Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
“Do not be afraid!”
In our Gospel reading for today we first heard those words spoken to us by an angel of the Lord. The angel speaks these four simple – yet incredibly powerful words to the two Marys on the very first Easter morning – at dawn – in a cemetery – near Jesus’ grave – following an earthquake. An earthquake that apparently the angel caused when he descended from heaven in all of his heavenly glory to roll the stone away from Jesus’ tomb. We are told that the angel’s appearance was as brilliant as a flash of lightening and his clothing was as white as newly fallen snow!
Now I don’t know about the rest of you – but I think I would find an earthquake at dawn – then an angel encounter in a cemetery just a bit unsettling. Well – honestly – I probably would have run for the hills as fast as my middle aged legs could carry me. I would never even have stuck around to hear what the magnificent angel had to say to me. (I can be a bit jumpy like that.)
Jason is the brave – fearless – adult in our house.
A few years ago when we were on vacation in Tennessee with our extended family – a very – very smart bear tried to open the front door of the house where we were staying after my mother-in-law had made the kids bacon for breakfast! (Yet another reason to go vegetarian . . .)
I witnessed this absolutely – positively shocking behavior and I knew the door the bear was trying to open was unlocked. I also knew my precious – beloved children had to be protected from this impending danger and doom. So I immediately jumped into action. I did what had to be done without even a moment’s hesitation. I turned to my beloved husband – and I said – “Jason – that door is UNLOCKED!!!!” And then I stood behind Jason while he bravely – and truly without even a moment’s hesitation marched right up to that stupid glass door and he locked it!
Of course – since this was a family vacation – it meant there was a witness to this “incident.” My brother-in-law John saw it all. And he laughed and laughed and laughed at me.
And for the rest of the vacation – my 6 foot 5 inch tall brother-in-law would randomly cower behind Jason while declaring “that the door was unlocked.” The hilarious man did it over and over and over again – because you know – it just never got old!
Thankfully – Jesus has softer touch than my awesome and truly beloved brother-in-law.
Jesus himself comes to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary as they are rushing out of the cemetery with hearts filled with a mix of both fear and joy.
And the risen Jesus says to them – “Do not be afraid.”
Jesus meets them where they are – in that crazy – wild mix of lingering grief and wonder and awe and fear and shock. And Jesus tells them again that they don’t need to be afraid.
I think so often when we read or hear the words – “Do not be afraid!” – we hear them as a command – like “Eat your vegetables – young man!” “Drink your milk!” “Stop that right now!” “Wear your seatbelt!” “Don’t text and drive!”
We hear “Do not be afraid!” as an admonition like “don’t you dare be afraid.” Or if you have enough faith you wouldn’t be afraid. Or a really “good, faithful, devout” Christian wouldn’t be afraid in these circumstances. But I just don’t think that is what either the angel of the Lord or Jesus was saying to these women or to us today.
After all – these were in fact – very – very frightening times. There simply is no denying that. The Romans had just crucified Jesus. These women had just watched as their beloved friend and teacher had died a horribly cruel, painful death. Their world had been turned upside down and inside out. And they had no way of knowing if the Romans were coming after Jesus’ followers next. If soon they too would be targets of Rome’s wrath and vengeance.
They had come to visit Jesus’ tomb. But then the angel tells them that Jesus isn’t dead.
But that just didn’t make any sense to them, because people don’t rise from the dead. When people die – they are buried and they stay died. Death is incredibly – painfully sad – but that is the way the world and life works. Death is final. Death is permanent.
Talk about confusing and frightening and bewildering.
Feeling afraid in these circumstances would have been a very natural – a very human reaction.
I think both the angel of the Lord and Jesus were simply offering words of comfort and reassurance to the two Marys and to all of us.
So often – it is all about how we say words isn’t it? It is all in the tone. You can say “Do not be afraid!” or you can say “Do not be afraid…”
Or perhaps even what I might say to my little guy if he were feeling upset or afraid of something – “Don’t be afraid – big guy – we have totally got this. You aren’t alone.”
Actually I am pretty sure that I have said those very words to both of the McFarland sons a time or two when life was feeling scary or overwhelming and one of them was feeling afraid. I have probably said something just like that to Will more than once since this whole corona virus pandemic began.
I haven’t commanded Will not to be afraid – because quite honestly – these are frightening times. And honestly that would be just plain unrealistic and downright cruel. It would also make me a great big hypocrite. And I don’t think that is what the angel and Jesus were doing in our Gospel reading either.
I hear words of loving compassion and understanding.
I hear words that say – hey – I completely understand that this world can often be downright scary. That this world can leave you feeling afraid. That this world can leave you exhausted and shaking in your shoes.
We do need to remember that Jesus is God. And our Lord is incredible and mighty and wonderful and awesome and that our God created our world from nothing by speaking just a few words. But our God is also the same God who loved you so much that he died on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins.
Our God is big and mighty and awesome.
And our God is compassionate and loving and understanding and gentle. And this is the same Lord who meets us wherever we are – whenever we need him – even in the really scary places of our lives – and he will walk with us. Because he has promised to never leave us alone.
And so I do believe that even in these very frightening times that we do not have to be afraid – because hey Jesus has this. Our Lord holds all of us in the palm of his hand. We do not need to be afraid. (But it’s also okay if you are . . .)
And truly this is very Good News Indeed! Amen.