Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Sermon: Matthew 28: 1-10 No Fear

I wonder if you’re big into your labels. A few years ago, the clothing label was something that told you what size the jumper or the pair of trousers was, discreetly tucked away on the inside. Now, labels are much more noticeable, turning the wearer into a walking advertisement for the particular brand. Either you, or someone you know, is probably caught up in the serious world of having the ‘right’ label - the one that’s cool this week, not last week.

As you’ve been walking around this past week, you might have noticed some of the more famous labels - Adidas, Nike (however it’s pronounced!), Hollister, to name but a few. But there’s another label, another clothing brand, that I want to suggest would be a good one to think about this Easter: No Fear. The reason I think the name is so great (I’m not passing any judgement on their clothes themselves!) is found in this morning’s gospel reading.

As the reading begins, we’re shown the two Mary’s. Already there is much to fear. Remember that it’s just one week since Jesus entered Jerusalem, accompanied by cheering crowds. But now the two women are going to Jesus’ tomb. Crucified on Friday, dead and buried. What would happen next? Would the Jewish leaders or the Romans round up the rest of Jesus’ friends and followers? Were they in danger too?

As they arrive at the tomb, there is even more reason to be afraid. There’s a great earthquake - the ground shaking. There’s the appearance of this angel - like lightning - as he sits on top of the rolled back stone. The soldiers have never seen anything like this - and they are afraid, so afraid that they ‘trembled and became like dead men.’

Do you see the contrast in the passage? The soldiers trembled, ‘But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid.”’ In other words, no fear. Why? What’s the reason behind not being afraid, having no fear? It’s in what the angel says to them: ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.’

Sometimes as we read the Easter story again, we might think to themselves, well, we know how this goes, we’ve heard it all before. In a way, it’s like the reverse of the movie Sixth Sense. In the film (and sorry if you’ve never seen it and I’m about to spoil it), there’s a boy who can somehow see dead people seemingly going about their day to day business. The twist at the end is that Bruce Willis’ character is dead - if you know that and watch the film again, it’s so obvious. The reverse is true with the gospels - we know that Jesus is alive at the end, that he has risen, and so even as we read the passion and crucifixion, we know that he is going to rise. But Mary and Mary didn’t!

They came expecting a dead body, Jesus, who was crucified. The tomb was open, the body gone, an angel sitting on the stone - they’re obviously going to be afraid! The message of Easter is what the clothing brand proclaims: No Fear. No Fear, because Jesus who was crucified is alive, risen - just as he had told them beforehand.

It’s a complete turn around. Death to life - not just for Jesus, but for all who trust in him. As Paul proclaimed in the synagogue years later, forgiveness of sins through the crucified and risen Jesus. Because we have no fear, we are transformed people - we see it here in the two Mary’s, as they have great joy (and still some fear) as they go from the tomb. It is on the way that they meet the risen Jesus, who has the same message for them: ‘Do not be afraid.’

How differently would you live if you knew there was nothing to fear? How would your attitude to life, death, suffering, opposition, sin, change, if you know no fear?

The message of ‘no fear’ isn’t just to be lived out, though. It is for sharing as well. The two women are sent to tell the disciples the good news that Jesus is risen, to share the message that we don’t need to be afraid of death. The disciples meet with Jesus, and they are sent out with the same gospel message, where they face hostile crowds, governors and kings, prison and flogging, but nothing will stop them. Why? Because the Christian has no fear - Jesus is alive, and that changes everything!

This sermon was preached at the Easter Early Communion service in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 24th April 2011.

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