14 Apr Easter Sunday April 9 , 2023
Preacher: Rev. Stephen McPeek
The friends of Jesus had every reason to be afraid. They had just witnessed the raw, brutal, and arbitrary power of the state. And even worse, it was the power of state mixed with the power of the religious institution they grew up in and belonged to. How could one not feel vulnerably terrified?
And to make matters worse, the one whom they had placed their hope in to free them from the tyranny of the state turns out to be a dud. Yes, he was a nice man who had some kind of power over nature and was able to heal sick people and calm storms. But he obviously and certainly did not have the power to overturn a regime. The fact that he was hung as a criminal proved this to them and must’ve left their hearts full of so many questions, so many doubts.
Would you not be afraid and fear for your life if you were one of Jesus’ friends? It reminds me of what some of our Christian LGBTQ siblings in Uganda are going through right now in this very moment. The state and church are collaboratively out to eradicate the scourge of the LGBTQ community from Uganda. I know from firsthand accounts that our siblings who were once confident that change was coming are now full of fear and trepidation, anxious about what is coming, seeking to flee the country.
Fear struck their hearts, and the two women approached the place where the body of Jesus had been placed anyway. It is notably the women who come back to check on their loved one. Their nurturing love wins out over the fear that kept the men cowering. You can’t blame them. There were real reasons to be afraid. But why, then, were the women there?
Upon returning, their fear is validated when the earth begins to shake and a natural phenomenon turns into a supernatural moment. A messenger from God appears to them and begins to speak. How many of us would not be alarmed at such an occurrence? Once again, it is the men, the guards, who are so shaken that they fall over as if they were dead.
It is the women who are left standing to hear what happened to Jesus, and to receive the instructions of the messenger. It says that they left the tomb with fear and joy.
Fear and joy – what a strange mix of emotions! This realization that Jesus, whose brutal murder they had just witnessed, was raised from the dead, and was alive changed them. Now, added to their love and their fear, was joy. How is it possible to experience love, fear, and joy all at the same time? It is the miracle that takes place in our hearts when we believe in the Gospel, when we believe that Jesus came to live among us, that he suffered and died on the cross, and that he rose from the dead and lives.
It is this miracle that the writer of the letter to the Hebrews talks about when he writes: “Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; 15 and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives (Hebrews 2:14-15).”
God knew and knows how much fear lives and rules in our hearts. The word fear or phobēo in Greek is used 95 times in the New Testament. Perhaps it was used so much because God knew how prevalent fear is in our lives – more than any of us would like to believe or admit.
What are you afraid of?
According to the NHS, the five top fears are:
- 1) Arachnophobia – fear of spiders. …
- 2) Ophidiophobia – fear of snakes. …
- 3) Acrophobia – fear of heights. …
- 4) Agoraphobia – fear of situations where escape is difficult. …
- 5) Cynophobia – fear of dogs.
I would suggest that these fears all relate to the fear of death. A recent study on fears and phobias showed that on average 12% of Americans struggle with a serious phobia and over 30% of adolescents. Another study showed that most Germans fear financial instability.
In most cases, there are real reasons to be afraid. Just knowing that the war is a mere 2000 kilometers (1,300 miles) away from us where people are being killed every day is enough to hold people in slavery to the fear of death.
What are you afraid of?
- Losing your spouse, one of your children, a loved one?
- Dying a painful death?
- Losing your children?
- Not having enough income when you get older?
- Financial instability?
- Being alone?
- Being trapped in an unhappy marriage or relationship?
- Being pulled into the war?
There are so many reasons to be fearful.
And yet, we read that the women at the tomb, after encountering the Divine, went away with fear and great joy. When we encounter the Divine, all things begin to shift and be reframed into the framework of eternity. We are moved away from the focus on the here and now alone, and stretched to encompass the here, now, and that which is to come. We begin to see and experience the things we are afraid of in another light. We become capable of bringing our fears to God and surrendering our hearts to God and saying, “not your will but mine – I trust you.”
In twelve days, it will be one year since I received that horrible phone call that my daughter was killed in Hawaii, a mere 4 years after the death of another daughter. How does a parent cope with the death of two children? It is enough to drive you insane. And yet, dennoch…because of God and because of faith, there is a place of peace. And there is still joy. My pain-filled soul knows that our framework of life is so much larger than the here and now, and that in the end, “all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.” Mother Julian of Norwich coined these words despite having lived through many rounds of the bubonic plague, experiencing unspeakable suffering and witnessing the death of so many of her family and friends. Because she encountered the risen Christ, she lived in peace and joy, and could coin her famous phrase.
On this night, when we remember the way God led his people through all generations, through all ups and downs of societies, through waves of persecution, through personal trials and tribulations, let us encounter the Divine at his invitation. Let us have the courage to name our fears and bring them to table, and as we receive Jesus, let our heart surrender to his touch, and be filled with great joy and peace. Remember the ways God has led you through your own challenges and know that God will continue to lead you, carry you, strengthen you. Hear him say to you tonight, as he said to the women at the tomb: DON’T BE AFRAID.
If you have not yet had the joy and privilege of encountering God, I invite you to open your hearts to the risen Christ tonight.
Jesus suffered our plight when he lived as a man on earth, and through his death, he disarmed the power of the fear of death, and set us free from slavery to the fear of death.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!