When the women arrive at the tomb on Easter morning, spices in hand, and discover the stone rolled away and Jesus’ grave clothes folded, their response is to keep silence.
They’re afraid, shocked into silence by the violence of the preceding days and an angel who interrupts their sorrow with good news. He is not here. He is risen. The gospel tells us that “terror and amazement seized them.” They couldn’t speak. “They were afraid” (Mark 16:8).
No doubt some of their fear was due to the angel. There’s a reason angelic beings always begin by saying “Don’t be afraid” when bearing a message to mortals. A deafening holiness clings to them. Some innate fear, like a fear of spiders or snakes, wells up in people, written in our DNA from back when the cherub blocked the way into the Garden with his fiery sword (Genesis 3:24). But the women’s fear is of another order. Theirs is amazement, fear and trembling, silence in the face of a holy encounter.
And it was the perfect response.
There’s a way in which any words we use to celebrate at Easter are inadequate. Even our hallelujahs come up short. Like those women at the empty tomb, we stand at the boundary of a a holy mystery, and silence might be the only adequate response.
That and fear–the “fear of the Lord” that gripped and animated the prophets and priests of old–awe before the God who shows up on God’s own timing and in God’s own ways. The women were like Peter falling on his knees before Jesus on that boat, like the guards who “shook and became like dead men” (Luke 5:8; Matthew 28:4). They had gone looking for the dead and encountered the tracings of the Living One. It was a take-your-shoes-off-you’re-standing-on-holy-ground sort of a burning bush of a mystery. What can you do? What can you say?
That’s it. Just be for a moment. Just keep quiet. “Let all the earth keep silence” (Habakkuk 2:20). There will come a time for proclamation. They will tell the other disciples. Peter and John will race to the tomb. The message will be proclaimed throughout the whole earth. But for now, guard a silent awe. Tremble before the holy mystery of the resurrection. That’s what they had to do.
What about us?
Perhaps before we leap to praise and proclamation we’ve got to stand in holy quietness before the resurrection. Maybe we should greet the Easter dawn with reverent silence, in trembling awe at the God who trod down Death by death.