“Do not be afraid.” – Matthew 28:10
Do not be afraid. As we have walked through Holy Week we have heard a lot about fear. The fear of the elders and chief priests had concerning Jesus, the fear of Judas as he realized what he had done in betraying Jesus, the fear of Pilate’s as he tried to reason with a bloodthirsty crowd, the fear of Peter of being connected with Jesus, the fear of all the disciples who abandoned Jesus. Even after Jesus’ death it seems that fear reigned in the hearts and minds of those in Jerusalem – despite being seemingly victorious the chief priests and elders are so afraid of Jesus and his disciples that they sent guards to the tomb to ensure that Jesus’ body wasn’t removed, the disciples were terrified – reeling from the loss of their teacher, their friend, the man they believed was God’s promised Messiah.
If there is one emotion which truly dominates the stories of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday it is fear. In fact I would go as far to say that fear is at the very root of why Jesus was crucified. The world was afraid of him, of what he stood for and what he proclaimed and so he was put to death. The Good News that Jesus proclaimed confronted the powers and principalities of his day and unmasked: the rulers, the political and religious authorities and structures, heck even the demons were terrified of Jesus. Jesus’ message of forgiveness of sins, his proclamation of the kingdom of God being at hand, his focus on the poor and marginalized – all of this threatened the status quo of a world that was marked by sin and death. And so it was this fear, this fear of holiness and love of God that put Jesus to death.
Not much has changed in our own time: This Jesus who we proclaim as Lord and Saviour, still elicits fear from the principalities and powers in our day: one need only to look at the recent attacks on our Coptic brothers and sisters in Egypt or on the innumerable Christians throughout the world who are persecuted and martyred to see that. Beyond that Jesus can also raise fear and doubt in our own hearts: are we worthy, are we too sinful, do I want Jesus to know all the things I have done, said and thought? Jesus confronts our sin, not in anger or hatred, but exposes and reveals it – and that is a terrifying prospect for us because it leaves us vulnerable, without the facades and false pretenses that we erect to convince ourselves that we ok living in the midst of darkness, to convince ourselves that we are ok without recognizing God as God and Lord of our lives. If we think on it, it shouldn’t shock us – God the creator of the universe, this mighty God who is beyond our human comprehension, who’s holiness is described as terrifying throughout the Scriptures, it is natural to be afraid when confronted by God, especially when we need to own and take account of our sin.
The two Mary’s who went to the tomb on that first early Easter morning, would have been fearful, fearful of what would happen to them and as they arrived at the tomb; fearful of the earthquake and the flash of lightning; fearful as the Angel of the Lord descended upon Jesus’ tomb rolling the great stone away. And yet the first word of the Angel and then of Jesus to those faithful women is “Do not be afraid.” “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. (I know the reason for your fear and despair) He is not here; for he has been raised, just as he said (You have no need to fear, he is the one you thought we was).” The first word of the Good News of Jesus Christ is always do not be afraid. When the Angel Gabriel comes to Mary to reveal God’s plans for her to carry Jesus, he says “Do not be afraid.” To shepherds in the fields at Jesus’ birth: Do not be afraid. God prefaces the proclamation of his Gospel, the proclamation of salvation and reconciliation with the comforting reassurance that we have nothing to fear, that even in the face of God’s holiness, in the face of his might and glory, that we are welcomed into the warmth of his loving arms as children.
God says to us: Do not be afraid, the darkness has not and never will overcome the light. Even when it seems darkest, Jesus Christ my Morningstar goes before you.
God says to us: Do not be afraid, not even all the weight of sin and death, your sin, not even that can stop my very life from springing forth in you; not even that can stop my love from spreading throughout the whole world.
God says to us: Do not be afraid, not even death Jesus’ death, your death, the death which stalks the world, can separate you from my Love.
God says to us: Do not be afraid, Jesus my Son, is Lord of all, everything is in his hands, the very hands that you and your sin drove nails through, and everything will find its fulfillment and perfection in him.
God says to us: Do not be afraid, I will never abandon you, I love you more than you can ever know, there is nothing you can do or say that will make me love you anymore or any less and I want nothing but the very best for you – my very own life placed upon your hearts.
And so when we are in that place of vulnerability, in that place where we are terrified, that place where fear reigns in our hearts Jesus’ words are the same for us as they were for the first disciples. Do not be afraid.
On this dark night, let us cling to the light of Christ that has entered into the world, let us cling to the love and life that we have encountered in the risen Christ, but let us not cling too tightly for while God’s first word of the Gospel is always ‘Do not be afraid’ his second is almost always “Go! Tell what you have seen and heard.” May your lives be so full of God’s Good News tonight and forevermore that you can’t help but share it with others! Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!