Whether or not you celebrate the Christian festival of Easter, its story has lessons to offer about our work with foster youth.
The Bible has four different accounts of the story of Jesus’ resurrection, but in all of them a group of women goes to the tomb early in the morning to care for Jesus’ body and prepare it for burial (because they had not been able to do this before the sabbath started).
These women would have been disciples and followers of Jesus. They are deep in grief – their spiritual leader, mentor, and friend, someone who brought healing and hope to their lives and many others, has been publicly shamed and murdered.
As they walk toward the place where Jesus is buried they must wish, more than anything, that this had not happened, that Jesus wasn’t dead, that they could turn back the hands of time three days to when their friend was alive.
But when they arrive at the tomb it is empty, and an angel gives them the news that they most want to hear: Jesus is not dead, but has come back to life.
In one of the four Easter stories, it says the women left the tomb “with fear and great joy.”
The women have just heard amazing news, news that they desperately wished for, but their joy is accompanied by fear.
As I try to put myself in their shoes, I imagine there could be many reasons for that fear. They may be afraid that the angel’s message isn’t true. They may be afraid that the angel’s message IS true and they fear what they have never experienced before and don’t understand. They may be afraid that no one will believe them.
This strange mixture of joy and fear reminds me of the reactions youth sometimes have to their first weeks of meetings with their mentors.
We know many of you have been met with some degree of disbelief and have fielded questions from your youth about how much you’re getting paid to be there and whether you’ll be back next week. Given what your youth have experienced in the way of relationships, your presence as a caring adult with no agenda probably makes you seem about as strange as that angel that dropped out of the sky into the empty tomb.
So whereas we know that you are arriving with the message that these youth (and all of us) need to hear most: “I am here because you are worthy and because I care about you!” – we also understand that it is not always easy to receive that message, or to believe it.
None of the stories in the Bible tells us how long the women stayed at the tomb absorbing this message, but maybe the angel just sat with them for awhile, the way so many of you have just sat with your youth when they are fearful, when they are angry, when they are confused. Maybe the angel had to keep repeating the message until they believed it, the way you all keep showing up week in and week out with your youth. And yet, when the women finally left the tomb to go tell the others, their great joy at the good news was still mixed with fear. Even their greatest joy couldn’t totally banish their sense of fear.