Impossible Words

April 17, 2020

Matthew 28:8-10

I like hope, not discouragement. I like positive, not negative. I like friendly, not hate. I like social, not isolation. I like planned, not surprised. 

So, guess what! I am not particularly enjoying this COVID-19 self-isolation. I can read, take naps, and bake more than usual. I can adjust my retirement schedule so there are fewer meetings. But I am still out of sorts. My extroverted self is making big adjustments. I am learning a new routine, a new discipline, a new pattern. 

While this time in the life of our country, city, and neighborhood is new, disorienting, and worrisome, it is nothing compared to that of the early disciples of Jesus. This year’s lectionary reading for Easter was Matthew 28—a drama for sure. The horror of crucifixion is over. The death of Jesus is final. While I cannot imagine the torture of Jesus, history records that crucifixion was a common punishment for crime in that era, often with spectators. Even our biblical texts record that women stayed close to this awful scene. They were faithful disciples and family members.  The tragedy was viewed by the mother of Jesus—an impossibly difficult experience. Again, I cannot imagine such pain.

It is therefore even more startling that the first words out of Jesus’s mouth after resurrection are “Don’t be afraid.” Surely the women were beside themselves with grief, loss, trauma, and fear. Surely, they might have imagined themselves as the next victims of the state.  Surely, they were sleep-deprived, anxious, and confused.  Yet Jesus meets them with the exact words they needed to hear: “Don’t be afraid.”

It’s been debated which fear Jesus was addressing.  Was it the fear of death? Or, was it fear of seeing him in the flesh?  Was it fear of the authorities? Or, was it fear of the future? No doubt it was a jumble of all these fears. 

We can relate even in 2020. We have many fears. We have seen hundreds of television images of emergency rooms crowded with dying patients and stressed medical staff. We have seen refrigerated trucks waiting to hold bodies of those who died of COVID-19. Many people have lost jobs, income, and employment. The stock market has riddled retirement incomes. Fears? There are plenty.

Those who have mental and behavioral issues are doubly stressed. A disease of the mind alters everything and puts daily stresses on life. How can patients cope with the added stress of an entire disrupted society? How can clients rely on past ideas when today seems completely different? Again, the words of Jesus are profound and relevant to patients at Prairie View. “Don’t be afraid.” Jesus spoke to those who were friends, his close associates, his disciples. These were caregivers. These were the ones who did not leave—even when faced with crucifixion. These women, these relatives, stayed with Jesus and then received a direct word of encouragement from the one who defied death. “Don’t be afraid.”

Today, those who are close to us—doctors, therapists, social workers, staff, friends, family, neighbors, church members—are still the ones who are speaking “Don’t be afraid” to us. Regardless of our situations, we are helped by those who speak kind words of support, compassion, and care to us.
Hear these words and repeat these words. “Don’t be afraid.” Speak them out loud. Speak them to yourself over and over. In these times, take time to remember that Jesus conquered death and then spoke these most important words to his disciples. 

 I decided that he is speaking those same words to all of us today.  “Don’t be afraid.”

Rev. Dorothy Nickel Friesen is a retired Mennonite minister and denominational minister who served on the Prairie View Board and is a member of the Chaplaincy Advisory Committee. She lives in Newton, Kan.