In the Name...
A Sunday School teacher was telling her students the story of Jesus and, as she told how Jesus was condemned and nailed to the cross to die, one little boy began to look very sad. The teacher then went on to tell how, on the third day, Jesus rose from the dead and came back to life, and the boy's eyes lit up with delight and he exclaimed, "Totally awesome!"
Well, this morning we have come together to celebrate something totally awesome. We've heard the words, "Christ is risen!" and we have affirmed, in response, "Alleluia!" Yes, this is a happy day, a day to visit with relatives, a day to enjoy special treats and sweets, a day to remember that Christ's Resurrection is the greatest event which has ever happened in all history. But, two thousand years ago, the people who figure in today's Gospel didn't know any of that and didn't feel the way we do. They weren't having happy springtime thoughts about eggs and bunny rabbits as symbols of new life. They weren't thinking about flowers or chocolates or family reunions. No. Their thoughts and feelings were very different to ours. They were sad and scared. Seriously depressed and terrified.
When Mary Magdalene went out that Sunday morning, she wasn't going to celebrate anything. She wasn't going to check if Jesus was in the tomb because she knew he was, and she went to grieve, to cry about it. She'd probably had a couple of bad nights and days. All her hope and trust had been placed in this incredibly amazing man, Jesus, and he had been suddenly, horribly, executed. The crowds which had shouted “Hosanna” the previous Sunday had cried “Crucify him” all the louder on Friday. The disciples had gone to ground. Her whole world had come crashing down around her.
How can we begin to imagine her thoughts and feelings on seeing the grave open and empty? Panic, shock, the drained, sick, feeling one gets when one comes home to find the house broken into or the car stolen. Something precious has been violated. And then anger that some despicable son-of-a-- could have stooped so low as to desecrate a burial place on the Sabbath of all days. And then a feeling of alarm that someone may be watching her. Maybe a grave-robber lying in wait to mug or rape, or worse still, a spy posted to arrest any of Jesus' followers who might show themselves.
No wonder the first words of the angel are "Don't be afraid!" Did you realize that? The first Easter message didn't begin with "He is risen". Yes, he had, but, that wasn't what Mary needed to hear at that moment. The first thing she needed to hear was, "Cool it; get a grip; calm down".
And isn't that the message we really need to hear, 2,000 years later, as well?
Yes, we believe we have cause for joy this Easter Day. But, we also believe we have a lot to worry about tomorrow. And that's a problem, because that's what prevents us from taking in what Easter means. We hear the words, but they don't register because there's too much else on our minds - money, health, crime, security. The media plays on our fears, and advertisers profit from them.
A bear, a lion, and a chicken met up one day. The bear boasted, "I only have to growl, and the beasts of the forest tremble." "Hah", the lion bragged, "I only have to roar and the beasts of the savannah take flight." "That's nothing", the chicken said, "I only have to cough and the World Health Organization declares an emergency."
You see? A recent study revealed that 40% of the things we worry about are events or circumstances which will never happen to us - like an asteroid hitting Kent County; 30% are worries about things in the past which we may regret, but can't change; 12% are worries about what other people think about us, peer pressures; 10% are worries about illnesses which we don't have and probably never will. This leaves only 8% as things about which we might justifiably have some concern. But, the message of Easter is that even that 8% is no cause for alarm.
"Don't be afraid.” the angel said, and "Christ is risen" is the reason. The Resurrection is about more than just someone's life being extended. It's even about more than eternal life for all who believe in Christ. Easter is about believing in the sun when you can't see it shining, and that's not blind Pollyanna optimism, because the sun really does shine 24/7. It's the clouds and darkness that are temporary. Easter isn't about believing in the imaginary. Easter is about fearless realism.
You see, Easter doesn't say that if you go to church you'll enjoy health, wealth, and success. On the contrary, it says some day you may lose your wealth; you may fail at what you do; and you will definitely lose your health. But, God in Christ has been there too, and it didn't finish him and it doesn’t have to finish you either. He was down, but, now he's up, and the same can be true for you.
That's why today is a day of joy. Because when we're going through those difficult times - sickness, family problems, job problems - even when the Devil seems to be winning the spiritual and moral battles in our lives, we just need to remember this - 2,000 years ago, the demon named "fear" was conquered and, with the Risen and Victorious Christ, we can, and will, overcome every fear. Awesomely.
Alleluia. Christ is risen. Don't be afraid.
In the Name...