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At the Intersection of Fear and Joy

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Happy Easter. Welcome again to you all – this is a good day to be together. It is a good day to celebrate life and hope and the mystery of resurrection; to proclaim, anew, the core of Christian faith—Life wins! Love wins!

The women who went to the tomb that first Easter didn’t know this yet, or course. They went to the tomb wrapped in the sadness of a broken dream. But unlike all the other disciples – fear and sadness didn’t freeze them. The Marys went toward the disappointment, to anoint it and honor it.

And then they got the surprise of their lives and they “left the tomb quickly with fear, and great joy!”

At the intersection of fear and great joy! That is an interesting place to be located. Walgreens may be at the corner of happy and healthy, but those women on that first Easter day stood at the intersection of fear and joy!

I have been preaching Easter sermons for 23 years and it still leaves me befuddled…. How do you explain the un-explainable, and give words to something that really can’t be described. You know the end of the story, it like the movie Titanic – except completely opposite!

But this year, reading that the two Mary’s walked towards the tomb and didn’t run away caught my attention, and that verse about fear and joy jumped out at me.

You and I were not at that first Easter morning. But I know what it means to be at the crossroads of fear and joy and so do you. It is the place where the most important things happen; it is the place where Easter can happen.

I remember very clearly walking around the base of Edinburgh Castle waiting for my doctoral dissertation defense to begin. I hadn’t slept in a couple of days; I was so nervous. I was to appear before real scholars who knew things and I had to show them what I knew (not very much). It was like awaiting the gallows.

And I remember walking into that little room (kind of tomb like) and there were these three men and they smiled and said: “thank you, this is a good dissertation. But before you get it published we have a few questions.”

Did you say, “Get it published?!” Two hours later, I left and went home to Deanne and I didn’t know what to say or do – it took me three days to figure out what had happened and a month to feel relieved.

There was a young couple, the woman soon to be a mother of her first child – and she was anticipating labor. The father was scared beyond fear about how life was going to change for him. I saw them again, an hour after birth – joy doesn’t even describe it.

Jumping off the high dive for the first time. You know what I am talking about.

Watching your daughter on the balance beam – and she is going to do a walkover – you tell me you don’t know fear – and then she does it – how are you feeling?

I don’t even know if we can know joy without the “fear.” We don’t know gladness unless we have experienced sadness, we don’t know life unless we are standing at the intersection of Fear and Joy. Jesus doesn’t get to this day, without Friday and neither do we – Fear and joy.

I read the headlines and in Egypt and Sweden and San Bernardino, in Syria and in North Korea. On the streets of our cities, and on the boundaries of our nations there is a lot of unrest. It makes me feel as if we are living on the cul-de-sac of fear and the intersection of joy doesn’t seem so obvious. Joy seems like naïve distraction – way on down the line.

And people who find themselves facing sickness and death, the fear of being alone and of the unknown – facing change you didn’t ask for – it is a freeway of fear and joy is a potholed, bolder strewn mess, like driving in Haiti.

People and institutions facing transition and change to new pastors and new ways of being church and there are no guarantees.

But there is a promise. And more than a promise. Our faith doesn’t end at the cross, but beyond an empty tomb.

And this is where Easter comes in, where the empty tomb can become a beacon, a light that shines in the shadow, a joyful promise that can quiet any fear.

Death is not the end.

Fear won’t last.

Tears may tarry for the night…. But JOY comes in the morning.

Today I need to proclaim, because I need to hear it for myself that Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Sometimes I wonder how Easter makes a difference. Then I remember the words of the great Jewish Rabbi Abraham Heschel who once said, “Wonder rather than doubt is the root of all knowledge.” And I wonder if that is not a lesson for you and for me today – we will never experience Easter unless we walk in wonder towards to tomb of our fear.
We will never know “Great Joy” unless we give heed to that which we are scared to death of.

So when I am walking through the valley of the shadow, I fear no evil.

When I am scared and lonely, I remember my baptism.

When I am tired, I think of all of you.

When I can barely make it through another day, I recall this Easter story.

You have to walk down the street of fear to hit the crossroad of joy.

And the angels and the prophets–those who know God best keep telling us, “Don’t be afraid!” We should listen to that occasionally.

You have heard of Pandora – no, not the music app on your IPad – but the Pandora of Greek myth who was an inquisitive sort and her curiosity got the best of her and she opened up a box (actually a Greek urn) and loosed upon the world the bad unintended consequences of human life – it was a trick pulled off by Zeus – the head Greek god.

The message of Pandora is: Be afraid! Be very, very afraid! Don’t open things. Don’t let things get out of control, because “curiosity kills the cat.”

Well, Easter is like the opposite of Pandora’s box. That which is usually sealed tight “sealed in a stone cold tomb” as the verse of “We Three Kings” has it – is released.

I have to tell you this story, when I was a teenager. I was asked to sing that fourth verse of that hymn. As I was walking down the aisle at my church I messed up. Instead of “sealed in a stone cold tomb,” I sang, “stoned in a sealed, cold tomb!”

But stoned or sealed what is usually not opened, you see, now is – Mary Magdalene and the other Mary didn’t roll the stone away, it was too big, needed an angel to do that – but nevertheless, they were there. The stone was rolled, the tomb was opened, and unleashed upon the world is the intended consequences not of something bad but of ultimate good, of ultimate hope, of ultimate life. It isn’t a trick of the gods; it is the great blessing of God Almighty!

Soon, you will leave this place free to do whatever you do. And I ask you: Are you living out of fear or faith that there is more than what you see or experience? Are you animated by the Pandora box of bad things, or by the empty tomb of grace?

It really is all about a choice: how are you going to live? What will inspire you; motivate you – the bad news, the fake news, the trivial news? Or the only good news that matters: Christ is alive and goes on before.

At the intersection of fear and joy – which way are you going to turn?

God bless you!

Christ has risen! He has risen indeed!