The angel said, “Do not be afraid.” “Yeah, right?” The whole earth just shook. There is an angel that looks like lightening before them, but now that the angel had given them this great advice, I’m sure all fear went away. Actually, I know it did not work out that way, as we will see.
The one emotion that dominates Matthew’s account of the resurrection is fear. Jesus was crucified out of fear. The disciples were now in hiding out of fear. The angel says to these women disciples, “Do not be afraid.” And what was the reaction of these women to this word? Fear. We hear that they ran quickly from the tomb with fear, even after the angel had said, “Do not be afraid.”
We all know about this fear. There are hundreds of “phobias,” and all of us suffer. Did you know that there is even a “fear of sermons?” From the word “homily, it’s called “homilophobia.” Although one person told me that this was really just a fear of falling asleep in public. The truth is we live in fear. We fear commitment and we fear loneliness. We fear routine and we fear change. We fear failure and we fear success. And, I would say, at the root of all our phobias, is the deep fear that we really might be on our own. What if “this” is all there is? It is true. Standing on the dark side of Easter is very scary.
Matthew tells us that these women ran quickly in fear, but there is something else as well. He says, they ran from the tomb in fear…”and great joy.” Have you ever experienced fear and joy together? My first thought is holding a baby and welcoming a new life into the world. That was a moment for me of great fear and unfathomable joy, all wrapped together. I also think of standing in this pulpit. I touch this historic pulpit, where so many sermons have been preached, and these feelings just race through me – fear and joy.
Many of you will remember when Luke Skywalker said to Yoda, “I’m not afraid.” And what was Yoda’s response? “You will be. You will be.” The light of living Christ, ushered in with earthquakes and lightning-like angels, brings a kind of fear. This light awakens us to the ways in which we can be among the “walking dead.” (That’s a reference to our Bishop’s Easter video, which I encourage you to watch). We can find ourselves among the “walking dead” when we are wrapped up more in our devices (phones) than in our relationships. We are among the “walking dead” when we are driven more by greed then by grace, or by anger more than forgiveness and mercy. We can find ourselves among the “walking dead” when we are consumed with self-protection rather than living in the light of God’s eternal love. Yes, the light of the living Christ exposed this “sin” that has such a hold on us, and this light is meant to scare us in a way. This light is meant to awaken us and to make us want to run quickly into the arms of God’s eternal love. It is not about being afraid of God. It is about being awakened to God and able to see the dangers of living among the “walking dead.” We need to fear that. This is why the Apostle Paul calls us to work out our salvation with a healthy dose of “fear and trembling.” (Phil 2:12).
I think of Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night. In this story, found in the 3rd chapter of John, “night,” is symbolic. It represents spiritual darkness and fear. In the course of this conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, Jesus says that we must be born anew or awakened from above, with our hearts connected to something so much bigger, and this must happen if we are to “see” the kingdom of God. Nicodemus thinks this is crazy. He asked, “How can we be born again?” And Jesus says, “Don’t take this so literally. I’m talking about a spiritual new birth. I’m talking about receiving God’s love and letting this love transform you from the inside out.” At this point, Nicodemus doesn’t get it. But later we see him in the full light of day, as a disciple of Jesus. Somewhere along the way, his heart was awakened to the love and he wanted to live his life by it.
Easter is about new life, right now. We are invited to live as Easter People...to have our spiritual senses come to life, where we begin to see ourselves as a part of God’s kingdom, as a part of something so much bigger than ourselves, and are able to know, deep inside, that God is with us and that God will see us through.
To see this more clearly, it is so important that we put together what happens on Good Friday with what happens on Easter. On the cross, on Good Friday, we see what God does FOR us. We experience “justification by grace.” That’s the theological doctrine. To be justified by grace is to be “set right” with God through this act of pure and perfect love. You might think of margins on a page when they are justified (that’s one place where we still use this word). On a page, words are justified when they are aligned. In our own lives, we cannot justify ourselves or bring ourselves into alignment with God. On our own our lives are chaos, produced by self-will and so much fear. On the cross, Jesus gathers this chaos, all the sin that dwells within, and he redeems it. He pays all debts. He takes all the ways that we fall short and he justifies us; he brings them into alignment with God’s gift of life and love. That’s what God does FOR us in Jesus on Good Friday. Then, by the power of God, the cross becomes a “crossing over.” Jesus opens the way to new life. Through the resurrection, we discover that God is bigger than sin and death. Now, the living Christ works IN us to continue to bring us into this pure and perfect love.
Here is my hope for all of you today. Matthew’s account of the resurrection includes a great earthquake. It is symbolic. I hope that Matthew’s earthquake shakes you up. Matthew’s account includes an angel that appeared like lightning. I hope this lightning-like angel jolts you back to life. I hope you experience fear today, the fear of wasting your life on the dark side of Easter. And I hope that this awakens you and makes you want to run into a new vision for your life, one built on pure and perfect love. And know this: you don’t have to get rid of all your fears, and doubts, and questions, before you come. Bring all of this, your whole being, into this relationship and know that the living Christ wants to meet you with the same kind of love that he calls us to give to one another. He meets us with patience and kindness, with a love that never insists on its own way, that always rejoices in what is good (I Cor 13). That’s what Easter life is all about. May we all spiritually run for this place today, with both fear and great joy. Amen.