You’re afraid, we all are, but the women at the tomb show us we can still look up, hear the good news, and bravely share our lives – still afraid, but filled with joy in God’s life in us.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Resurrection of Our Lord, Easter Day, year A
Text: Matthew 28:1-10
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
They were so scared, they looked dead.
These tough guards at the tomb, armor-clad, carrying weapons, were terrified. They shook and fell to the ground. Like dead men.
Give the benefit of the doubt. Earthquakes are scary. And an angel of God showed up in the earthquake. That sent them into hysteria, dropped them like trees. Here this being from heaven sits, on the stone that used to cover the tomb. The tomb they were supposed to be guarding.
They were, instead, frozen with fear, curled up on the ground. Like dead men.
We know about being frozen.
This pandemic has paralyzed the entire planet. Whole countries are locked down, businesses and schools closed, hospitals filled to capacity. All of us are staying at home, only going out for essential things. We know we’re trying to save lives by this. We’re helping the government and health care systems to catch up with supplies and beds for when the peak hits. But here we sit on Easter, in our homes. Unable to move.
We’re not frozen by fear of seeing an angel or experiencing an earthquake. We’re frozen by what we can’t even see. Is it on my clothes after the grocery store? Is it in the air? Did I wash my hands? Did my neighbor walk too close to me on the sidewalk, and now I should worry? For something invisible to the naked eye, fear of this little virus has immobilized us. Almost like we look dead.
But something else freezes us.
Even if we were all together in worship this morning, there would be this other fear. We’ve just walked with Jesus through these Three Days and have seen him demonstrate with his own body and blood what the path of God’s love, the path of Christ, will mean. He talks about it all the time; you can’t read a teaching of Jesus and not encounter it.
But we’ve just seen it means literal servanthood toward others, on our knees. It means sacrificing ourselves in love for others, and losing things dear to us. We’ve seen that even Jesus struggled with this when he prayed in Gethsemane. And we saw it led him to a brutal and horrible death.
We don’t really expect to die for following. But there’s a reason many Christians in every generation reduce the faith to simply believing the right things, having correct theology. That comes from fearing the alternative: that Jesus meant Christian faith to be a life fully engaged in a relationship of love, vulnerability, and self-giving, with God and neighbor, that costs us.
We might have to face our own prejudice and privilege and lose some comfort. We might have to dare to allow ourselves to live on less so others can live. We might have to have our dearest opinions and convictions and biases challenged and broken open. We might have to risk being hurt.
It’s much easier to curl up inside, immobile, and act as if faith is thinking things right, and not being someone new. When we do this, we look dead.
But there were others experiencing that earthquake, seeing that angel.
There were some women there. Disciples, followers of Jesus. Unlike the other disciples, they came out of hiding to go to the tomb and be near Jesus’ body, early. Before dawn.
And they’re terrified, too. But they don’t fall to the ground like they’re dead. They keep their eyes open. They stay standing.
And so they hear this frightening angel tell them news they never could have hoped to hear: Jesus has been raised. He is alive. The angel shows them the place, and sends them out to tell the others.
They keep their eyes open still. They start walking. And they meet Jesus on the way! Wonder of wonders, they get to hold him. Love him. Even worship him.
These women were just as afraid as the guards, just as afraid as you and I. But they held it together long enough to see what God was doing in this frightening moment. To see news of great joy for all people.
But they don’t get to freeze in this moment of joy, either.
Both the angel and Jesus send them to go and tell the others. They can’t go home and celebrate this news, live with warmth in their hearts, knowing God raised Jesus. This faith in Jesus isn’t something you keep inside, immobilized from acting in the world.
No, they are sent out to be vulnerable, just as Jesus always said. They’ll risk being disbelieved. They’re women, so they’ll also risk being discounted and ignored. They’re sent to witness with their vulnerable, self-giving lives that servanthood and sacrificial love, even to death, always ends in resurrection and abundant life. That this path they’ve all been called to walk looks terrifying, and filled with loss, but it ends in the earthquake of God restoring life that has been freely given for others.
Of course you and I are also sent. If you want to follow Jesus, it means taking this joy of God’s Easter life and letting it break your immobility. It means going into the world to be Christ. To be self-giving love.
Whether it’s in this health crisis or dealing with all that ails our society or dealing with your neighbor, your friend, your loved one: you have learned the path of Christ in these Three Days, and it is frightening. But it always leads to resurrection and abundant, new life. Jesus promises you that.
Are you still afraid? Do you fear this sending Jesus gives you?
That’s OK. Take one more look at Matthew’s Gospel. Do you see how the women left the tomb to witness? They went “quickly, with fear and great joy.”
They were still afraid. But they were filled with joy. They didn’t know what the future would be for them, and it still frightened them. But they now knew this path was filled with God’s abundant life and love, a life that cannot be stopped by death, a love too strong to stay in a grave. And that gave them great joy.
It’s the joy of God’s Easter life that swings the balance for you, gives you just enough courage – it doesn’t take much – enough courage to outweigh the fear you have of being out there, vulnerable, as Christ, in the world.
If you want to follow the risen Christ, just follow these women. They’ve got the right idea. Fear and great joy, with enough resurrection courage to get moving.
Just move, the angel says. Move, Jesus says. Move, and I’ll help you with all the rest.
In the name of Jesus. Amen