The Resurrection is depicted in a 15th-century painting by Italian painter Andrea Mantegna.

The eternal message: ‘Do not be afraid’

By  Fr. Michael McGourty, Catholic Register Special
  • April 11, 2020

On Palm Sunday, after I read the Passion narrative of St. Matthew’s Gospel, alone in our parish church at the Masses, I could not help but think of how much we have in common this Easter with the first disciples of Jesus.

After Jesus was arrested, His disciples locked themselves away in fear. This Easter, we, and many of our loved ones, are locked up in our homes in fear and uncertainty because of the COVID-19 virus.

For the first disciples, their uncertainty and fear was due to concern that the Roman officials might arrest and punish them for being followers of Jesus.

Today, confronted by the COVID-19 virus, we, too, are uncertain about the future and fear suffering and death. Whether we are willing to admit it or not, this is actually the state that humanity finds itself in most of the time.

For this reason, it is so important that we hear in a new way the words that Jesus spoke to His disciples when He appeared to them.

His words are simple and powerful and they changed the lives of these disciples. These same words have the power to strengthen us in this crisis and to change our lives.

His message was simply: “Peace, I am with you. Do not be afraid.” After He speaks these words, He does something strange — He asks for something to eat. By asking for food, Jesus proves He has a real body, that He has truly risen and destroyed death.

When the disciples understand that Christ has truly risen in a real body, they understand that because of His resurrection, they too will rise and cannot die. The Easter message Christ proclaimed to His first disciples was that they need not fear anything, that through faith in Jesus they would share in His resurrection and enjoy eternal life.

Jesus speaks those same words to us today: “Peace, I am with you. Do not be afraid.”

At this very painful time, when our churches are closed, so many of us long to participate in the Eucharist and to share in this beautiful sacrament of His presence. That we are unable to do so is a source of great suffering.

However, it is our attachment to the Eucharist and our longing for it that truly reminds us that Christ is present and has been present to us throughout our lives. Soon, very soon, we shall all know that presence again and our longing for it should remind us that Jesus has risen and is with us today.

Like the first disciples, we are in a time of fear and uncertainty. For this reason it is imperative that we hear His Easter message with fresh ears and an open heart.

This message is simple, but life giving. Today, Jesus says to each of us, as He did to His disciples locked in that room in fear and uncertainty: “Peace, I am with you. Do not be afraid.”

That is the Easter message. Jesus is risen! He has truly risen! Death has no power over us. Jesus has overcome the world.

In the quiet and solitude you might now have as a result of the extra time in your homes, I would encourage you to take out your Bible and read some of the resurrection appearances by Jesus. They are found near the end of the Gospels.

As Jesus speaks to His disciples locked away in their homes in fear and uncertainty, hear Him also speak to you. Know that He is with you, He loves you very much, and because of His victory you need not fear anything.

Take time to speak with Jesus, tell Him your fears and concerns, and ask Him to help you to know of His presence to you personally through the power of the Holy Spirit.

In our fear and weaknesses, Jesus comes to us in ways that we might not normally perceive. This is a time to really come to know that He is alive and He is with each of us.

This is an Easter like no other. The first Easter was an Easter like no other. Every Easter the words of Jesus are the same: “Peace, I am with you. Do not be afraid.”

Every Easter I share with my friends the beautiful greeting, “Christ is Risen!” to which, they respond: “He is truly Risen!”

This year, as I think of these words their significance seems more powerful than usual and they remind me that no matter what the future may hold, because of Christ and His resurrection, you and I shall not die, but shall share eternal life with Him.

Jesus has destroyed death, we need not fear anything. Because of Christ and His resurrection, we shall live forever.

(Fr. McGourty is pastor at St. Peter’s Parish in Toronto.)

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