Based on Matthew 28:1-10
The Grace of our Risen Lord Jesus Christ be with you all! Dear ones in Christ, Christ IS risen! Can you hear me? Christ IS Risen. And guess what! I can hear you respond, “He is Risen Indeed!” No, I do not have super hearing. My wife will vouch for that. But I hear you. My memory rings loud with your faithful voice. We have said and sung faith enough with each other that we can all hear. Listen. Listen to what stirs beneath and behind and within the confines wrought by infection and dispersion. Hear where you have been in this holy space and other holy spaces. See the flowering and berobed beauty. Smell the lilies and the Vigil’s incense, see the victorious cross and torches as they process by. Re-member the many and varied presences of Christ within your walls and on your tongue. Whoever and wherever you are, you have known this.
And though your pew is so different now, though the music and words are differently delivered, the fact that the crucified Christ was raised for you and all is still the same fact, if now with added meaning. This Easter day in tragic human history brings new divine meaning atop the “normal” meaning you have known.
There is no question that neither pandemic nor physical distancing nor any assaulting powers nor self-privileging principalities nor unusual venues for worship will ever separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. If there is any question about our time and place, it is whether we are as attentive to God’s presence as we could be. For God is up to something abnormal for human wisdom, but oh so normal for God, which is to be there for the good of human-being and for increasing our effect in neighborly love even when we are physically distanced.
Oh, we do wish we were together in much closer proximity. But the question of proximity does not define or delimit the Risen Lord. If anything, our circumstance today of social isolation is much more like the first Easter than any year in our memories. The disciples then were socially distanced. They feared a different malevolence, but fear is fear, and we know something about that now. And just as was so then so it is now. Jesus Christ is making house calls. He did then because the disciples feared what lurked beyond their doors and down time’s dusty roads. Because we’re in a similar fix, the Risen Lord calls on us in our sequestering too, because all of us—all humankind—need new will and new courage to go where Jesus leads.
As then, so now, Jesus comes into the mist of our midst and says, “Do not be afraid.” Hear those words, “Do not be afraid.” Twice in today’s gospel the friends of Jesus are told this. Angels tell the first apostles, Mary Magdalene and the “other Mary,” “do not be afraid.” Then as the women are running “with fear and great joy” Jesus himself meets them and says the same thing, “Do not be afraid.” Later, not just on that day, whenever the Risen Lord then appeared to his people in different ways, he said “Do not be afraid.”
Hold close Jesus’ first Easter words! “Do not be afraid” means something very different than “have no fear.” There is a crucial (and crucial means cross-defined!) difference between be and have. The difference is about who is control. To be afraid means that fear is in control. To have fear means that fear is known but controlled. Jesus’ first words today could have no greater relevance and impact!
What happens when one obeys fear’s terms? Individuals and societies fall apart when fear defines all attitude and action! Controlled by fear, one buys all one can of toilet paper and social technology stocks. The fear-owned person takes no responsibility and, really, owns nothing of lasting worth. He or she blames, suppresses, and encages anyone who seems disposable to cover for one’s own mistakes. The person captive to fear is ripe for dictatorship, whether over his own soul or all society. The person defined by fear is wrapped like a body in a tomb; however public or talky, such a one is worse than dead and exhibits nothing of courage or faith.
But the courage of faith, or the faith of courage, is to know fear and yet to live by something greater. The greatest of the greater things is that beyond which nothing greater can be conceived: the greatest power is the risen living Lord of Love who overcomes fear! Do you think in saying “Do not be afraid” that Jesus Christ merely provides some Stoic advice when he walks in on his peoples’ lives? Do you think he meets the running women like a cheerleader, clapping his hands and saying, “Good for you, keep going!”? Do you suppose he trespasses closed doors only to say, “there, there, don’t be afraid, you can do better!”? And no matter how cynical one may have become, Jesus is no grifter playing on your fear to increase his own bottom-line.
Radically rather, Jesus is everywhere present and incarnate love who brooks no boundaries. He is the raised crucified one who will be with you in your own cruciformed lives. He is the disposed and raised one who stands with so-called disposable masses in crowded camps and mass graves and vented hospital beds and jobless searchers and broken hearts. And in so doing he wears the garb of EMTs and nurses and doctors and grocery stockers and garbage collectors and janitors. He or she also makes and enacts policy that actually serves the public and gives song and hand to exhausted minds and feet. Christ is the raised selfless one who turns wan selfish imaginations toward the beauty of lilies and the justice of paradise. No diss-ease wrought by nature’s anger or totalitarian impulse will subdue him. He is fearless and raised incarnate Love who already strides in God’s garden.
Jesus does not advise. He creates. Like calling forth light at creation’s beginning, when he says “Do not be afraid” he passes through our most personal walls and creates peace. Because Christ comes to and into and stays with us, we may have fear but will not be defined by it. The Risen Christ so aligns with you and me and people so “other” that finally there will be no difference between him and you and us all. Yes, there is a long way to go with that agenda! But Jesus is up for it! That is why he is raised from the dead, to be with us to do his work even as we have fear.
We will know fear in days ahead. But the courage of the Risen Christ for us, with us, and in us makes our faith the greater. With Easter faith we are co-workers in the healing kindom of God. Much of how we have lived must change. Fear of the coming difference will not control us. God’s priority for you, for the poor, and for the voiceless will trump the suppression of souls by the few. Christ will not be stopped. The one who gave himself before his death now after his death gives himself to us before and notwithstanding our deaths, no matter our place and time. He communes with you and us together even apart so that despite having fear, the Risen Christ in-with-and under us bends the arc of God’s love toward eternal justice and joy even now. Blessed Easter. He is Risen Indeed. Alleluia!
Duane Larson Christ the King Lutheran Church Houston, TX April 12, 2020