Easter reminds us of the story that Christ has risen indeed.
But we do not come simply to be reminded of an historical event, but rather how this story affects your history, your life, my life, and the life of the human family. We come to be reminded, or maybe to discover for the first time, how darkness can become light in our world, right here, right now.
First, the story.
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (probably not Jesus’ mother) went to prepare Jesus’ body with the spices at dawn because there had not been time to do so before. As they arrived, there was an earthquake and the stone was rolled away by an angel.
The earth quakes, and so do the guards! They are scared to death. Jesus, who is supposed to be dead, is alive. The guards, who are supposed to be alive and guarding Jesus’ body, become like dead men. Everything is chaotic and turned upside down. This is not what everyone expected!(1)
But there is an angel, a messenger, who has a message to deliver in the midst of the chaos. And that message is,
DO NOT BE AFRAID!
Well of course the women who were the first witnesses were afraid. Wouldn’t you be? They were afraid of this shining angel sitting in front of them on the rock. They were afraid to believe that Jesus was alive. They may have been afraid no one would believe them.
The women had to be wondering, “What does this mean? Where is his body? What do we do now? But the message from God through the angel is still crystal clear, DO NOT BE AFRAID.
We’ve heard that message before, you know. “Moses said it to the Israelites fleeing from the Egyptians, ‘Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today.'”
An angel said, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, your wife Elizabeth will bear a son and you will name him John.”
An angel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.”
An angel said, “Do not be afraid, Joseph, take Mary as your wife. Her baby is conceived by the Holy Spirit. Name him Jesus; he’s going to save all people from their sins.”
An angel said, “Do not be afraid, shepherds. I bring you good news of great joy that shall be to all people.”
Now the angel’s message of “Do not be afraid,” was not one of dismissal or a message meant to shame them either like, “Don’t be silly, no need for you to be afraid.”
No, it was a message of peace in the midst of the chaos, which is kind of like telling a storm to be still when waves are about to sink the boat. Remember that one?
It was a word of reassurance that said “I know that you are afraid but all will be well, God is with you.”
It was a message similar to what you and I say to one another in worship when we gather with this community, “Peace be with you.” Of course, we all know what it is like to be afraid, don’t we? We may use a different word — I’m worried, or I’m anxious, or I’m scared. But we know the feeling regardless what words we use.
Fear can paralyze us, it can scare us to death, and we can be like the guards who were unable to do their assigned task at hand.
And so after the angel says “Come and see the place where he lay,” the angel adds to “go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.”
Nikki Hardeman reminds us that “Come and see” must always be linked with “Go and tell.” (2)
Remember that Jesus goes ahead of us to prepare the way.
Now some of us in the Christian church have thought that “prepare the way” phrase only meant prepare a place for us in heaven after we die. But we forget that Jesus said the kingdom of God is happening right now. Jesus goes ahead of us to prepare the way, like this resurrection story, and we meet him when we come and see and we go and tell others about what he has done in our lives today.
We must always go and tell others when we see God’s love and grace in our world and how God’s peace has helped us through sadness and grief. Go and tell that story, it needs to be heard to people you bump into every day, go and tell.
We must always go and tell even if we are afraid. Even if we are afraid and we cannot see how all of this is going to work out.
And so we leave the tomb, or whatever dark place in our life that we have experienced, where we thought all was lost, and all of our hopes were gone and all our fears were realized. We too have thought at times that we were done for, we had stopped living, we were like dead people, we felt like we were finished.
We too believed that the dark night of our souls was the way it would always be. But, just when we thought it was finished, just when we think WE are finished, we see this resurrection story in a new light. Jesus meets us as we go, as we go forward. Just like in this story.
Galilee is wherever we are going today. Galilee is the place we visit tomorrow.
And it is Jesus, not an angel this time who says the words, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers and sisters to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’
You and I are called, invited, and even encouraged to re-live this resurrection today, tomorrow, and for the rest of our living days. This is what it means to live.
I wonder how the risen one will meet us this week in our neighbors and friends in the Galilee of our lives we call Alabaster or Helena.
I wonder how Jesus will answer our prayers we say for friends in the Galilee of our lives we call Birmingham or Calera.
And I wonder where we will encounter Jesus in a simple stranger at the next gas station or restaurant in Pelham.
Hear the words of Jesus.
Listen carefully, Tara, Ted, and Jim. Do not be afraid.
Listen carefully Gary, Candace, and Kim. Do not be afraid.
Jesus calls each one of us by first name. and says, “Do not be afraid,” no matter how much you feel discouraged, or lose hope. Go quickly to Galilee and I’ll meet you on the way and show you something new.”
Come and see for yourself, experience the hope of new life, and then go tell others how darkness can turn into light.
Run my brother and sister, run with fear and joy.
But go quickly for Jesus has already gone ahead of you, and will meet you on the way.
Footnotes:1. lectionary.org, see http://www.lectionary.org/EXEG-Concise/NT/ConNT01-Matt/Matt%2028.01-10.htm 2. FaithElement, http://faithelement.com/sessions/2014/4/15/be-not-afraid
Preached at The Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit, Alabaster, AL, April 19, 2014.