Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
“Do not be afraid.”
That is a repeated phrase in our gospel this morning. And yet how can we heed it? Around the world is a fearful place. Ferries capsize, planes go missing, murders without explanation occur on days of celebration. Families are torn tragically, forever marred by random acts. And then we have our own endless worries: Will our children be okay? Will our parents stay healthy? Will our jobs last? Will we be okay? Are we good enough? If we are not careful, those fears stop us in our tracks, they bring us to the foot of the cross on Good Friday, and leave us standing there, looking up in despair. We are like the guards at the tomb in our gospel, frozen in fear.
But this is Easter Sunday, and all has changed. And the first order of business is to get moving. Our two Marys arrive at the tomb and experience an earthquake, and then, equally fearsome, an angel shows up whose appearance was “like lightning.” The frightened guards shake and stand as if dead. But the angel says to the women, “Do not be afraid.” You have come looking for Jesus and you will see the place where he lay. Then go and tell the disciples.” Immediately, the women are ordered into action, to set aside their shock and get moving. And as they are running off, we are told, Jesus appears to them. “Do not be afraid,” he repeats. “For you will see me again.”
“Do not be afraid.” How comforting a command that is! Jesus is telling them, in the midst of grief, that things will be okay – and most, importantly, that they will get through it. He charges them with a plan, but it is those words that linger with us: Be not afraid.
Our resurrection story is really about this: the casting off of fear. The fear that we are judged. Or loved too little. Or not perfectly enough. The fear that we can’t manage, or that we will fail. The Resurrection is about rising up in the face of adversity and getting on with life. It is not about squelching a feeling – that we might do easily enough with distraction. It is about the intentional act of changing our state of mind and starting again, or at least starting from this point on.
If Lent was about contemplation, and Good Friday about injustice, then Easter is about freedom. It is a powerful message central to our faith, this notion that as badly as humanity messes up, and as terribly as we mess up, we can still fix things, we still find favour with God. We no longer carry, like the heaviest of weights, the long list of our mistakes and omissions – that list is wiped clean. And what’s more, it keeps getting wiped clean – over and over again. That is the nature of our relationship with God and our understanding of faith, as defined by Easter – that we are loved in our humanity, for all our flaws. And that with our load lightened, we might stand straighter and walk more confidently in the world.
I once knew a person, a faithful young woman, who believed in God, but was convinced that her mistakes meant she was, in her words, “going to hell.” The fundamentalist teachings of the church that she had been raised with had taught her to worry more about where she went astray than the direction in which she stepped. And worse, that anxiety caused her to cast judgment on how others lived, and the choices they made. She was afraid – shocked like the guards at the tomb, who stood in place like dead men.
But Jesus says to us on this Easter morning, “Do not be afraid.” And then he sends the disciples away, immediately putting them on the road to get on with the business of the day. That is our directive as well. Sometimes there is no explanation for what happens, no justice, as on Good Friday. And it can feel like there is no certainty in tragedy. But this is our certainty, revealed by Easter: we are lifted up by God, through faith and hope, to rise again. We can trust, like the two Marys, that we are suitable for the task. We can be dutiful like the disciple who set out on the road to Galilee. But we must believe in the clean slate promised in the Gospel.
Of course, we won’t – not always. But that does not matter. We crumble in adversity. We slip back into fear. We lash out with careless anger.
Easter is the ultimate lesson that our best effort is good enough.
But we are not left off the hook altogether. Easter is not meant to be a one day lesson. It is meant to be explored in our lives, to be absorbed in our consciousness – to shape our perceptions of ourselves, our acceptance of others, our desire to act beyond our own interests. Easter is a brilliant lesson, because we know that so often, when we judge ourselves more harshly, when we are frustrated or stressed, that is when we are also the least open to our family member, our friends, and to helping the stranger in need.
Easter is the good news that Jesus has risen and lifted us up onto our feet as well. To walk with firm faith, knowing we will see Christ along the way, often in unexpected ways.
Do not be afraid.
Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!