Fear and Faith – audio available
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Fear and Faith
Fairfax Presbyterian Church
April 8, 2012, Easter
1When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Easter sermons are hard to write. You pretty much have to go with the resurrection. There’s really no other option on Easter morning.
All too often I hear Christians talk about the resurrection like it’s a miracle drug, a magic salve. We talk about it as though after Easter the world is rainbows and butterflies.
And it’s not.
The newspapers will still report of the devastation of floods and tornadoes.
The sting of death will still pierce us.
Cancer will still ravage our bodies.
The horrors of war will still plague soldiers and civilians the world ‘round.
We will still hurt the ones we love and be hurt by them.
And even more insidious–
There’s the chronic anxiety that plagues almost everyone I meet.
The sense that nothing’s “wrong” but you can’t quite keep things together.
A sort of amorphous fear that runs just below the surface.
A low-level despair that isn’t a crisis, isn’t debilitating, but is constantly lurking.
What I’m talking about are the dead-end tombs of our own lives, our own times, our own world.
That’s all still going to be there when we walk out of this sanctuary this morning, even after the resounding organ and trumpet’s fanfare.
Even after we’ve shouted alleluia and Christ is risen.
The women flee for goodness sake. They flee. Silent and afraid.
We may be disappointed in them, but we dare not judge them, for there are many good reasons for their silence, for their fear.
All the death, all the anxiety, all the problems in the world that are simply too big to solve. The tomb may be empty but all that brokenness is still there.
Of course they are scared. Of course they flee.
Because what difference did Easter actually make?
We can debate all day long about Easter, about what actually happened on that morning 2000 years ago. Christians have become well rehearsed in that. Arguing about whether the resurrection was factually true or physically true or metaphorically true or spiritually true. Did Jesus eat breakfast with his disciples to prove that he was physically alive and needed food? If he can walk through locked doors like a ghost it could not be a bodily resurrection. If it actually happened, why is there no archeological proof? The meaning of the resurrection is that Jesus lives and Jesus is Lord–that’s what matters. If he didn’t physically rise from the dead, then Easter is a hoax. The debate goes on and on and on.
But I’m not sure that debate ends up doing much good in telling us what difference Easter actually makes in a world that is hurting. In our lives that are broken and anxious and fearful.
Mark’s gospel keeps it simple.
The angel says to the women, Don’t be afraid.
Don’t be alarmed.
You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.
He has been raised; he is not here. Tell the disciples and Peter that he’s gone on to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.
That’s it. It’s that simple.
The women are reminded that Jesus is the one they have been following. He’s the one who called them, who healed, who fed, who taught, who cast out demons, who forgave.
He was crucified. He was betrayed. He was denied. He was abandoned. He was killed. He suffered the depths of human pain. The worst happened.
And yet, and yet, Jesus, the Crucified One, is raised from the dead. Death is swallowed up forever. Tears are wiped away and disgrace is removed.[i] The dead-end isn’t the end after all. God is bigger, even than that.
The worst has happened; God raises Jesus from the dead. And because of that, NOTHING, not life and not death, can separate us from God. Following, failing, evil, denial, grief, death, fear–they are all part of the story. And none of it (none of it!) can separate us from God.
And now, now Jesus has gone on ahead to Galilee. The angel tells the women that they can go there and see him, just as he promised.
Galilee isn’t just anywhere. Galilee is where these women are from. It’s their home.
It’s hard to go home. It’s hard to go home because the women know what to expect there. They’d lived it. They’d been with Jesus there before. It’s where disciples are called and the ailing are healed and the hungry are fed. It’s where you sell all you have. And it’s where Jesus’ followers are so busy doing ministry that they have no rest, even to eat.
It’s hard to go home ‘cause they know the work there is to do there. They know exactly the 7-11 where the immigrants congregate to look for work. They know the circle where they will encounter homeless people. They know where the jail is. They know the debates about taxes and energy and healthcare. And they’d just assume avoid going back there, to all that need, to all that brokenness.
At home, they know how hectic their lives are.
They feel the squeeze of young adult children and aging parents.
How do you go home and forgive the spouse who had an affair?
How do you go home and make peace with a sibling you don’t speak to?
How do you go home and not yell at your kids?
At home you’re faced again with the chronic anxiety, the fear just the below the surface, the despair just around the edges.
But I believe we go home on Easter ever-so-slightly different. Because on Easter morning, the need for control that is at the heart-center of our anxiety and despair, the fear of not being in control that paralyzes us, is shown to be a farce.
God has experienced the worst that could ever be and is raised to new life.
Wherever we go, wherever we find ourselves, God has been there.
We are not alone and it’s not up to us.
God’s got this.
I know you are here for many different reasons today.
