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“Do Not Be Afraid – He Is Risen!”
Sermon, Year A, Easter, April 20, 2014
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: Matthew 28:1-10 http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=38

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Jesus is risen! Jesus is risen indeed! The tomb is empty on this morning. “You are looking for Jesus, but he is not here, for he has been raised.” He has come back to life. No longer in the tomb. Now that is good news! That is The Good News!

But I’m not sure, if I were there at the tomb that morning, how I would have taken this good news. If I would have thought immediately, “Oh, that’s a good thing.” I think I might have been afraid. Certainly surprised. I’m used to dead things staying dead. I had seen Jesus crucified a couple days before. We knew that he had died. I’m used to dead things staying dead. But God does things differently. God often has a surprise ready for us. Likes to do things not in the way that we expect.

I’m also not used to seeing angels. I think that would be a bit of a shock to see an angel. I’ve never seen one. Not a real angel, anyway. Not the kind that the women encountered here at the tomb. I’ve encountered many angels in my life, including many of you people here. People who have lent a helping hand, or a meal, or a visit during a time of loneliness. The kinds who offer aid on the side of the road, or give a phone call when you need it. I’ve experienced those kinds of angels, including you. But none of you come with earthquakes and lightning. I thank you for that. That would be even more terrifying than the presence of the angel itself.

If I were to encounter a biblical kind of angel, I probably would be terrified. It would be so unusual and different. Out of my realm of experience. Now I would like to think that being a rational, modern person who has read the scripture and read the many times and knowing the stories that angels say “Do not be afraid!” I would be totally prepared to encounter an angel. “Don’t be afraid” is the first ting they always say. So I would like to think that I would be totally prepared, and would greet the angel calmly and rationally and without fear. “Oh, hello, angel. What’s up? I’ve read the scripture. I know what’s about to happen. You’re about to give me a message, aren’t you? Well, I’m ready. Bring it on. I’m not afraid because I know I’m not supposed to be. Deliver your message. But let’s get a selfie first.”

That’s my ideal of handling it. But I would likely be scared out of my boots and trembling, unable to speak coherently. Much in the way that I get incoherent when I meet a celebrity or other people I admire that I really want to talk to but when I meet them I can’t manage more than stuttering, mumbling, and a pathetic, “Gee, I love your stuff.”

No, I’d be scared out of my boots or really nervous. I think that I would want to hear what angels always say, what the angel here said to the women: “Do not be afraid, O mortal. Do not fear.”

And I’d say to myself, “Okay, note to self: Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid. Try not to be afraid.”

I must not fear. Fear is the mindkiller. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me, and when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.[This is the Litany of Fear from Dune, by Frank Herbert]

“Do not be afraid,” the angel would say. And being sarcastic, I might respond, “Well, if you stopped with the earthquake and lightning thing...”

Do not be afraid. That’s the Easter message. We get it twice in this passage.

Do not be afraid. Jesus is risen, so do not be afraid. Jesus has flipped over the powers of this world so you don’t need to fear. Jesus has made all things new. There is nothing to be afraid of. In Jesus there is life and resurrection and new life. So you have nothing to fear.

And when Jesus appears to the women he says to them, “Greetings. Don’t be afraid.”

The first words of the risen Christ: Do not fear.

It’s a mantra that runs through all of scripture. Do not fear, do not be afraid. The things of this world might hurt you, but they cannot defeat you. They can do things to you, but they do not have ultimate power over you. Don’t fear the Roman Empire that killed Jesus because he is greater than any government, government power, or human power. Do not fear the sting of death because Jesus has taken it away. Do not fear the power of violence because Jesus’ way of love has proven it to be impotent. Do not fear the power of sickness for Jesus is the great healer who walks with you through it, that no matter what it does to your body it cannot take away your humanity, your dignity, or your connection to God and God’s love. Do not fear what others say about you, or if they tease you or bully you, because your identity is in God, not in what those people want you to be or say that you are.

Do not fear the tomb. Do not fear any of the tombs that we experience in our lives. The tombs that deprive us of life, hope, or love. Because Jesus has emptied them out and filled their dark spaces with light of love and life. Don’t fear the past, because it is gone. Don’t fear the present, for I am with you. Don’t fear the future, for it is not here yet and I am going ahead of you. I will be there as well. Because I am alive and I am always with you.

Those are words of comfort and hope. And in some ways also sort of scary at some level, to know that Jesus is always with us. That does come with some level of responsibility that we live accordingly. But to know that even when we don’t live accordingly, when we fall short of that mark, Jesus is still there. Jesus is still Love and Life and Hope.

Don’t be afraid! “I came out of the tomb because of you. I defeated death because of you. I had to do it because I love you too much to leave you alone. I simply could not leave you alone.”

That is the Easter message. That’s the message of the empty tomb. Have hope! Don’t be afraid. Have peace! Have joy! Have love! Have life!

I know that my redeemer lives. Alleluiah! We say this day, Alleluiah, he is risen! He is risen indeed! Amen.

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Plymouth United Church of Christ
2010 Moholt Drive
Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 54703

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