"Even your fear will be raised from the dead"
Sermon given by the Rev. Clare L. Hickman on April 16, 2017
Texts: Jeremiah 31:1-6; “Because he is risen” by Gerard Kelly; Matthew 28:1-10
Clare L. Hickman
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Ferndale
April 16, 2017—Easter Sunday, Year A
Jeremiah 31:1-6; “Because he is risen” by Gerard Kelly; Matthew 28:1-10
There is a law of dramatics named for the writer Chekhov that states, "One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn't going to go off. It's wrong to make promises you don't mean to keep" (Chekhov, letter to Aleksandr Semenovich Lazarev (pseudonym of A. S. Gruzinsky), 1 November 1889). Which in some way suggests that when Matthew’s mysterious dazzling figure tells the women “Do not be afraid,” well, fear had better make an appearance before the story is done!
It does. Just not in the way one might expect. The women don’t react like the guards who have already fainted out of fear (we’ll give them a pass, considering the earthquake and that whole lightning thing). But the women, well, in the face of this astonishing sight, these brave friends stand their ground to hear the message. He has been raised, the man says. Come and see, and then go and tell.
Come and see, then go and tell. And with that, the women depart, “with fear and great joy.” Here is the fear that the play promises. But not the fear we expect. Not the kind of fear that holds you back (or makes you faint dead away). Instead, they are filled with the kind of fear that draws you forward, holding your breath in anticipation. Not knowing what will come, but knowing that you HAVE to stick around to see what it will all look like.
It’s the fear that in the original Hebrew or Aramaic could be translated as “awe,” the fear that is generally the word used when we speak of the “fear of the Lord.” This is not the fear that hangs around on street corners looking menacing, the fear that sends you cowering in the corner, the fear that has you avoiding the newspapers (or burying yourself in newspapers) because of all the terrible things lurking within. That’s the fear the man urges you not to give into: the fear that sends you inward and eats at you from the inside.
Do not get into the van with that fear. Do not accept its candy or agree to help find its dog. Instead, hear the invitation that will transform that fear into the kind of fear that draws you forward. The fear that can move hand in hand with joy. The fear that trembles and holds it breath, and just knows that SOMETHING is going to happen.
One of my favorite moments in the movie The Incredibles comes when that neighbor kid is standing outside the Incredibles’ house, having witnessed Mr. Incredible lift a car the week before. Mr Incredible asks him, somewhat testily, “What are you waiting for?” and the kid replies, “I dunno. Something amazing.”
Something amazing. Come and see. After which you will not be able to resist the urge to Go and Tell. And then, then, you will come face to face with the risen Christ.
Surely, the women had reason to be afraid. And I mean afraid in the bad way. They’d watched while he died, long and slow and painful. They had feared for their own lives and those of their friends: the men were all still hidden away for fear of the authorities, and with good reason. And this morning, it was only their relative unimportance as women that made it possible to risk coming to the tomb, not knowing what they might find there, what trouble might be waiting.
Prepared for soldiers, they couldn’t have predicted an angel. Ready to prepare a body for burial, they don’t know what to make of an empty tomb and stories of resurrection. Destroyed by grief, they find themselves blind-sided by hope.
Don’t be afraid, the man says, for he is risen. He is not dead, and you don’t need to be dead either, killed by the fear that has you in its grasp. That’s the promise of the resurrection: we don’t need to be dead. We have been baptized in Christ, and we have died with Christ (in every pain and fear and loss we have ever gone through … in all our sins and all our repentance, we have died with Christ over and over and over), but this means we will rise with him as well!
We rise like he does: in the body. God raises Jesus with wounds and all, and God raises us the same way. We will be changed; we will be made new, but we will still somehow be the same us, just raised up out of all the death that has confined us.
Which means (among other things) that all the fear that hangs around you … all the fear that so many of us feel is taking over our lives … fear of the conflict and chaos in the world … fear of the division and blind opposition in our own country … fear for our future, fear of our day to day difficulties, fear of all the demands that pull at us and tragedies that lie in wait … that fear, that death-dealing fear that sends you inward and eats you from the inside, is the very stuff that God raises from the grave.
The cross drew all that fear to itself: all the hate and violence, all the doubts and defensiveness, all the wounds of the entire world coalesced in Jesus as he died on the cross. And then for three days he took that with him as he descended into the grave, as he was buried in the earth, as he bore all our pain and fear down with him into the womb of the world. And now, this morning, he is reborn within us, and we have been made new. Our fear has been transformed from the fear that drives us inward into the fear that sends us out trembling to GO AND SEE. The fear that crackles with joy and expectation. The fear that holds its breath, because it knows that God is near, that God is alive and walking the earth and everything is possible!
It calls us to come and see, to bear witness to the dream of God that triumphs over the violence of the world. And then it sends us out with this crazy message of love and hope and abundance and forgiveness, which is somehow the only way to conquer domination and fear.
He is risen. Be brave. You don’t know what that’s going to look like. Be curious. He is raised from the dead, and you can be too, with your fear transformed into awe and wonder and trembling and possibility.
Be brave, be curious, be risen as our Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!