Many years ago, I wandered into a church in suburban New York on Easter Sunday. This was the first year in more than a decade that I wasn’t celebrating a Passover seder with my husband. We were newly divorced, and oddly, with the end of the marriage came the end of my exploration of Jewish rites and rituals. They had not been important to my husband in those days, but to me, thinking about how to raise our children, the question of what it meant to be a Jew was paramount.
I have been disorganized about religion for a long time--am I an atheist? Agnostic? A Buddhist? A Christian? A Jew? Nothing or some of each? But as a child I loved Easter: the new spring coat, and new white straw hat, new white gloves, the basket, the hunt for eggs. (And as for eggs: they are spring's welcome; the hens leave off being broody, eat more buggy protein, start laying in earnest, and the yolks of their eggs turn the color of daffodils…)
Note that I do not mention, as part of my childhood recollections, Jesus, the tomb, the Resurrection. That part went right by me. I regret to say that it still does, in some profound way. But I think about it, and all matters spiritual, much more than I used to. I’ve recently come to the conclusion that I do not have to force any decisions about what I do or don’t believe. I have adopted an entirely new approach to many things these days, which can be summed up in one line: We’ll see what happens.
As I sat in a church I had never before visited, I listened to a sermon about Mary at Jesus’ tomb. The minister read from either Luke or Mark, I can no longer recall. But what I do remember is that his entire sermon was about fear. How Mary went to the tomb, and found the rock rolled back, and the dead body gone. How the first thing she felt was not joy, or wonder, or excitement. Mary felt fear. She was trembling and bewildered. And she fled.
Mary strikes me as a deeply sensible woman.
The minister urged the congregation to consider fear, how important an emotion it is, and how natural a response it is, even, or perhaps especially, to things miraculous. He didn’t dwell on fear for long, but I have embroidered much on that sermon in the years since. I have been through several episodes, life-altering crises, during which all I could feel was raw fear. And because of that sermon, I didn’t try to conquer it, or deny it. Instead, I let myself sink into the fear--not letting it bury me, but trying to live with it, or be in it, and examine it.
I have come to understand that when I feel fear, it is because something important is happening. It means that I am going through an enormous change, leaving something behind, moving into the unknown. Maybe someday I will feel the miracle of Jesus’ rebirth. And maybe not. We’ll see what happens. But surely there is a lesson for everyone in Mary’s frank humanness and, ultimately, in her fortitude.