Artist: Kelsey Hanlon
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, 'He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.' This is my message for you." So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."
- Matthew 28:1-10
In 2008, Julian Barnes published a meandering memoir entitled Nothing to be Frightened Of. It is what older generations of Christians would call a “memento morum”- a meditation on death. Barnes is a skeptic, but he makes the unguarded admission in his first lines that, while he doesn’t believe in God, he “misses him;” he calls Christianity the “haunting hypothetical.” Barnes takes his title from a journal entry 20 years prior: “People say of death, ‘There’s nothing to be frightened of.’ They say it quickly, casually. Now let’s say it again, slowly, with re-emphasis: ‘There’s NOTHING to be frightened of ... the word that is most true, most exact, most filled with meaning, is ‘nothing.’ ”
This is the question, the one that haunts us when we sense our own smallness, brush close to death, or sit with tear-stained cheeks at a funeral: is there nothing to be frightened of, or a vast, yawning NOTHING that awaits each of us, and the universe as a whole? Nothing to be frightened of? Or, NOTHING to be frightened of?
In the dark of the first Easter morning, the resurrection of Jesus was literally earthshaking. And interestingly, the very first lines of the angelic announcement are, “Do not be afraid.” Don’t be afraid: death does not have the last word on your life or the universe! There’s nothing to be frightened of: Jesus, plunged into the inky blackness of our sin and death, has won the victory! Don’t be afraid: God has burst new life into our terrified, unsuspecting world!
In the 17th century, poet and Anglican priest John Donne suffered a major illness that brought him to the doorstep of death. With one eye on his own death, and one eye on the Easter empty tomb of Jesus, he wrote one of his greatest pieces of poetry, Death, Be Not Proud:
“Death, be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow, And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men, And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more, death, thou shalt die.”
Or, to put it more simply: because of Easter, there’s nothing to be frightened of.
Jared Ayers serves as preaching pastor of Liberti Church, with campuses in Center City and Main Line, Philadelphia. He is married to Monica, and they've been graced with two sons (Brennan and Kuyper) and a daughter (Rae Ann).
Kelsey Hanlon is just a woman with an iPhone, a lover of the light. She seeks beauty in the mundane and joy in the darkest of places.