Some are here because it’s a family day and it makes your mom happy. I get that. I read somewhere that we’re supposed to honor our fathers and mothers.
Some are here because it’s Sunday morning and it’s routine.
Some are here for the glorious music.
Some are here longing to hear that whatever dead-end tomb you find yourself in, there is still hope.
Some of you are here for whatever reason and you are skeptical about the miracle and metaphysic we proclaim today.
But for all of you, if you hear nothing else, hear this.
The good news of Easter is that God has gone ahead of us, to death, to new life, and to Galilee. And now, nothing can separate us from God. We are not alone and it’s not up to us. God’s got this. We don’t have to be fearful.
Thing is, I think we know this. I think we do.
The hardest stuff we do in life is often also the best stuff. And it’s the more important stuff. And it’s the stuff we can’t control. The stuff that scares us the most.
It is scary to raise children, knowing that you can’t control them and you can’t protect them. You can’t even guarantee them a better life than you’ve had.
It’s scary to ask someone out on a date, knowing you might be rejected.
My friend Reverend Ellis from Mount Olive Baptist Church in Prince William county, he was scared last year when he stood up at the Bank of America shareholders’ meeting and confronted CEO Brian Moynihan about the foreclosures in Prince William county and challenged the bank to take responsibility for havoc its spending practices had on the community.
I was scared this winter to face my beloved and say, “I do.” Knowing that as much as I love him, I cannot control what he will do or who he will become.
It is scary to admit that our loved one is suffering from dementia and that we can’t stop it and we need help in caring for them.
The most important things we do, the BEST things we do, are scary.
And that’s precisely when Easter is most important.
To remind us that nothing separates us from God.
We’re not alone and we don’t have to be in control. We don’t have to be fearful. God’s got this.
Just in case we think this is true only in some cosmic sense, the angel tells us otherwise. The angel says to the women, “Go and tell the disciples and Peter that Jesus has gone ahead of you.” The angel names Peter out of all the disciples. Peter, who, denied Jesus three times; now he is sought out. “Tell even Peter that Jesus is ahead of you.”
Peter failed. Peter denied. Peter was afraid. And now he, especially, is called by the Risen Lord into new relationship.[ii] In the resurrection, nothing can separate Peter from God. “Tell even Peter,” the Lord says. Even Peter. Even Jessica. Even you.
You’ve failed. You’ve denied. You’ve been stuck in fear. But the Risen Lord calls out for you. Nothing can separate you from God. You’re not alone. God’s got this.
I heard a poem this week that captured my attention. It was on the radio show Tell Me More, maybe you heard it too. The poem is by 13 year old, Ty-ron Hogan, who is a student at Hart Middle School, deep in Southeast DC. I worry sometimes that we make too many assumptions based on statistics, but it is instructive to know, I think, that 88% of the kids at Hart are on free or reduced lunch; they live in poverty. There’s no Parent-Teacher Association.[iii] Contrast that to the schools here in Fairfax and our robust PTAs and fundraisers and band trips and extra-curriculars. It gives me pause.
But listen to Ty-Ron’s poem:
My eyes are my trademark.
I get them from staring at the sky,
But the sun ruins my memory.
I love it. He speaks of strength (my eyes are my trademark). He speaks of loss (the sun erasing). And then he says, “I look up anyway.” What resilience. What hope. He embodies the good news of Easter. You look up anyway.
Mike Gecan of the community organizing world tells of meeting Icie Johnson—a tall, trim and regal young African-American woman who belonged to St. Paul Community Baptist Church in East New York. They met at a meeting one hot evening, with the streets loud and edgy. As Ms. Johnson prepared to leave that night and head for the bus stop two blocks away, Gecan asked her why she wasn’t afraid. “I am afraid,” she said. “I am afraid,” she repeated. “Then why not wait for a ride or call a cab,” Gecan asked. “Because I’m not fearful,” she said, “Not full of fear.” With that, she headed out into the street. “About an hour later, I did too,” Gecan writes. “And, in a sense, I’ve been following Icie Johnson ever since.”[v]
Let us follow too. Back to our communities, our homes. Pain and suffering, brokenness and despair will still be there. But in this Easter light, we can face all of it. Afraid, maybe, because the most important things we do are scary. We get to be afraid, but not fearful. For we are not alone and we don’t have to be in control. God’s got this. For none of it can separate us from God.
Friends, that’s the good news of Easter morning. The good news of the crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus has been through all of it before. The worst has already happened. God has intervened in a world-shattering, life-remaking way. Nothing in life or death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. We are not alone. We belong to God.
So we can, with the fear and faith of Easter, follow Jesus, to start creating the resurrected lives, the resurrected world, that God began anew in Jesus Christ.
Beloved ones of God, it is time for us to rise.
Commentary on the poem offered by Holly Bass.