Among the resurrection encounters, St. Matthew records a rather strange episode where Jesus seems to interrupt some disciples, only to tell them to continue doing what they were already doing.
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 worshiped 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 28:8-10)
The episode loses some of its mysterious quality when we realize that what was growing within the disciples was probably the virtue of hope. Having just encountered an angel who spoke about the risen Jesus, the disciples immediately enter into the familiar dynamic that hope brings.
This dynamic is the rather common interplay between fear and joy. Both are emotional responses to possibilities, and because they are emotionally driven, they are neither good nor bad in themselves. But there is a danger here, that our fears untempered by joy may lead us to despair.
And this is precisely what our Lord plans to interrupt with His greeting (or rejoice in the Greek). By encountering them on their way to share what they have heard from the angel, Jesus gives them every reason to be full of joy. It is precisely as John the Baptist had said:
The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. (John 3:29)
Jesus knows we can be afraid, despairing even, when we have every reason to hope. And so, He meets us right where we are, in the middle of our tasks if necessary, to tip the scales in our favour.
Do not be afraid, I can still remember St. John Paul II saying. He too was right; we have much to be joyful about.