Easter Day -2008
“Don’t be afraid,” the angel said – almost always, the first word out of the mouth of the Holy One or his emissaries.
“Fear not” – and yet, how could they not have been scared to death?
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary had gone in the dark to the tomb of Jesus, and, suddenly, there was an earthquake, and an angel coming down from heaven and rolling back the stone. “His appearance,” the text tells us, “was like lightening and his clothing white as snow.”
The guards shook with fear and became like dead men– the words Matthew uses tell us they became rigid, immobilized – passed out cold …as if they were dead…
“Don’t be afraid” the angel said to the women..
“Don’t be afraid” the angel said to Mary – Jesus’ mother
“Don’t be afraid” the angels said to the shepherds.
Think about what happened with the Israelites when God miraculously pried them out of Pharaoh’s hands. They ran through the desert pursued by an army and came to the Red Sea .
There was a wall of water in front of them, a wall of Egyptians behind them and the walls were closing. Would it be death by drowning or death by the sword? V. 10 in that 14th chapt of Exodus tells us, “In great fear, the Israelites cried out to the Lord and said, 'Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die out here in the wilderness? What have you done?'" And Moses said, “Do not be afraid, stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will accomplish for you today,” and God made a way through the waters.
Think of the vision of desolation seen by the prophet Ezekiel who lived at a time when the people of Israel had been defeated in war. Towns and cities had been razed with untold numbers of casualties. The survivors were marched off into slavery – all forms of family and community destroyed. An entire people were disheartened and disappearing, probably so sick at heart, they wanted nothing more than to lie down and die. “Don’t be afraid” God said to them through Ezekiel, “I will give you new life.” And He did.
To the same Ezekiel, God showed the vision of the valley of the Dry Bones—I have wondered if a modern-day equivalent imagery might not be some of the photos coming out of the concentrations camps like Dachau – with death everywhere…no life, no future, no hope. Can these bones live, came the question to Ezekiel…and he responded…o Lord, only you know..and you remember what happened…the Spirit of Life itself breathed over, blew over those bones and the bones were joined together, flesh and muscle,came on them. In the valley of death, the Spirit of Life danced and blew over the dead bones of a whole people, and they lived.
And, St Paul proclaims over and over again that that when we are united to Christ, Death has no hold over us.
Now, back to our gospel reading. The angel of the Lord said to the women , “Do not be afraid. You are looking for Jesus…he is not here…he has been raised from the dead and is on his way ahead of you to Galilee…you will see him there. "
With joy and fear and everything else, they ran to tell the disciples, and suddenly on the road with them was Jesus. What a moment! And, what did he say to them? He said,“Greetings” or the equivalent of “hey, y’all." Then, he said to them, Don’t be afraid…go and tell.
You see, the followers of Jesus have nothing to fear… NOTHING. God’s resurrection power can overcome anything… So, what are you afraid of? Financial loss? disease? Our own death? The death of someone we love? The anguish and heartsickness of grief?
These are very real losses but we need to know that 1. those we love are not lost but in God’s keeping…2. that resurrection is real..perhaps, the most real thing of all. 3. that death can do its worst and does not have the final word…because in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, God’s final word to us is life, and life energized by a love that will never die.
“Don’t be afraid” is the sermon delivered first by a lightening –faced angel and then by Jesus himself. We are witnesses to the resurrection and there is nothing on this earth that is beyond the reach of God’s resurrection power.
Jesus says to us – go and tell others that I have walked this road before you and there is nothing to fear… go and be witnesses to the resurrection…go be Easter people who live with joy and anticipation in our sad, anxious and fearful world.
Go to those who are anxious or fearful and surround them with resurrection love..
Go to those who are grieving and embrace them with resurrection love (this doesn’t mean beating someone over the head)…but simply loving them..walking with them---- if they will let you…praying for them..and embodying resurrection hope.
Because Jesus has been raised from the dead, love and life have the last word and will ALWAYS have the last word.
Today, right now, to you, Jesus says---hey, y’all--- don’t be afraid, but go and tell. AMEN.