This Is My Message: Do Not Be Afraid

When I was a child, I used to be afraid of pretty much everything. I was fearful of the dark and the weird shadows that would play out on the walls. I was fearful of the noises that never bothered me during the day. I worried about those scary shows and movies that I watched with my friends and brothers. My imagination was so vivid that in the dark it would bring all these fears to life. One night in particular, I remember sitting up in bed afraid of vampires. I was absolutely certain that they were going to come to my room the moment that I fell asleep.

My eldest brother was coming home from a date that night and saw through my window that I was sitting up in my bed and it was much too late at night. So when he got into the house he came to my room and turned on the light and sat down on my little twin sized bed and asked “What was wrong? Why was I still awake?” So I shared with him my fears. He patiently listened to them and never said I was being stupid or silly. He just told me that I had nothing to fear and explained that vampires were made up. Then I was satisfied and felt safe with my big brother there and could finally fall asleep.

Sometimes in life, we need someone to reassure us that everything is going to be ok. We need someone to say “Do not be afraid”. I think this is the message we need in our world and in our lives today when there are so many real life troubles and demons to scare us and keep us up at night. And this was the message most needed by the disciples and friends of Jesus, who were so fearful after the death of Christ that they locked themselves in the upper room terrified of everyone and everything.

Now I don’t very often preach on Matthew’s version of the resurrection. Most years the lectionary has clergy focusing on John’s version of the resurrection. But this year, I have chosen to look at Matthew. I like Matthew because it isn’t all jubilation and joy but there is almost a meditative aspect to the resurrection. There is a comforting aspect to this version of the resurrection. The women, who went to the tomb on that Sunday morning, were grieving and fearful of the continued wrath of the people around them. They had experienced the horrors of the world and perhaps expected to continue to experience the worst.

They had been terrorized by their religious leaders (talk about crossing boundaries), their politicians, and their neighbors. They had experienced some real life monsters. And in the midst of their fear, in the midst of their grief, they went to the tomb to find it opened, and the body gone. They did the only thing they had the wherewithal to do. They became fearful and broken hearted. The story was looking like it was getting  worse by the day. They went from experiencing the wonders of God through Jesus to experiencing horrifying pain through humanity. Then there was a message from the mouths of the angels, a message to offer comfort, clarity, and new hope. A message to drive away the demons and fears that plagued their lives. The message was simple and straight forward.

The message did not come in a long winded piece of theology or dissertation. It was simple and easy to remember. This is what the angel said, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said”.[1] This is perhaps the most important message of the entire Bible.  Do not be afraid. As human beings, we live in constant fear. Fear of death, fear of financial struggle, fear of loss, fear of illness, fear of pain, fear of one another, fear of all we cannot control. In Jeremiah’s time the people were still very painfully aware of their fear of the nations and peoples around them who exiled them from their homes and families. And in Jesus’ time the people still struggled with the same fears, and today we continue to struggle with fear.

God offers us hope through Jesus. God offers us reassurance this morning in the words of the scriptures. So I want you to close your eyes for a moment and imagine you are carrying all your anxiety and fear to the tomb this Easter morning and upon entering I want you to notice the angel in all his majesty sitting there with a message just for you. And this is his message, “Do not be afraid. For Jesus has been raised from the dead just as he promised”. So lay your anxieties and fears down in that tomb and take comfort. As long as Jesus has been raised there is nothing to fear for we know that God is here with us and will lead us like a shepherd into his kingdom and back to safety. It is up to us which story we will allow to be told in our lives and in our world. It can either be the story of resurrection hope and new life or it can be that of illness, death, and sorrow. American academic Carolyn Heilbrun tells us, “Power consists in deciding which story shall be told”.[2] The women at the tomb made sure the story was the hope and the comfort and not the death and sorrow. What story will you tell this year? Will it be one of hope or one of sorrow?

[1] Matthew 28: 5-6 NRSV.

[2] Carolyn Heilbrun, 20th century.

(based on Jeremiah 31: 1-6 and Matthew 28: 1-10)