We are often afraid. After all, we live in a scary world, in scary times. We fear for the safety of our children in schools, as we hear news of the latest school shootings.
We grip our keys defensively in darkened parking lots, because of our own experiences and the prevalence of #MeToo. We fear medical diagnoses, job losses, poverty, heights, being in the dark, losing love, spiders, never being loved, failing. And the list goes on and on.
Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). No wonder then, that throughout scripture we hear God telling us, in one way or another, not to be afraid. I am here, God is saying. I have called you by name. You are mine. You are loved. You are found.
Throughout scripture, God’s people from Abraham all the way to Paul and beyond hear God call us with love. What can we learn from the stories of our biblical ancestors?
We learn that we don’t have to be afraid (and if we are, we don’t have to let fear paralyze us) because God is with us. It also means our lives are about to change.
Hagar, cast into the wilderness
When we are afraid, we can consider Hagar, cast out into the wilderness with her young child near death, who hears a God of perfect love call to her by name: “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” God is with her and opens her eyes to see a well, from which she gives her son a drink (Genesis 21:17-19).
Mary and Martha, sisters very different
When we are afraid, we can remember Jesus visiting the sisters Mary and Martha, calling Martha by name, speaking to her fears and challenging her to see her place as not limited to serving in the kitchen, but sitting with him. Jesus says in perfect love and honesty: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-41).
Mary Magdalene, the first to experience the good news
When we are afraid, we can remember Mary Magdalene, who on Easter morn, fears and weeps over the loss of Jesus (John 20:11-18). God in Christ met her, too, in that place of fear. “Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?” Jesus asked. Mary finally recognizes him when he calls out, “Mary!” She wants to hold on to him and not let go. But once again, he has something important to say. She is the first to experience the good news that Christ is risen. She is first to be told to share the good news that we need not fear.
Easter is about not having to be afraid. Easter is about God calling us with love. Easter means taking comfort in knowing that this perfect love has already won.
Elizabeth Hunter is editor of Gather magazine.
Art: Jan Victors, 1619-1676. Banishment of Hagar, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=49609. Original source: http://www.yorckproject.de.