Easter Reflection 2020 – Do not be afraid…
Acts 10: 34-43 and Matthew 28: 1-10
There are three things I`d like us to consider from the readings today…
Fear. Witness. Purpose.
There is a lot of fear in the resurrection stories.
If the death of a dear, dear friend is not too much to bear, how to comprehend , how to come to terms with, what is one to say about the unbelievable, incredible, unthinkable possibility that that friend has come back from the dead?
It is a terrifying thought.
As I alluded to a couple of weeks back, the prospect of a valley of dead bones is one thing. To hear the rattle of those bones coming to life again is quite something else.
And if we don`t think it`s really so bad, perhaps we might pause and put ourselves more thoughtfully into the scenario…
Ten years ago on Easter Day, after years of living with ovarian cancer, one of my dearest friends died. (Somewhat irrationally, I will always be grateful that she died on Easter Day.) What would I have done, what would I have made of her coming back to life after she`d died?
I reckon I`d have been at least confused, bewildered, and probably upset:
This isn`t supposed to happen. This is not how things go. I don`t understand.
At such a time, how would I have coped with the added trauma of such a reversal of how things are meant to be?
I reckon I would certainly have been afraid:
What`s going on? This isn`t how it`s meant to be. What`s going to happen next?
How would you make sense of such an event? How would you explain it? People would think you were mad – or going mad, which is often a true outworking of grief.
What would you say? Who would you turn to? What would you do?
When we ask these sorts of questions, we begin to enter into something of what confronted the first witnesses to the resurrection. As the song has it: `Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble…` and sometimes it even causes one to wonder…
And all this notwithstanding – the sheer inconvenience!
What`s life going to look like after this? How will life ever be the same again?
A question not unheard in our own times…
We also are living something of monumental upheaval, our lives being turned upside down.
We do know about such disruption in our own experience.
There`s a line in a film I often watch on Good Friday, in which a man says to those he is hiring as bounty hunters – `I want him alive or dead but I reckon dead would be easier`.
Dead would be easier. Indeed.
Dead. Then we know where we stand. We can deal with, manage that – sort of.
Dead. That`s how things are after death. That`s how things should be. That`s how things should go.
Dead would be easier.
It sure would. But that`s not the story the resurrection stories tell.
Dead is not how this story ends.
The storytelling alerts us to the turbulent disruption of what`s going on.
- The graphic imagery – an earthquake, an angel perched, insouciantly, on top of a rolled away tomb stone.
- The angel`s disturbing message – `He is not here…`
- The all too understandable incomprehension.
The palpable and utterly believable fear…
Dead would certainly be easier but the Easter stories are an upturning of all that is easy. We are right to be un-eased by these remarkable stories.
No wonder the women are afraid.
Perhaps we are not sufficiently afraid of, perhaps we do not sufficiently `fear`, these stories?
There is something extraordinary in them and in the re-sounding power of their telling and re-telling.
They tell us something we need to hear, consider, respond to; something the whole coronavirus infected world needs to hear, consider, respond to…
Did you notice how many messages are being delivered in these readings? There`s a lot of `messaging` going on…
The angel, God`s messenger, tells the terrified women – who are apparently made of sterner stuff than the guards! (28:4) – `He is not here; for he has been raised…` This is my message to you`. (Matt. 28: 6, 7) Wow! That is some message!
And the angel reminds them of the message Jesus gave them `…He is not there, for he has been raised, as he said` (Matt. 28: 6)
In their fear and incomprehension, in their partial, not yet fully realised understanding, in their bewildered, dawning joy, the angel urges them `…go quickly and tell…` (Matt. 28: 7)
The women in turn `with fear and great joy`, ran to tell …` (Matt. 28:8)
The risen Jesus meets the women en route and gives them a message too`…go and tell…` (Matt. 28:10)
You see, we are not called to explain or interpret the resurrection. We are not called to make up stories, theories, `prove` the resurrection.
We are called to bear witness to it.
