“When Fear & Joy Hold Hands”
The resurrection of Jesus is “when joy and fear hold hands.” That is from Greg Carey, New Testament scholar. “When joy and fear hold hands.” What is that? It’s not too hard to identify the fear in Matthew’s resurrection story. The Marys go to the tomb and immediately we hear several frightening things: earthquake, angel crashing down, rolling away big rock. May it be noted that the guards who were men faint but the women keep their wits about them. They appear ready for just about anything, including taking action. The women follow the angel’s instructions to go and tell the disciples that Jesus is no longer dead but has been raised.
Apparently Matthew is fond of earthquakes when it comes to apocalyptic revelations including the Easter mystery. Seismic movements resonate with us differently on the West Coast. They certainly elicit fear and anticipation of potential disaster. For Matthew seismic events can be holy, eliciting both the fear of creation breaking apart and also God doing something new and joyful. In the tension between fear and joy something new is born. Maybe like the disciples we need a bit of fear for us to sit up straight and listen.
We are no strangers to fear, but it’s the joy part we are less good at. We are bombarded with fears about the climate crisis, about war in the Ukraine and beyond, about the housing, health, and opioid crisis. Fear about acceptance of trans people and fear of people due to racism. Fear that a world that at times we thought was progressing and getting better is slipping from our fingers. And yet God is no stranger to combining fear with joy. That old ways of doing things need to die in order for new ways to come to life. There was nothing gentle about Jesus’ betrayal and death. As we journeyed through the three days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil, we can trace an arc that maintains this tension between fear and joy.
On Maundy Thursday Jesus gathers with his disciples for the last supper and despite his betrayal he gives them a new commandment of love and he washes their feet. Jesus continues to model community service even though his life is threatened.
On Good Friday we have the dialogues between Jesus and Pontius Pilate for example. Pilate tries threatening Jesus with authority but Jesus isn’t having it. Jesus plainly tells Pilate he has no power that wasn’t given him by God. Arrest and the threat of state execution do not deter Jesus from his task at hand. The purpose of proclaiming the Passion of Jesus is not to celebrate suffering and death, but rather to recognize that God undergoes suffering and death by human hands in order to bring about the liberation of all creation. It’s not really surprising that Peter denies Jesus three times. He’s afraid the same thing will happen to him that happened to Jesus if he doesn’t run away. And really how many of us would act any differently than Peter?
That story doesn’t end on the cross. Instead we hear about a holy seismic event in which God breaks apart all the forces that killed Jesus: endless pursuit of wealth, state violence, the lure of power, all the things that lead away from God’s love. The earthquake and the angel rolling away the stone awakens the Marys to realize that God is doing something new. Something unimaginable. Something filled with joy.
Greg Carey elaborates, “Remarkably, the combined experience of fear and joy propels the two Marys to run and tell the other disciples. On the way they encounter the risen Jesus, who commands them to do precisely what they were already about to do. Fear, on its own, provides poor motivation for obedience. But joy, properly guided, makes us run to tell the story.”
In what ways are we already running to tell the story at Church of the Cross? It is the joy of kids flourishing in Sunday School and confirmation. It is the joy of seniors at Perk Me Up and the iPad group. The joy of Women in Faith and the recent breakfast gatherings.
It is the joy of standing with Indigenous neighbours at the Native Friendship Centre, at the legislature, and on Wet’suwet’en territory in the fight for land back and keeping promises.
It is the joy of the Shelbourne Community Kitchen celebrating how far they’ve come helping address food insecurity of neighbours with the help of community partners, including Church of the Cross.
It is the joy of hearing about refugee families flourishing in Greater Victoria and beyond beginning a new life as next door neighbours.
In different ways each of us running to tell the Easter story. Trust in the story you’ve been given to tell. And it’s okay that stories of joy are also joined by moments of fear. A joy that is for us, especially if we are mourning the death of a loved one, saddened by chronic illness for ourselves or loved ones, or struggling with employment, finances, or addictions. Part of the Easter joy is a realization that God’s joy triumphs over fear.
On Wednesday evening I had the privilege of co-delivering the commissioning and blessing for two interns, two campus connectors, and seven graduating students at Inclusive Christians at the Multifaith Centre at UVic. It was a gathering of chaos and joy. It is a testimony to the kind of joyful Christian community we want to see flourishing on campus and as these followers of Jesus go off and share their gifts and joy wherever they go. These aren’t just future leaders in the church. These are current leaders. And as they encounter their own struggles in an uncertain world, we rejoice with them. It is a joy to see Inclusive Christians, the only queer-affirming Christian group on campus flourish.
Wrapping up, may fear and joy hold hands. May they hold our hands and fill us with God’s love this Easter. Amen.