I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel like there are a huge number of things of which I’m afraid. I’ve done some fairly daring things: had minor surgery, sort of enjoy the dentist’s chair, have been present for the birth of my children. There is one thing though that really terrifies me. Water towers. I have to confess, I really hate them. They make me shiver. If you’re driving next to me on Hwy 45 northbound on that little curve that approaches Burleigh & The Mayfair Collection, I would recommend some space between your car and mine. I’m always watching that giant, blue, terrible, spider of water storage looming there. Because one day it’s gonna reach over and just drop me inside it’s dark, watery, can’t-see-the-bottom belly, where I will die. I have nightmares about that – falling into one of those things. It’s irrational, I know. But, still my fear…
Now, we can laugh about that because it’s kind of silly. I have no reason to climb one of those evil things. And if you suggest we picnic atop one, I will politely back away and, after some appropriate distance, turn and flee. And we can laugh about that stuff because I’m sure I’m not the only one with silly fears. You may be afraid of heights – you can’t climb a ladder, let alone walk out into one of SkyDeck glass boxes at Willis Tower. You’re an anti-dentite – you keep your teeth clean but you hate the dentist’s chair, all those tools, scraping. You hate spiders – you know, like I do, that anything with more than four legs is a product of the Fall into Sin and evil. We each have our own little things that make us nervous, maybe set us to trembling…personal fears.
Now, lest you fear that this is too far afield, fear is actually a good topic to consider on Easter Sunday. It’s all over the gospel accounts of the resurrection. In Mark 16, the women are going to the tomb to apply spices to Jesus’ body, because they think he’s dead. Now when they get to the tomb, they’re alarmed by what they see there. In three of the gospels, the first words to the women are, “Don’t be afraid!” because they were. And when they leave, they’re afraid so much they can’t speak. And that isn’t even to mention the disciples who are locked away somewhere else, presumably for all the same fears and others too.
If we’re fair to them, they had good reason to be afraid – earthly-perspective-wise at least. Their teacher whom they’d followed was dead. They’d watched it happen, some of them. Death by itself is fearsome, just in its normal way, but these were horrible things. These women? They had opened their purses and their homes and their hearts to Jesus – now he was gone. And more, they find astoundingly the opposite of what they were expecting at his tomb. And angel-beings are the bearers of the news. No wonder they’re alarmed…
That’s so true to life, isn’t it? We don’t just have silly fears. That unreasonable water tower fear? I shared it with an elder of the church where I vicared. Driving into town, you pass an oil refinery. It had those huge fuel storage tanks. I told this man about my fear of falling into one of those, being stuck, treading water. He said, “Vicar, you fall into one of those, you just die. Can’t swim in fuel. Sink right to the bottom.” Which had happened to a man he’d worked with, fell right in, no way his partner could save him, straight down to drown in the dark. Sometimes alarming things happen that knock you outside of normal. A loved one dies or sickness or injury comes. Perhaps it brings actual, real fear about how life will be or doubt about how capable God is. We do damage in our interpersonal relationships. The feelings, the reactions, the mess, your guilt can make you afraid to do what you know is right and good. You listen to all the polarized argument out there in the world. You become afraid of what people will say and how they’ll react or characterize you for what you believe. Perhaps the fear paralyzes you into silence. Sometimes life itself seems to go by so fast – you age, tire, fall apart. Or it keeps coming so fast that you can’t keep ahead of it. You’re afraid it’s always this close to coming to nothing. And you begin to lose trust that God has things well in hand.
We have fears. Lots of them. Not just silly things but legitimate ones. This morning, the big question is what we, in our fears, believe…
Listen to what God says this morning when he shares with us Jesus’ resurrection. It’s the answer to all our fears and the paralysis they can bring. He calls us to believe the most beautiful things. They’re all encapsulated in the angel’s words to the women.
“Don’t be alarmed,” The whole purpose of Jesus’ work was for this – to remove fear. This is what God wants people who encounter Jesus’ empty tomb to know. When you and I approach this day, and from this day go on to a thousand others days there’s no reason to be afraid…not ever. Why?
