Don’t be afraid!


The Pas Easter Sunday
Year A
12 April 2020

Jeremiah 31:1-6
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 28:1-10

God of glory,
by the raising of your Son
you have broken the chains of death:
fill your church with faith and hope,
for a new day has dawned
and the way of life stands before us;
through Jesus Christ, our risen Saviour. Amen.

The angel said to the women “Do not be afraid!” (Mt 28:5:5b)

This, I think, is the most powerful set of words we are able to take away from today’s gospel, alongside the reminder that “Christ is Risen!” (Mt 28:6a)

They’re powerful because in the face of the changes that have just taken place, in the world, in heaven, we have absolutely no reason to be afraid.

After all, from our aspect of hindsight, we know that Christ is Risen, and we celebrate it from the rising of the sun, today, until Jesus ascension.

But today, as Canada Health continues to urge that we gather by video conferencing instead of by travel, as we cringe at the news information calling for donations of much needed supplies for health care workers.

I think, today, the angel’s words carry more weight than we would have, could have previously thought.

So, looking at the scenario in this morning’s gospel, we see the soldiers, the battle-hardened men who had been sent to guard the tomb from two women who come to provide embalming for one whom they love. Before the angel’s arrival, they’d be lounging around the clearing in front of the tomb. Probably a fire in their midst, and maybe a jug of wine, or maybe a pot of soup on the fire.
And with the angel’s arrival we see these men lie stricken on the ground, unconscious.

We see that they lie as they’ve fallen, passed out, emotionally overwrought by the fear, the terror of the angel’s arrival.

But not the women.

The women are still standing, probably huddling in each others arms, their burdens momentarily forgotten, but they’re still standing.

And maybe this comes back to Jesus’, to God’s way of making our perceptions stand on their heads.

The soldiers are there to ensure that in everyone’s mind Jesus stays dead, but that’s not the purpose or the message that the angel carries, today.

That’s not the purpose of Jesus’ death on the cross.

That’s not the purpose of Jesus’ resurrection from the grave, that we celebrate, today.

The women have come at the dawn of the day to lovingly remember, and to relive, through the sharing of memories, the lessons, the teachings, the life of Jesus, as they perform these final acts of love for one whom they still love.

So, when the angel arrives like a flash of lightening, rolling back the stone and revealing the empty tomb, the women are afraid, but they’re still standing.

The angel’s purpose is to mark out, to show us, to tell us, to make us realize that Jesus is not dead; that he is alive, that “he is not here, for he has been raised from the dead.” (Mt 28:6a)

But the angels first words to us, and to the women, in the clearing before the tomb, surrounded by unconscious soldiers are “Do not be afraid!” (Mt 28:5b)

Do not be afraid!

There are many experiences in our lives, in the world about which caution is associated to the point of inspiring fear in ourselves.

But today we find that the angel doesn’t want us to be afraid because he has a job, a task for each one of us, and if we’re afraid, then we’re not necessarily inclined to carry it out, are we?

If we’re afraid, then we’re not able to carry the words of the resurrection, the sight of the empty tomb, the joy of the experience to all those who are not at the tomb, this morning.

It’s a message that needs to be shared, even more, today.

It’s the words of hope, of encouragement, of new life, not just for us, not just for the women at the tomb, but for all of creation, and it begins with “Do not be afraid!” (Mt 28:5b)

And its not just the angel’s words of hope, the news of the resurrection that the women are now asked to carry to the rest of Jesus followers – reason enough to leave behind an unconscious squadron of Roman Soldiers – but along the way back to where they started out this morning, they, we find Jesus himself.

They are returning to their lodgings, transformed by the sights, by the words, by the message. They’re not the same women who left these same lodgings not so long ago, and they now return, transformed, resurrected by the message that they carry.

We’re told, after receiving the angel’s message “They left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy.” (Mt 28:8)

They left with fear and great joy, and this is incredible, for each one of us, who also finds ourselves before the open tomb.

We can see that fear is still there. We see that for all of the angel’s assurances, his sudden appearance, the earth quake, the rolling back of the stone, the unconscious state of the soldiers continues to cause fear in our hearts, in the hearts of the women.

“So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. … Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Mt 28: 8-9a, 10b)

Jesus adds his own assurance and confidence to that of the angel, that the women are able to carry this message of new life, of new hope, of joy to those whose hearts are still in the darkness of the tomb.

But the tomb is no longer sealed, that is no longer occupied.

Death no longer holds sway over our lives. Death is no longer able to separate each of us from the love of God, and so, our hearts are filled with fear and great joy, as well.

Before the tomb, the angel points out that Jesus is not here, in the dark of the tomb, and he’s rolled back the stone so that we are able to also rise from the grave.

We’re able to leave behind the fear of death.

We’re able to step into the light, into the joy of new life.

We step from the darkness of the tomb into the presence of Jesus whose first word to each of us is “Greetings!”, and his second words are “Do not be afraid.” (Mt 28:9-10)

Today we also leave behind the dark of the tomb and step into the light of the resurrection, of new life, of new purpose where grief is able to be left behind, where only love, and great joy are able to be found.

We never find out what happened to those soldiers whose job was to guard the tomb, to make sure nothing changes, to ensure that Jesus lifeless body remains interred in the tomb, undisturbed.

The report they gave must have been spectacular in its telling of the arrival of two women, an earthquake and lightening striking the ground that, obviously caused them to pass out. Right?

And when they woke, the women were gone, their baskets and burdens abandoned where they were dropped. But worst of all, the tomb was opened, and the body of Jesus was gone.

Honestly, I wouldn’t have wanted to deliver that report, to their superiors, oh, but to be a fly on the wall for that delivery would have been priceless, I’m sure.

What we see, today is that a new day has dawned.

New life is given to everyone who, on Friday, looked upon the cross and believed.

New life is given to all who loved Jesus and continues to love Jesus.

New life is given because the tomb is opened, and our hearts are filled with great joy as we rush back to share this news with all whom we meet along the way.

And along the way we encounter, we are greeted by our Lord and Saviour who greets us, who acknowledges us, who loves us and encourages us onward to share with all whom we meet, this news that death is broken, that the tomb is opened, and that Jesus is risen from the dead.

Since Friday, we have dwelt in the tomb with our Lord and Saviour. When he died on the cross, a potion of our hearts, our lives, died with him, and was then buried with him in the tomb.

Because of the love of God for all of humanity, Jesus is raised from the dead, the bounds of sin and death have been broken, forever, so really, there’s no reason for our hearts to remain in that now empty tomb.

The angel has rolled back the stone, the light of heaven shines within and we, filled with joy and great fear, emerge into the light of this new day, this new paradigm, this new experience in the presence of our Risen Lord.

“5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you” (Mt 28:5-7a)

So, in the light of today’s circumstances, we continue to share the new life of Christ with all who need to be reminded that the tomb is empty. We share the hope of the resurrection with all who need to know that He is not here, he has been raised from the dead. (Mt 28:7b)

Because Christ is Risen, Christ is Risen, Indeed. Alleluia.


About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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