Do Not Be Afraid

Posted on 12 Apr 2020, Pastor: Adam
  • Matthew 28:1-10

    After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

     

     

One of the side-effects of this pandemic in which we find ourselves is that it has caused us to pay more attention to the jobs, and the people who fill them, that are often overlooked and forgotten in our society. Grocery store clerks, gas station attendants, and food delivery drivers have all been suddenly thrust into the forefront of our national awareness and discourse.

Before this pandemic began, one of Matt’s parishioners, in retirement, was looking around for a way to help other people and decided to become an Instacart shopper. She like the idea of helping the elderly and those who were sick get groceries. She shared this week her observations about how her experience of doing this work has changed since the start of the pandemic. Before all this began, people’s response to her showing up with food and groceries were generally positive. They were happy to see her, thankful for the service she was providing, sometime just eager to chat with someone.

Now, things are different. Some people still want to talk, lonely in their isolation. Many are still grateful. But more and more, the people she sees are afraid. They leave her tip in zip-lock baggies, stuffed in mailboxes so that she doesn’t have to come to their door. Customers ask her to step away before they open the front door, or direct her from behind windows to leave the groceries on lawn furniture or inside garage doors. Most poignantly, one woman was visibly afraid to even speak to this parishioner, even from behind a glass storm door.

Shaken by this experience, shaken by the palpable veil of fear that had descended on her community, she returned to her car after leaving the bag of groceries on the front porch, and broke down into tears.

It is a reality with which we are all connected. As we do our part to self-isolate and slow the spread of infection, we cannot help but to feel some anxiety, even some fear. It may be for our own health, or the health of loved ones. It may be over employment, the uncertainty of when the promised government assistance will arrive, and the looming reality of bills, and rent, and mortgages that must be paid. Isolated and alone, this anxiety and fear festers and grows, slowly eating away at us.

As we pause to commemorate and celebrate this Easter day, I cannot help but to notice the connection we share with the disciples on this Easter morning. After the events of the past several days that saw Jesus betrayed by one of their own, tried and convicted by the empire, and executed in a very public display of power, most of the disciples were not out in public as the dawn broke on this day. Mary and Mary were the only ones to venture out. The rest were scattered, isolated, locked away behind closed doors. Alone, they were filled with dread, with anxiety, and with fear. Because the one whom they had called master and Lord was now lost to them; Jesus was dead. Because they had not realized how much they had taken for granted and how easily those things could be taken away from them. Because they knew that their own lives were now at stake and they weren’t sure who they could trust.

Maybe it’s because of the time in which we find ourselves, the time of pandemic, the time of the great shut-in, as I’ve heard it called, that I am struck by how much the story of Easter is a story shaped by fear. It is for fear that the disciples are hidden from sight this morning. It is for fear that there are guards stationed outside of the tomb—if you recall the Passion reading last Sunday, you may remember that the religious leaders were afraid that the disciples would try and steal Jesus’ body and claim that he had been raised from the dead, and so they had strong guards placed to seal and keep watch over the tomb. It was for fear at the appearance of the angel of God that those same guards would faint, as though dead themselves. And it was with fear as well as joy that Mary and Mary ran from the empty tomb with the angel’s message on their lips, to proclaim the resurrection to their fellow disciples.

Mosaic in the Resurrection Chapel, National Cathedral, Washington, D.C. Photo by Tim Evanson

Every curve and facet of this story is marked by fear, anxiety, and dread. And at the center of it all is an empty tomb. At the center of it all is the angel assuring Mary and Mary not to be afraid, that Jesus will meet them soon. At the center of it all is Jesus, appearing to the two women as they ran with joy and fear.

And Jesus would continue to appear to them in their fear. Jesus would appear before the disciples many times as they hunkered down behind locked doors, as they whispered stories to one another about all that was happening while traveling on the road, and as they began to grapple with the work that they were called to do proclaiming the Good News to the world. It is a recurring theme of the Easter story, that time and again, Jesus comes to us in our places of fear.

Jesus meets us in our dread, not to comfort us, though his presence is comforting. Jesus comes to us with a powerful message, “do not be afraid.”

It is the shadow side of our Christian identity, the impulse to cut ourselves off from the world. Throughout our history, it is an impulse with which we have had to contend, time and again. And in times of great fear and stress, it is an impulse that flares up as we seek to live as though the rest of the world isn’t important, as though the rest of the world has no impact on us, as though the rest of the world does not exist. It is an impulse that we can see at work as pastors around our country push and urge their congregations to show up in person for Easter services, as though shut-in orders to do not apply to them, as though the coronavirus is not a reality to them.

Jesus does not call us to cut ourselves off from the world. In our fear Jesus comes to us and tells us not to be afraid. In our dread Jesus calls us to live more deeply in the world; to live and move and have our being in the same way that Jesus lived and moved and had his being.

In this time of isolation and self-quarantine. In this time of uncertainty about the future and anxiety. In this time of Easter, Jesus comes to us in our fear and calls us to live more fully and truly and deeply in our world.

Even as we keep our distance from one another so as to preserve life, our own life and the lives of others, this Easter season we are invited, compelled, to live as Christ would have us live. To love as Christ loves.

How will you show the love of Jesus in this new world? How will you proclaim in word and deed the Good News of Jesus? How are you standing amid the fear of the world, pronouncing the words we so desperately need to hear, “Do not be afraid.”

Christ is risen, and death does not have the final word. Christ is risen and God is at work in our world doing infinitely more than we have asked for and can even imagine. Christ is risen, and is with us, so what do we have to fear?

Preached by Adam Yates