“You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified.” Take a pause and reflect back for just a moment to Good Friday. With all its horrors, as our preachers said, “It was a good day.” Jesus, the real, personal, God-man who came and lived in this place with all its fearful things – he was crucified. As Paul says in Romans 4, “He was delivered over to death for our sins…” to do something 1 with them. Our sins, some of the many things that might make us afraid, they are paid. With the almighty God we’re debt free because Jesus the Nazarene was crucified. Of course, the joy of this morning is that Jesus didn’t stay dead.
“He has risen!” The angel invites the women to look. To see that Jesus is not there – no body, no death in his tomb. Paul tells you why that matters in the rest of that passage from Romans 4, “[Jesus] was raised to life for our justification.” Jesus has risen and we are not guilty in the sight of God. He paid for sins. And death, the punishment and the result of sins, he conquered. In fact, every result of sin and everything that we might fear here Jesus has power over. And even if any of these things bring death to us, Jesus promises life that lasts forever. Paul again, “in Christ all will be made alive…Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.” Christ is risen! We’ll 2 rise too! So God says…
Indeed, it is, “Just as he told you.” See, when I say the question is what we in our fears believe, I don’t mean that squishy, feel-good sort of thing where you convince yourself everything’s going to be alright, like some pop song on the radio. True faith doesn’t deal in maybes. It isn’t “iffy”. It’s based on promises God has made and kept. And this resurrection – Jesus himself promised it. In Mark’s gospel alone he told his disciples in chapters 8, 9, and 10, “The Son of Man will rise on the third day.” And if Mark records it 3x, you can be sure Jesus said it more than that. Intended his disciples to believe it – a conspicuous, definite thing.
It’s conspicuous in the gospels that none of the disciples were waiting outside the tomb on that morning. There was no pre-resurrection tailgate – lawn chairs and baggo. Even the women who obviously loved Jesus still thought he’d be dead; thought he’d stay dead. They didn’t listen to what 1 Romans 4:25 2 1 Corinthians 15:22-23 2 he’d said. Like we often don’t. Many of our fears come because we don’t trust what God has already said. Like that he is watching over us. Or that his mighty Word when we speak it is powerful. Or that nothing is savvy enough to snatch us out of his protection, not even death. Sometimes in fear we stay away from here too.
That’s why the next two words are very important. Among all the things God says today, these two are easy to miss. The angel tells the women to go and tell his disciples these things. But not just the disciples – it’s the disciples “and Peter”. I bet Peter was crying in a room somewhere. Not just because Jesus had died but because Peter had failed – said he’d stay, even die with Jesus, but then he ran away. Later he denied even knowing who Jesus was. Just as Jesus had said… Disowned his friend. And yet, when Jesus rose he wanted his good news shared specifically with Peter.
I don’t know what fears you came with this morning, what sins you have, what burdens you bear, but Jesus wants his good news shared with you. Hear him speaking to all his disciples ”and you”. Put your name in place of Peter’s: “and Roy”, “and Jeff”, “and Phil”, “and Charlene”, “and Sarah”…. This resurrection is the message of God’s love has conquered your sins. Whatever your fears, your guilt, your struggles – no matter how terrible – Jesus’ resurrection is for you. Here he conquers your sin. Here he promises you life that outlasts death. He says that there is nothing to fear here or out there. Instead there is every reason for you to rejoice.
And what about our joy together? As ones who’ve seen this empty tomb? You and I now rise too – to new life as God’s people, to life without fear. Way after our second lesson’s verses, Paul characterizes your life because Jesus rose: “[T]hanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. [So…] stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” Don’t be alarmed; don’t be afraid. But 3 always live with joy, with confidence in the Lord and his Word and his work. And if there’s any silence, let it be of reverence and joy and wonder at what God here has said and done for you. So that you can tell everyone who’s afraid everything they need to