April 12, 2020 Easter Colossians 3:1-4 Matthew 28:1-10
Fear and Easter
The Lord is risen, He is risen indeed! It is Easter and we celebrate Jesus victory over death and despair. After a long and dark Lenten journey, we have arrived on the day when death is defeated, fear is turned into joy, and despair is replaced by hope. Easter is indeed the decisive turning point in human history.
According to the Gospel of Matthew it started with a genealogy: “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham”. Fourteen generations later it mentions the great Jewish King David. Then fourteen generations later a somber reference to the Babylonian Exile, the time when the Temple was destroyed. Another fourteen generations later, it happened; the pinnacle of Jewish and human history, Jesus, the Messiah entered human history! Matthew presented human history to in a rather unsentimental way- the highs and the lows, the celebrations and the sorrows, the despair and the hope, the fears and the joys!
And as Matthews’s Gospel unfolds, we see that in the midst of a turbulent human history, God is, in fact not a mere Spectator who helplessly looks on as human history goes through its ebbs and flows. Matthew’s Gospel presents to us a God, who is divinely and actively at work behind the scenes on the stage of history.
And as history unfolds, God is doing what has become the trademark of God’s actions: In spite of evil forces’ efforts to derail God’s purpose with human history, God is at work to make sure that human history will reach its destination. Even when it seems as if evil, in all its shapes and forms, is in the driver’s seat, God is able to create out of chaos and destruction something good and something new.
Matthew makes a convincing argument that God is able to take the old, decrepit and broken human history and then creates something new, hopeful, positive and whole. This of course does not mean that God is the author of evil or that God brings bad things to good people. On the contrary, God is the One that is able to take the chaos and disarray of this world and God turns them into opportunities that enrich us spiritually and enable us to see God’s loving actions in the midst of disorder.
Let me explain: Shortly after Jesus was born, King Herod, threatened by the birth of Jesus, ordered an infanticide – His command: Get rid of all children two years and younger! Jesus and his family fled to Egypt and Matthew reminds his readers that the prophets of old expected this – God now calls Jesus from Egypt, just as God called the slave-people Israel from Egypt.
If you still are not convinced that God is able to use terrible things to bring about new hope and abundant life, let me take you back to Good Friday. Evil forces seem to have the upper hand as the authorities and leaders of the people do the unthinkable. They captured Jesus, mocked and tortured him, and ultimately, they executed an innocent man by nailing him to a cross! When he breathed his last breath, the earth shook, the rocks were split and people were terrified. That Friday evening, they took down his body, placed it in dark and cold tomb, placed a guard, a Roman soldier, to make the tomb secure and then – all was silent! The Light of the world was dimmed, the hope of humankind was silenced, fear conquered joy, death was victorious over life, evil waged war against God and for three days it seems as if God lost this cosmic battle! The Son of God was dead!
Words like despair, fear, gloom, horror, terror, hopelessness, violence and death captured the dark hours that followed. Let me remind you again that psychologists and philosophers agree that all human fears go back to one great fear- fear of death! It is the fear of death that deprives human beings of joy, peace and even hope!
On that Sunday morning centuries ago, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb. They were without hope, they were mourning, they were prisoners of despair and fear!
However, the trajectory of human history was about to change dramatically! An earthquake, a rolled back stone, a heavenly being and fearful guards became like dead men. A voice saying: “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised!”
This is God at work! God was able to bring about new hope and life, peace and joy from utter despair and fear. God was able to turn darkness and death into the greatest victory of all times. God raised Jesus from the dead and in doing so God changed the course of human history irrevocably. Christ is raised from the dead and his resurrection raises our hope and change our sorrow into joy. The light of Jesus’ resurrection is stronger than the darkness of this world.
The Divine light continues to shine in dark, dead, graveyard places in the world and the Divine Light brings life. Christ’s resurrection continues to give peace that goes beyond our understanding.
The Bible is full of evidence that the God of Israel does not do things in a conventional way. God chooses a rebel Moses to liberate Israel, God chooses a very old couple, Abraham and Sarah and tells them that their offspring will be vast. The Gospel of Matthew shows us a few more examples of God’s extraordinary way of working:
- Women are the first witnesses of God’s most important action in history, the resurrection of Jesus. In Jewish culture, according to Jewish historian, Josephus, women and slaves could not give evidence; they were not allowed to be witnesses. And yet, here God chooses women to give evidence. God does not look at people in the same way we do. We have our own criteria to measure people. And when they don’t measure up we don’t bother anymore: they are too different, they are not like us, they are not reliable. Perhaps in the light of God’s work at Easter, we are called to look at people through a new lens. The message of resurrection is one of renewal and one that challenges our conventional thinking. Easter challenges us to see people as God sees them!
- The tables are turned. The ones with power, the Roman guards, become powerless; the weak, the marginalized in the society, the women, become bearers of the good news of Jesus’ resurrection! The Apostle Paul picks up on this theological line as he reminds us, that what is considered to be strong in the world, the powerful of this world, is foolishness for God! God’s power, on the other hand, is a power that transforms people, a power that gives life and hope to those who are prisoners of despair and fear. Easter urges us to place our trust and hope not in political, economic and military power but in the life-giving and transformational power of God who raised Jesus from the dead!
- The command “Do not be afraid!” is the most frequent command in the Bible. And the main reasons for this command is that fear is such a destructive emotion. History teaches us that people who act in fear have done terrible things. And when people are prisoners of fear, they will justify their actions. Now, in all honesty, all of us at some point or to some degree are fearful. We all experience at times an evolutionary fear of the “other”, the unknown, a fear of the future. At the moment the entire world is caught up in fear of the Covid19 pandemic. We are all scared about what Covid19 can do to our loved ones and ourselves. The question is whether our actions are driven by fear? What do we do with our fear? It is one thing to acknowledge our fears but it is another to let our fears determine our actions or our lives! The Resurrection of Christ challenges us to allow the love of Christ to drive out fear. Instead of fear being the driving force of our actions, the Gospel message of the resurrection of Christ urges us to let the risen Christ determine our actions towards our fellow human beings. Instead of becoming prisoners of fear, we are reminded that we are not alone.
The women left the tomb quickly, with fear but now also with great joy. They hurried to share the good news with their friends. And then on their way they met the resurrected Jesus. He greets them and once again commands them: “Do not be afraid, go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” They too will become witnesses of the resurrection!
Matthew, guided by God’s Spirit, knew that there is a link between fear and death. The resurrection of Jesus addresses the core cause of our fears – death. By conquering death once and for all, God liberates us so that we are no longer prisoners of fear. If death has lost its grip on us, then why would we fear? He was raised from the dead so that our lives and our actions are guided by his love and not by our fears!
The resurrection of Christ is therefore not just an event that happened about 2000 years ago. It is an event that is still going on: And it presents us with a clear choice: Will we be filled with fear? Will we allow our actions to be driven by fear? Will we be prisoners of despair? Will this current crisis bring out our compassion and love for others or will we act in a selfish way? Will we embrace live with joy, hope, peace and expectation that God, who raises Jesus from the dead is still at work in this world! Easter presents us with an opportunity to bring light, life, hope and joy to all the graveyard places of our world. The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! Amen.