We are called to speak, respectfully and kindly, the truth of what we believe and what we know – not `make believe`, not what don`t know. As it says in 1 Peter 3: 15, 16 `Always be ready to give an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence`.
We are not responsible for making people believe. We are not responsible for changing people`s minds, winning arguments, proving a point.
We are responsible for telling the story – honestly, thoughtfully, with integrity – as authentically as we can as a Christian community in Armadale.
Peter, his life turned around, transformed by encountering the risen Christ (see especially John 21) is a wonderful example of this.
Take time to read Acts 10: 34-43 again. Read of Peter`s interaction with Cornelius – who is himself a witness to the living God, rounding up family and friends to hear Peter preach. (Acts 10: 24)
Note all the words to do with speaking…`message`, `witness`, `say` `speak`, `preaching`, `witnesses` `testify`…Note also the reliance on other testimony. `If you don`t believe me, think of others whom you do respect and what they have to say. I`m not making this up by myself, for myself.` (Acts 10: 43)
Peter is full of this story. He knows in his bones, in his experience, the liberation, the forgiveness, the hope and joy and peace this story brings.
We are called to be like him, to be like those women at the tomb, to be messengers of the story – with our ongoing questions, struggle and scepticism as well as our growing faith, assurance and belief.
We are called to witness, and to be witnesses, to the resurrection; to join the great chain of witness which begins today and culminates ultimately with us in our physically distanced, technologically challenged reality!
And we are to witness not just with words – words are – or can be – the easy part – but with our lives, our attitudes, our priorities.
How necessary such a disposition is, at such a time as this.
This past week, in a national newspaper, an Anglican deacon is recorded as saying `The lack of congregation for services is causing a crisis of purpose`.
And I ask myself about this.
My work has changed so much in these past few weeks.
- Zoom – I am still learning and I`m determined!
- Creating material for the website – thank you Graeme!
- Writing up reflective material; writing up a `sermon`!
- Trying to imagine what is needed, wanted, helpful and what is not.
I`ve fallen into the trap.
My purpose as a Minister of the Word is not to be – or become – a technological whizz kid. (I do want to – and I`m sure I can – improve. I`m currently learning about `hotspots`…Tune in Tuesday!)
It`s not about producing ever more creative, imaginative, stimulating, entertaining, relevant, engrossing, original content for us while we`re stuck indoors and cannot meet. As Jude Waldron – Armadale Baptist pastor wrote to me this week ` We may be behind closed doors but Jesus can still get in`!
It`s not about doing things or setting up programmes or activity or activities or saving the world or saving the planet – none of which – I kid you not – I am completely unable to do. (Way above my pay grade…my stipend/allowance grade.)
My purpose as a Minister of the Word, our purpose as a Christian community, is to bear witness, to point to Jesus, to be a sign that says `Look at the story of this man, his life, his death, what his followers said of him after he died.` – and be transformed. Have your life turned around. Be free. Be unafraid.
Our purpose is to tell this story, his story, to the best of our ability, in humility but without embarrassment, in the time and location we find ourselves: Easter 2020 – when many are afraid…
Whatever we face, crisis or no crisis, our purpose always, is to be bearers of good news.
We are to bear witness to the new life made possible in Jesus Christ, just like those frightened women did that first Easter morning and as countless others have since then until now.
We are to recount the story and tell the world that because of
Jesus Christ we do not ever need to be afraid again – ever. No matter what.
The first words of the angel to the women…`Do not be afraid`
Echoed in what Jesus says to them when they encounter him for the first time
`Do not be afraid. Go and tell…`
Fear. Witness. Purpose.
In these days for Jesus` sake and for the sake of all creation –
Do not be afraid. Go and tell.
A prayer for Easter Day 2020
We give thanks to God for faithful witnesses. We remember those who witnessed about Christ to us in our lives.
We pray that we too may be faithful witnesses to Christ…
unafraid, joyful, hopeful, true.
We pray for all today who are afraid, who are dying, who are alone without resources, shelter, comfort or aid and we pray for those who seek to help.
Grant that we may too, in our own way and where we are,
For Jesus` sake.