After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdelene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from Heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled away the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; He has risen, just as He said. Come and see the place where He lay. Then go quickly and tell His disciples: He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him. Now I have told you.”
So the women hurried away, terrified yet full of joy, and ran to tell His disciples. Suddenly, Jesus met them. “Greetings,” He said. They came and clasped His feet and worshiped Him. Then Jesus said, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Terrified and full of joy. This isn’t the first time I have been here, have felt this strange mix of emotion that is both trepidation and wonder, hesitation and excitement. Fittingly, I seem to find myself here most often during the season of Easter. This isn’t the first time this story has spoken deeply to my heart, stating exactly what I do not have words for.
Our family is extraordinarily blessed to have a small, three-bedroom “house” in our backyard. Over the years we have been very privileged to have people of many kinds live with us here as they recover from set-backs and move toward what God has for them next. Sick people who have been discharged from the local hospital but still have no place to rest, homeless families looking for jobs or a means of support, friends, who have quickly become like family, all of them looking for Jesus, looking for love. People have been loved to new life here, and some have been loved straight into the arms of Jesus.
In the quiet of the evening, after I have kissed cheeks and tucked in bodies and prayed over sleepy little heads, I sneak out to the back yard and I watch the new life. Anna reads to her son, Simon, as they wait for the 8th in a series of surgeries to repair his esophagus. They stay here so that they can be close to a hospital in case of an emergency, but Anna helps me and encourages me more than she knows. Yusufu, recently homeless in the community of Masese due to illness that caused him to lose his job, serves food to his two young children, Mariam and Shafik. In the morning, he will go again to dig in the garden and save up the money he makes so that they can move out and stand on their own two feet. Agnes, partially paralyzed due to a stroke and left to die by family members who were afraid and did not understand her condition, sleeps soundly next to her three year old, Lotuke, tired from a long day of walking practice. I bet she’ll be able to do it without her cane any day now! Margaret, her tiny, twenty year-old body ravished by AIDS, discharged from the hospital but with nowhere to go, smiles brightly at me with her son, Sam in her lap.
Beauty from ashes. I don’t just know it to be true, I get to live it. We get to watch redemption take place, we get to reach out and touch it, we get to be a part of it.
And then Margaret groans that her stomach hurts. In a moment, I am in a different place at a different time with another friend whose stomach had hurt. We are at the hospital and they are telling us that there is nothing they can do. I slowly watch her get worse and worse. I hold her hand and I read the Psalms, and she breathes her last. I can hardly breathe. I reach out to hold Margaret’s hand and it looks so similar to a hand I held not toolong ago – a hand I held for hours that turned into days and days that turned into weeks until finally I got to place her hand in the hands of Jesus as He took her from this earth. I blink. It is just a stomachache.
Makerere walks by and I catch a glimpse of the scar on his leg, a scar that God used to heal my heart. I breathe long and deep all that God is doing in this place, all that He is allowing me to participate in, and my heart swells with gratitude, with deep, unshakable joy. And in the same breath, just like the women at the tomb, I am terrified. Because I know it to be true: in order to experience the deep joys of the Father, we must experience the heartaches, too. In order to know Jesus the way that I have known Him, I have had to give my heart to people in ways that I would never have chosen.
I can see the women with their eyes wide as they tremble in front of the tomb. They listen to the angel’s words – can it be? – and they scurry, terrified and filled with joy.
Is it possible to be full of joy and thankfulness and simultaneously afraid of what obedience might bring next? I feel it stirring in my heart, the strange mix of pain and excitement that I will feel as each of our friends here transitions into the new life, outside of our home, that God has planned for them; the strange and devastating love that grows when we love the way Christ has loved us.
I sit there in the candle light, 13 growing young women sleeping soundly a few yards away and all kinds of lives being transformed before my eyes. I sit, terrified and full of joy.
And Jesus meets me. And He says, “Do not be afraid.”
And I ask simply, “How?” Because as excited as I am about all He has planned, there is no denying that sometimes I am just plain scared.
His answer comes clear, steady. “Go and tell my brothers. Go and tell them the good news. Go and tell all the world that they will see me. They will see me.”
And His words ring true. We see Him here, in the midst of pain and hurt and suffering, we see His glory all around. We see Him reconciling all things to Himself, drawing all nations to Himself, making all things new.
I fall at His feet and worship Him, for it is the only thing I know to do. I clasp His feet and remember all He has done for me and all He has yet to do. I remember His resurrection - Life from death. Beauty from ashes. Beauty from the torture and the nail scars and the blood red life spilling out everywhere. Beauty from the black of the tomb. And He does this here in my life, He gives us life to the fullest, and we can see Him, even here.
We tremble. Because who wouldn’t tremble at the feet of the Savior? At just a glimpse of all He might have planned? But as we trust, we fill with joy and peace, we overflow with hope, just as it is promised. We know all He has done for us, and we know all that He has yet to do when He brings us into His kingdom.
And my prayer today is that we might not be afraid. Friend, whatever it is you are facing, do not be afraid. Whatever it is He is calling you to in obedience, rest assured – you will see Him! Go and tell the world of what He has done for us, for you! We can trust Him. And today, every day, we REJOICE in Him!
*I have asked my friends if I could use their names in these stories in the hopes that you would join me in prayer for each of them. As the Lord brings us to mind would you pray? We are so grateful.