Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.”
One of the passages from the Common Lectionary for the second Sunday in Lent is Matthew’s take on the “Transfiguration” of Jesus. According to the tradition, Jesus took Peter and James and John to a Mountain top. He was “transfigured” before them. His face “shown like the sun.” Then all of a sudden Jesus was standing there shooting the breeze with Moses and Elijah. As a kid (and even as a pastor) I always wondered how the disciples knew it was Moses and Elijah that showed up. There is no mention of introductions. How did they know of all the People from Israel’s stories of old that the heavenly men were’t David and Isaiah or Josiah and Habakkuk?
But you’re not supposed to ask such questions. And in the defense of nervous Sunday school teachers everywhere, that’s not really the point of the story. This is one more way the gospel writers assigned divine status to Jesus. And for Matthew especially, it was a way to show the Jewishness of Jesus, a project he was obsessed with.
But what I am contemplating today is Jesus’ word to Peter James and John, “Get up and do not be afraid.” This is actually the most repeated refrain in the Bible. Jesus says it to his disciples often. It is repeated over and over in the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) whenever god or an angel shows up. I am tempted to digress about the dramatic irony that Christianity ends up instilling so much fear in the hearts of its adherents. Or how you can never sufficiently explain to a child that when Jesus says “do not be afraid” and the writer of Proverbs says “the fear of the lord is the beginning of wisdom” they are talking about two different kinds of fear. Even though I have been taught to parse it out in Hebrew and Greek and describe the difference between fear as reverence and fear as anxiety in English and had the importance of “context” instilled in me… it still seems like a contradiction. Even though its not, technically.
Maybe that is because fear as anxiety has won the day throughout much of Christianity’s history. Or maybe its simply because I have struggled all of my life with anxiety disorder. Either way, I am choosing to not be afraid anymore. I have to. It is not merely about my own sanity and survival anymore. I have two little ones who look to me for guidance. And I have a 9 year old daughter who has been diagnosed with some of my own afflictions, myoclonic dystonia and one of the psychological symptoms that often accompanies dystonia, anxiety disorder.
The last few years have been really hard on both of my babies. The anxiety filled household as their mother and I grew apart in silence. The separation. The divorce. Two homes. Two Birthdays for each of them. Two Christmases. Getting acclimated to seeing their father with someone else and a new blended family with Amanda. Both of my children have been through the wringer. My daughter, especially has responded with angry outburst, increased fits of lying and tears, lots and lots of tears. But what really scares me is when she goes quiet and cannot or will not talk about what’s wrong: to me or to her mom, or even her therapist.
I will not go quiet. And I will not go gently into that good night. I will burn and rave and rage against the dying of the light inside of me. I will protest the darkness until my face shows like the sun. And I will tell my children over and over and over again: Do not be afraid!