probed some more. “And what else did you hear?”
Mags was wondering why Mary insisted on hearing all this again but she took a deep breath and continued. “I heard Jesus had been raised and we should go and tell the disciples, our friends.”
“What else did you hear?”
“Well, one of the things I heard,” Mags allowed, “was something we already know. Jesus was crucified, killed by the Romans, an enemy of the Empire.”
“It hurt just to hear those words. I know Jesus died. I saw it. I watched. When it was repeated, hearing those words forced me to relive the execution.”
Slowly Mary responded. “So… Mags… you heard that— you heard that Jesus is dead and you are not afraid?”
“No. I am afraid. I am scared out of my wits.” Mags was again shaking her head up and down and also side to side in the dark. “That is, I was afraid, I was scared out of my wits until… until I saw… Jesus. Then I was fine” (Slight pause.) “But now I’m frightened all over again.”
“Why? Why are you frightened again?”
“How do we explain this to our friends, the Rabbi’s friends?” (Slight pause.)
The wick on the lamp began to sputter, the light falter. Mags spoke up. “I think we need to leave.”
She stood, reached down to Mary and helped her friend to her feet. They hugged. They cried together.
Finally Mary said, “Mags, you’re wonderful. You are a wonderful friend.”
Mags said, “You’re not so bad yourself.”
Slowly they headed toward the entrance of the cave. Slowly the shadows faded away as daylight angled into the opening, bouncing off stones traveling into the cave, seemingly playful, somehow joyous.
Mary and Mags burst out of the crevice on the hill into the full brightness of day, holding each other’s hand. It was no longer early in the morning but the Sun was still vibrant. The light bristled with energy.
Mary looked at her friend and asked, “So what shall we say? What shall we tell the others.”
At first Mags just shrugged her shoulders. (Slight pause.) Then she smiled. “I know. We simply need to be honest. Jesus was with us. We need to say that. Jesus was with us. We need to name that reality.”
Mary said, “Maybe that’s what really frightens me: just saying it.”
Mags shook her head in affirmation again and then was silent for a bit. Finally she spoke. “The Rabbi said, ‘Do not be afraid.’ And I think not being afraid has little to do with this fear. After all, this is really about trust. And I trust Jesus. I trust what Jesus said. ‘Do not be afraid’”
“So that’s what we need to tell the disciples,” she continued. “That’s what we need to tell everyone. We need to trust what God has done. We need to trust that the light… even more light than we can see on this morning… we need to trust that the light of God is with us and will be with us because Jesus is with us.” (Slight pause.)
Mary smiled. “Mags, you’re wonderful. You are a wonderful friend,” she said.
Mags responded, “You’re not so bad yourself,” and reached her hand out to Mary.
“Let’s go find the others. They are probably afraid and they are probably hiding. We need to tell them to trust everything Jesus said. We need to tell them Jesus is with us.” Amen.
United Church of Christ, First Congregational, Norwich, New York.
ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “I need to say two things: first, in Aramaic, the language which would have been spoken in Roman Palestine in New Testament times, to be saved meant to be made alive. Second, I am sure the well known American composer Irving Berlin was a nice fellow. He wrote Easter Parade and also a lesser know Easter Song, It’s a Lovely Day, Happy Easter. I want to suggest, however, that to merely say, ‘Happy Easter’ is not a Christian sentiment. So, let me make a suggestion: if someone walks up to you today and says, ‘Happy Easter’ shake their hand and say, ‘Christ is risen.’ ‘Christ is risen’ is the Christian sentiment.”
BENEDICTION: Hear now this blessing and then please join with me in the responsive Easter acclamation found in the bulletin. May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the love of Christ, Jesus, and in the knowledge of the Holy Spirit this day and forever. And please join with me in the Easter Acclamation.
ONE: Rejoice, people of God! Christ is risen from the dead! Go in peace to love and serve God. Christ is with you always. Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
MANY: Christ is risen, indeed. Alleluia!