I shall not die, but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of the LORD. (Psalm 118:17)
Instead of the countdown of extra services and bulletins to be printed, we are living Holy Week in much the same condition as Jesus’ friends and followers. We don’t know what the coming days hold, and plans we made have been upended. Yet the stories we will explore and proclaim in the coming days have not changed.
Consider the particularities of the telling in Matthew’s gospel. The guards in this version, posted by religious leaders who fear that Jesus’ body will be stolen, stand frozen in terror of an angel of the Lord who uses an earthquake to roll away the stone sealing the tomb. It is the second earthquake in the gospel, the first having opened the graves of the faithful in chapter 27. It feels almost too on-the-nose to read the gospel of Zombies and bodysnatchers when the news carries images of refrigerated morgue trucks parked outside urban hospitals.
I am struck by the image of the women in Matthew 28:9. After a detailed speech from the angel, “with fear and great joy,” they hurry away to tell the disciples. The sudden appearance of Jesus is the culmination of the preceding suspense. “Greetings!” is the word the NRSV puts into his mouth, but the Greek chairete really means “Rejoice!” Perhaps it is understandable that they end up on the ground, holding his feet as they worship him. He is tangible, corporeal, claspable.
In contrast to the telling in John’s gospel, Jesus does not tell the women to unhand him. While they must let go in order to follow his instructions, I imagine them retelling the story to each other as they walked, looking at their hands with wonder. It must be true, because they held onto his feet.
What a word for today! When my wife offers the benediction to her congregation, she often uses the one with the phrase, “Hold on to what is good,” and as she says it, she pulls the fingers of her upraised right hand in toward her palm. My hand involuntarily clasps every time I see her do it. In the midst of this pandemic, I confess I veer between fear for those I love, worry about my own high-risk health conditions, and anger over how response to medical recommendations divides us further along political lines.
At my house we try to counter these feelings by asking, again and again, “What’s good?” What is good in your life, your community, your congregation? How is care being shown; how are resources being shared; how are the people you serve showing love of neighbor? Recount these deeds, for they are the work we do in service of and thanksgiving to the God we love.
Hold on to what is good, my friends, as you tell the story of the first Easter, as you offer comfort to the grieving, hope to the anxious, and courage to the fearful. The words we need are right there. Rejoice! Do not be afraid. Hold on to what is good, and don’t let go.