April 20, 2014/Easter Sunday
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Another pastor in another sermon wrote that we have a much easier time preaching Good Friday than we do Easter Sunday. That seems wrong or at least counter-intuitive, but I understood her meaning. Although I don’t like to admit it, I have to agree with her. In many ways it is easier to preach Good Friday. While we may not like death or seek it out, death is something we expect. Death is something we count on. But resurrection? That is a different story. It’s not just that we can’t ever begin to comprehend or explain what have happened in that tomb; it’s that resurrection and new life seem far away from the world we generally live in. So though my colleagues and I might claim otherwise, it is easier preaching Good Friday than it is today.
Good Friday – a day of betrayal, denial, cruelty. Love Himself was put on trial, and ignorance and fear served as the jurors. Injustice occupied the judgment seat. It is no wonder that darkness descended for three hours. It is no wonder that the earth shook when Jesus exhaled his final breath. It is no wonder that all creation rolled and reeled with the horror of that moment. Love Incarnate was crucified. Death was all around. That’s how the world still feels. That seems to be the premise on which the world and all that is in it rests upon. It seems as though we live in a world where nothing but death is all around. We experience it personally with the death of people we love. We see it in our communities, and we can’t help but witness it in the world. This past week the news of the capsizing of South Korean ferry has filled me with immeasurable heartache. Seeing the fear and grief of the parents and family members of those who are still missing is heartbreaking. In the weeks before that the news about the shooting at Fort Hood and the stabbing at a high school, the missing Malaysian airplane, the mud slides in Washington State, all of those events and more break our hearts. They are tragic and awful reminders that death is all around. We may not like it or want to concede it, but it seems as though we live in a Good Friday world.
But even though we can’t always recognize it and the world seems to proclaim otherwise, Good Friday is over.
Sunday, Easter: The Sabbath is over and it is the first day of a new week. In Matthew’s gospel it is two women who make their way to the tomb where Jesus’ body was laid. They must have carried spices and oils; the accoutrements of the grave. Guards stood watch. Yet even more imposing than their menace was a rock; seemingly immovable it stood between the women and their Rabbi. Just as it did on Good Friday, the earth shook. All creation rocked and reeled as an angel descended, and rolled back that stone. After it was moved, the angel sat on it, a messenger with good news to deliver. His appearance flashed and shone, like an unceasing streak of lightning. His clothing gleamed like new snow. The guards, who once did the frightening, now shook and trembled at the sight of this heavenly host. They fell into a dead faint. But the women remained. “Do not be afraid,” the angel told them. “I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised as he said. Come see the place where he lay.”
Do not be afraid. Angels have been uttering those words over and over. Gabriel spoke them to Zechariah when he gave the old man the news that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son, a great prophet, John. Gabriel reassured Mary with these words when he told her that she would bear the Son of God. Joseph heard “do not be afraid,” when he considered divorcing Mary over her unexpected pregnancy. Shepherds, the lowliest of the low, heard these words ring out from the heavens on the night of Jesus’ birth. Do not be afraid!
Do not be afraid! Our senses may tell us that our world and each week is made up of seven Good Fridays, but this day, this resurrection day gives testimony that there is more than we can see or hear, smell or touch or taste. There is more than we can know or understand. Jesus is not in the tomb. Jesus is resurrected. He is risen and with the rolling back of that stone, life and love was once more let loose in the world. Do not be afraid!
Do not be afraid. Easter, the resurrection, our faith in the risen Christ, is not a magic wand or spell that takes away all of the bad things in the world. It does not keep us from dying, or from grieving when those we love die before us. But our proclamation that Jesus is risen is our statement of hope.
We will not be afraid, because we know and we believe that the darkness did not and will not last. We will not be afraid, because we believe that the powers and principalities that kill prophets and hung Jesus on the cross did not win. We will not be afraid, because we trust that the love of God in Christ is more powerful than hate. We will not be afraid, because we believe that love triumphs. It defeats death. It wins over destruction. It is greater than the worst we can do to one another. Love triumphs. Do not be afraid.
When I served as a seminary intern in a church in the 90’s, a tornado went through a town in Alabama on Palm Sunday. Along with damaging homes and businesses, it laid low a church, demolishing the sanctuary. The pastors of that church were a clergy couple, and the husband and one of their children were killed in the terrible storm.
It was awful to hear about. It was awful to read about. Everyone in my congregation grieved for these people and their terrible loss. But the next week, Easter Sunday, the minister, her family and her congregation gathered in the midst of their broken building. They literally gathered in the rubble of the sanctuary, and they worshipped. They held their Easter service in that rubble. They worshipped. They gave thanks. They praised God, and they proclaimed that Jesus is risen. He is risen indeed. Their loss, their grief, their heartache was acute. It had not vanished in one week, but still they worshipped. The coming of Easter did not mitigate their loss, but still they worshipped. They worshipped because they trusted in the power of resurrected life over death, and the triumph of love. They heeded the angel’s words. Do not be afraid.
The angel told the women to go quickly and tell the disciples about Jesus’ rising. He told the women to share the good news of the resurrection. He told them, just as angels had told so many others before, “Do not be afraid.” That was his message of good news. That’s our message of Good News as well. That’s our message to proclaim to a broken and hurting world. Do not be afraid. Death does not have the final word. Do not be afraid. Hope is alive. Do not be afraid. Love is present in the world and in our midst. Do not be afraid. The tomb is empty. The grave could not hold Jesus. New life, eternal life, resurrected life is now and forever more. Do not be afraid. Jesus is risen. He is risen indeed! Let all of God’s children shout in a loud voice, “Alleluia! Amen.”