Monday, May 12, 2014

Do not be afraid! - a sermon for Easter, 2014

“Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised form the dead.”
There is a legend from the Orient about a traveler making his way to a large city. One night he met two other travelers along the road: Fear and Plague. Plague explained to the traveler that, once they arrived, they expected to kill 10,000 people in the city. The traveler asked Plague if Plague would do all the killing. “Oh, no. I 'm only going to kill only a few hundred. My friend Fear will kill the others.”
When you think about it, in a lot of ways Fear is a great equalizer. No matter what age, no matter what state of life, no matter what you’ve gone through, Fear is something we all will encounter. We will all have to deal with Fear.
There are countless other examples each of us can come up with relative ease.
Yes, there are an awful lot of things all of us deal with that frighten us, and a lot of them for good reason. And each year our Churches fill as people come together with many different things weighing on our minds and hearts this Eastertide. Wondering why we’re here. Wondering what it all means. Wondering is it worth it even coming to Mass, even coming to Church . . .
“Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
How wonderful!! Alleluia, Christ is risen.
That has to tell us something.  That the first words we hear in today’s Gospel from the angel of the Lord and from Jesus are DO NOT BE AFRAID. To Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, reaching into their fear of a world where crowds embraced evil, people who’s hearts had turned to darkness so much so that they could so brutally and viciously murder Jesus, the human embodiment of Love. But Jesus says to them, "Do not be afraid . . ."
Those aren’t just words. And I think for a lot of us, we’re used to treating them like a nice, wishful sentiment. Kind of like a Hallmark card - get well soon, wish you were here - do not be afraid. And that cheapens what Jesus did for us. Jesus suffered a great deal to be able to speak those words with the authority of one who could banish that fear.
Think back to Christmas, from the very beginning of Jesus’ life, God seems to be telling us something through the coming of His Son Jesus: When Mary and Joseph hear they will be parents of God’s only Son, it seems (at best) unbelievable – do not be afraid Mary, you’ve found favor with God; do not be afraid Joseph to take Mary to be your wife . . .
And throughout His life, Jesus constantly healed people of their fears - through forgiveness of their sins, through miraculous healings, through the raising people from the dead. And you can sense or see that people were amazed, but not convinced. “Who does Jesus think he is?” they wondered after Palm Sunday . . . This wasn’t the political leader, the Messiah who would restore Israel and knock the Romans into their place. No he was seen as a threat to everyone who had any power or authority - from the controlling Romans to the limited Jewish leaders.
Their fear of letting go of their wants, their desires, their understanding of who God is and what God wants to do for all of his people blocked them from embracing him. And so they choose darkness in deciding he was too much trouble to deal with. "Crucify Him."
That’s what Easter confronts us with – Easter calls us out – are we amazed by this story but not convinced either? Is it an incredible tale that we’ve heard over and over but it’s just too impossible for us to really believe?
Because if we’re coming here looking to be dazzled by some miraculous sign - amazed by some new feat - we will be disappointed; Jesus isn’t a magician. And all the things that worry us, that keep us up at night that we are afraid over are still going to be there when we leave Church after Easter Sunday Mass.
Unless we cast off our fears, we won’t be able to experience the Risen Jesus Christ in our lives.
If we don’t believe that the same God who let his Son suffer and die for us . . .
If we don’t believe that the same God who raised his Son from the dead . . .
If we don’t believe that the same God who, by the Sacrament of Baptism, has made us his own Sons and Daughters whom he looks upon with the same Love that he looks upon Jesus . . .
We will wallow in all of the fears that we were burdened with when we first walked into Church on Easter Sunday morning.
But if we believe the words of the angel, “DO NOT BE AFRAID.  I KNOW YOU ARE SEEKING JESUS THE CRUCIFIED. HE IS NOT HERE.  HE HAS BEEN RAISED.” And so we behold the Risen Jesus who comes to us right here, right now on our way as we deal with our own darkness, plagued by our own Good Friday stories, then the Easter story becomes our story.  Then the resurrection becomes real in our lives. Jesus says to us today "Do Not Be Afraid," and if we let go of our fear we, too, will see Him.
We go, having beheld the Risen Jesus, to practice resurrection, as Wendell Berry wrote – to practice the resurrection go Jesus and to practice our own resurrection. “Do not be afraid…” Those two Mary’s went to practice resurrection. “Do not be afraid” Peter and James and John and Andrew and Philip and all the others went to practice resurrection. Stephen practiced resurrection and was killed for it.
Friends, it is simple (though not simplistic): The good news of Easter is that Jesus, who was crucified, died, and was buried, has been raised from the dead. And this resurrection changes everything – nigh, it is everything. Death does not have the final say. Death is not the final power. No, Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. Pardon and peace, joy and hope, love and life are the final realities of the world. It is complete!
Practicing resurrection: It is the story of William Wilberforce as he took on the aristocracy and the merchants to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire. It is the story of Martin de Porres, Dorothy Day, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta as they served the poor even in their own poverty.  It is the story of Martin Luther King Jr., Mohandas Gandhi, Thich Nhat Hanh, and John Paul II in their passive resistance to tyranny. It is the story of Archbishop dom Helder Camara, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Oscar Romero as they died for those they did not know. It is the story of Juan and Clare and Maria and so many others who courageously fight for justice and peace in Polk County and who Campaign for Fair Food, fighting to end slavery in America today, guaranteeing a decent life for all – immigrant and migrant alike.
Practicing resurrection: Friends, it’s the story of you and me as we live out our baptismal covenant. It will be the story of Hannah Frances, who will be baptized tonight. Easter did not happen one morning 2,000 years ago. Easter does not happen just one Sunday in a year. Easter is ongoing. Easter happens happening over and over again throughout the life of the church and in every day of our lives. Easter is even after the chocolate bunnies have been devoured and when the jelly beans are gone. Easter is when even after the ham has been put away and the eggs have been colored.
Easter is whenever we give hope. Easter is wherever we bring joy. Easter is always in our love. Easter is with every new generation and in each new life as it is proclaimed: “He is alive!"
Christ is risen!  The Lord is risen, indeed!  Alleluia.

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