Summary: A sermon for Easter.
"Don't Be Afraid"
Matthew has Mary Magdalene and the other Mary coming in the darkness of the first dawn, and moving toward an understanding of Jesus' Resurrection as the sun breaks.
And so the story begins quietly, but it quickly becomes noisy in a way that is both hard to explain and pretty frightening!!!
There is a huge earthquake...
... "for an angel from the Lord came down from heaven.
Coming to the stone, he rolled it away and sat on it.
...his face was like lightening and his clothes as white as snow.
The guards were so terrified of him that they shook with fear and became like dead men."
And can you blame them?
Pilate had stationed them outside Jesus' tomb.
They had sealed the tomb and posted guard just in case Jesus' disciples decided to steal Jesus' body.
And now they see an angel riding the earth's quaking, flashing like lightening, and dressed whiter than snow.
He's powerful enough to roll away the stone in front of the tomb and then, calmly, to sit on it.
It's no wonder the guards shake and fall over with fear.
And there can be no doubt that the two Mary's were pretty shaken up as well.
Accept that the angel turned to the women and said to them, "Don't be afraid."
Where have we heard those words before?
"Don't be afraid."
According to Luke, those are among the first words the angel Gabriel says when he comes to Mary with the news that she will give birth to a Son named Jesus.
And later, when Jesus is born, "Don't be afraid," are the first words the angels say to the shepherds in the fields.
And quite a number of times, during His ministry Jesus says, "Don't be afraid."
Even in our Gospel Lesson for this morning, when the women leave to tell the disciples what has happened, Jesus Himself appears before them, greets them and then says, "Don't be afraid."
"Don't be afraid."
When was the last time anyone said something like that to you, and did so with authority?
What I mean is, when was the last time someone said, "Don't be afraid," and you believed it?
When you were a child, and in the grip of fear, did your mother or father or guardian hold you close, stroke your hair, and say: "You don't need to be afraid. There is nothing to be afraid of"?
If so, did you believe it?
It was a great comfort wasn't it, but for many of us, it was also a long time ago!!!
For adults, our fears can be more complex and words of assurance harder to come by.
It's been said that "as we get older, we cannot escape the realization that life breaks everyone at some time or another or, at the very least, wears a person down relentlessly."
As adults, we live with an increasing sense that death is greedy, eventually grabbing everyone we love!!!
Grown-up fears carry with them such enormous realities, that it can seem that words of assurance are nowhere to be found.
As a matter of fact, if someone tells us not to be afraid--these words themselves can cause us to fear.
For instance, if you are on an airplane and suddenly the pilot says: "Ladies and gentlemen, you will have noticed that we are experiencing an unusual amount of turbulence in our flight today, but let me assure you that there is no reason for concern"--you might think to yourself--
--"Hmmm...I wasn't particularly worried before.
I wonder why he felt the need to tell us that?"
Who really has the authority to say: "Don't be afraid?"
Doctors don't have it.
Pastors don't have it.
Airline pilots don't have it!!!
None of us have it.
Only God or one of God's angels have that authority!!!
But when God or an angel says, "Don't be afraid," this is not some assurance that nothing can or will never go wrong.
It's not an assurance that everything turns out for the best.
Rather, it's an assurance that, whatever may happen to us, whatever a day might hold, God has the power to strengthen us and uphold us...
...that whatever we face, we do not face it alone...
...and nothing we encounter is stronger than God's Love!!!
Because God's Love ultimately gets the last word in the end--and sometimes even before the end--God's love is triumphant!!!
God's love brought Jesus to the earth.
God's love took Jesus to the Cross.
God's love brought Jesus back to life.
And, if we trust in Him, God's love brings us back to life as well!!!
What did Jesus say?
"I am the resurrection and the life.
Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die.