Did you notice how peculiar the ending to Mark’s gospel was? Peculiar…but realistic…because I would be scared too.
It is something when you are expecting to go to a graveyard and honor the deceased…and the deceased ain’t there! That would frighten me.
I remember one time 20 years ago or so, I visited a man in the hospital on a Friday. He was going to die. He was uncommunicative. The doctors had removed all the tubes and lines. His family was around the bedside and we held a service of leave taking. It was just a matter of time.
On Monday, this man was not only still alive, he was sitting up in bed talking and drinking a cup of tea. And I will be honest; my first reaction was a mix of fascination and yes, fear. I was scared and wasn’t quite sure how to begin the conversation: “So, how ya doin’? Did you see the light?”
His answers were “all right” and “no.”
That early Easter morning when it was still very dark outside and I decided to take my coffee and walk into the way back yard and have my own private devotional but I turned back not even half way – I just got a creepy feeling, what if I really met the risen Jesus?
Death is scary enough but things that don’t die are usually VERY scary and not welcome. Most good horror movies seek to tap into our instinctive revulsion of the undead.
Just a few weeks ago I was channel surfing and happened upon the Sunday night cable show “The Walking Dead.” Now, don’t judge me… (I promise I didn’t enjoy it. It was all for sermon preparation.) For those of you who do not know about this show – it is a zombie show, dead people coming back to life. You want to stay as far away as possible from these zombies; they are not friendly.
One of the main characters, an older gentleman who is a veterinarian, says to leader of the small band of real live people: “I know that our Lord promised the resurrection to life from the dead – but I always imagined something different than this.” Indeed.
Easter is first and foremost about a dead person, coming back to life. So I just want to take the reaction of the women in Mark’s gospel very seriously. It wasn’t good news. It was frightening news. They couldn’t comprehend what their eyes were seeing and their ears were hearing: and that young man dressed all in white saying: “Don’t be alarmed.” RIGHT.
I want to take fear seriously this morning because FEAR is the #1 problem in our culture today. In fact, fear may be the #1 problem of all time, the #1 sin. Fear is the cause of original sin, fear of being alone, fear of not knowing enough, fear of not being in control. Fear of what’s out there. Fear shrivels the heart, closes the mind, makes sane people crazy, and causes violence. Fear of boys in hoodies. Fear of everyone carrying a gun.
Our politics are shaped by fear. Now today, Easter Sunday, is not a day to get all political – but think about it. Campaigns try to make you horrified of what will happen if the person you don’t want gets elected: Death panels, corporate takeovers, nuclear arms, hidden agendas, conspiracy theories, control of your bodies, the end of our environment, socialism, social Darwinism.
Choose your fear – we all have them and they are plentiful – there for the taking. We fear spiders and heights. “I’m scared I won’t get into college.” “I’m scared I won’t find a job.” “I’m scared that I will never find anyone to love me just as I am.” “I’m afraid I won’t have enough and there is not enough to spread around.”
You say you have no fear – you are a liar.
We fear news of the doctors, report cards, misshapen moles. Fear is a learned protective instinct – it isn’t all bad, I guess. Fear reminds us of who we are and who we are not. Fear reminds us of the shadow possibilities and so we have gated communities, and ghettos, and private schools and retirement accounts. President Roosevelt declared that the “only thing we have to fear, is fear itself!” So we are even, at times, scared of being scared.
Religion is shaped by fear. Christianity has a history of shaping fear of the other, fear of the heretic. I remember a young man seeking to choose a seminary for he believed he was being called into ministry. But this young man’s friends were “scared” that he was going to choose that more “liberal” seminary and start the slippery slope to losing his faith.
Many, many Christians have their faith shaped, their normative experience formed by the scary question: “If you died tonight, where would you spend eternity?” I guess some people need to be scared straight, but not everybody. The Cross which is the symbol and standard that proclaims: “Death is no longer to be feared” becomes a fearful symbol of separation – and some are too scared to “come out” because you never know how you will be received.
How would you live your life, if you feared less and trusted more?
Let me tell you something. Easter, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is about getting to the other side of fear. It is not about judgment – it is about grace and mercy, getting on to forgiveness. It is not about separation – it is all about bridging the gap. As we read in the first letter of John, chapter 4 and verse 18: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” Moving to the other side of fear brings us to love. You don’t fear someone you love – if it is good love, real love. God loves you – no fear!
Easter, the Resurrection of Jesus, opens up possibilities; there is indeed far more to life and living and faith than we could ever imagine. The powers and principalities that rule our present age – don’t get the last word. The addictions don’t have to hold sway. Change is possible.
But change is frightening. To be willing to hand over whatever keeps you narrow and shallow and diminished and step into the unknown – step into the other side of fear – which is freedom.
And freedom is scary – because as much as I complained about the old way, and the ruts and routines that I find myself in… at least they are mine… better the devil I know, then the devil I don’t.
But… what if… the “devil” is really the Risen Savior calling you beyond whatever demons keep you entombed? What if you came to the tomb and actually looked in and saw the emptiness but instead of going away empty, you walked away full – full of hope, full of joy, full of love, full of YOU because you are fully yourself.
That is what we are offering here this morning. That is what is on the other side of fear. You, as a beloved child of God.
That is the madness of Easter that I love so much. Easter turns everything on its head. It is all topsy-turvy now – everything we thought was a given – is not, not even death. Easter is like some great Cosmic wink: “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” And as Yogi Berra once said: “It ain’t over, till it’s over!” So go ahead – look at what you fear most and get on over to the other side.
The empty tomb is God telling a fearful world and a fearful YOU: “NO, NO, NO! Death doesn’t get the final word. Injustice won’t get the final say. Fear is cast out in love. The cross is the bridge between a fearful past and hopeful future – the empty grave is but a portal that must be passed through to a new land, a new reality.”
So take off your glasses of fear and put on the spectacles of hope. Remove your shades of mistrust and put on the contacts of love. Hold up the prism to the light and you will see radiant images abounding illuminating your way out of the present madness into the presence of power.
Buzz Lightyear in “Toy Story” declared “To infinity and beyond!” The Gospel declares the infinity of love which take you beyond fear. Yes, to the edge of fear and beyond.
How would you live your life, if you feared less and trusted more?
You have to be the ambassadors of this good news and say “NO” to fear. You have to say and share that life is worth living, and risks are worth taking, and nothing is wasted if you trust that God is working though the chaos of your life to create what is good. And you can go to the edge of fear, like the women at tomb, and even run away terrified and speechless for a time – but we know they weren’t speechless for long because we wouldn’t be here today if they had kept mum and let fear win. So YOU, don’t let fear win. Don’t let anyone try to scare you.
When you come to the table this morning – this Easter morning I want you to think about a fear that you are going to offer to the risen Jesus. You may need to ask the risen Jesus to take that fear away and plant in you a perfected love which casts out fear.
If not you, who? If not now, when? How will those outside these walls know? How will the world know that there is something else than fear to live by?
Thanks be to God who gives us the victory. The Risen Lord who brings us to the edge of fear and then to the other side! Christ has risen, he has risen indeed – Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!