Easter Sunday (A)
April 12, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Gospel, which was read a few minutes ago.
Did you know that Lutherans were the first to introduce the Easter bunny to America? It’s true! When German Lutherans came to Pennsylvania in the 1700’s, they brought the tradition of an Easter hare who left brightly colored eggs in nests for well-behaved children. This legend quickly spread beyond colored eggs to chocolate bunnies, jellybeans, and baskets filled with fake green grass. It’s kind of a weird combination isn’t it? The resurrection of Jesus and plastic eggs filled with jellybeans? But did you also know that it’s not the most unexpected pairing in the Easter story? It’s true! The most unexpected pairing is found in the women at the tomb who were filled with both fear and joy.
We would all agree that there’s a big difference between fear and joy, and that they don’t belong together. Joy is something everyone wants to experience. Joy lifts our spirits. It puts smiles on our faces. It makes life a little better. The children were joyful when the teachers had their car parade a couple weeks ago. Parents will be joyful when the kids finally go back to school. And isn’t joy the emotion that fits best with Easter? It’s the joy of “He is risen indeed!” after the somberness of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Joy is something we all enjoy.
Fear on the other hand is something that we’re afraid of. Fear can be paralyzing, or it can lead us into hasty and bad decisions. Fear can be depressing. It can lead to sin and unbelief. Sometimes fear is enjoyable; I’m thinking about rollercoasters or horror movies and sometimes fear motivates us to do something. Most of the time though we don’t want to be afraid. Sometimes we can move past it, but other we just can’t seem to shake it.
The fear of the current epidemic is one that many people can’t seem to shake. We’re in a county that still hasn’t had a case of Covid-19, and yet many people are on edge. We’re constantly being told to be aware; wash your hands, use hand sanitizer, don’t touch your face, stay six feet away from others. These constant reminders to be on guard can be frightening. If you’re financially struggling, you might be afraid of how little that stimulus check is going to help; $1200 isn’t going to last very long.
It’s Easter, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. No Easter egg hunts, no pretty Easter dresses, no family worship or meals, and there’s definitely not any traveling. Families aren’t getting together today because they’re afraid. Afraid of making their parents sick, afraid of making their grandchildren sick. And the saddest thing is that churches are empty. And we can blame fear; maybe not our own fear, but the fear that’s all around us.
So how can we say that fear and joy go together when fear is bad and joy is good? Well, maybe I need to clear this up a little. Fear and joy don’t go together like the chocolate peanut butter cups stuffed in Easter baskets. And you can have fear without joy and joy without fear. What Christians discover in the Resurrection of Jesus is that while we have fear, we also have joy.
Saint Matthew writes, “Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.” Do you think they were afraid? I wouldn’t be surprised to hear they were. Jesus was dead, the tomb was guarded, and the enemies of Jesus were still around. Would the soldiers let them into the tomb? Would the soldiers move the stone? What if they get arrested because of their devotion to Him?
What comes next does fill them with fear. “And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.” This wasn’t a Precious Moments cherub. This isn’t a faceless Willow Tree angel. This was blazing white, stone moving, earth shaking messenger of God. The angel’s appearance is so frightening the brave Roman soldiers guarding the tomb faint and curl up in little balls on the ground. There’s a reason why the first thing angels say to people is “Don’t be afraid.”
Did you notice though that the angel didn’t say anything to the Romans curled up on the ground? “The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.’” The guards were terrified so why didn’t the angel comfort them? The answer is simple: God’s comforting word is only for those who believe. Those who reject God, those who despise His Word or His Son won’t ever hear “Don’t be afraid.” Those who refuse to believe the Easter message, men like the Pharisees who paid the guards off to lie, will never hear God’s encouragement, only His condemnation. Now, maybe the guards quickly got over their fear and maybe the Pharisees weren’t afraid to begin with, but when they came face to face with the God whom they had rejected, they were very afraid.
The angel may have been frightening, but his words couldn’t have been less so. “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.” Jesus was crucified, they saw His death with their own tear-filled eyes, and now with their tear-filled eyes they see His empty tomb. “He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where He lay.” Their fear was meaningless because Jesus is alive!
Fear is not always so quickly shaken off, is it? It’s not for us, and it wasn’t for the women. Matthew writes, “So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell His disciples.” Matthew is telling us that as they ran from the tomb the women were still afraid, but their fear was no longer alone, and it no longer dominated their thinking. They had fear and joy, but not just any joy, they had great joy! This great joy helped them deal with their fear; it calmed their fears. And I pray that while you may be afraid, you also find great joy in the Resurrection of Jesus.
Fear in a dangerous and confusing world is still appropriate. It’s why most churches are observing social distance and avoiding worship even on this holiest of Sundays. Fear is a result of living in a sinful world, and I’m not going to condemn you for being afraid. If we were perfect we could put our trust and faith in the Lord in an unwavering way. As much as we’d like to be, we’re not perfect, and this is why fear and joy go together, and this is the difference Easter makes for each and every one of you.
Everything we’re afraid of loses its power when confronted by the Resurrected Savior. Are you afraid of the virus? Christ is risen! Are you afraid of being unemployed? Christ is risen! Are you afraid of the future? Christ is risen indeed! The joy that we receive from the death and resurrection of Jesus helps us in our time of need. As Paul says, “If Christ hasn’t been raised, your faith is futile.” Fear won’t paralyze us because it cannot take our trust that Jesus was crucified for us and then raised from the dead. And nothing can change that! We may not be able to escape fear this side of Heaven, but Jesus is on this side of Heaven as well, and He will strengthen us. He strengthens us because He lives. Our faith isn’t in something or someone long dead, it is in the Son of God who was crucified and is now alive, and present with us. You will see Christ because He is present in His Word and present in the faith that you’ve been given. There aren’t many churches where “He is Risen indeed!” bounce off the walls, but He is, and He always will be. He is alive and this means that no matter what we’re afraid of, He will be the one who guides us. You can’t see Him, but know, know with all your heart, that the Risen Christ is your Savior and He speaks words of encouragement and hope to you. And one day, we will see Him with our very own eyes, and like the women at the tomb, when we do, we will fall at His feet, we will worship Him, and we will hear Him say for the last time, “Don’t be afraid.”
When it comes to things that go together, there are two things that fit perfectly together for you, me, and all who believe. Jesus’ death and resurrection. They need each other. Christ’s death for your sins means nothing without His resurrection. His resurrection without the His redeeming death means nothing. Together, they mean everything for you and your salvation. In this life we will all have times of fear and anxiety. If you’re not afraid of the virus, something else will come along. It’s natural to be afraid, but we’re not just afraid. We also have great joy. The joy of the Resurrection, the joy that the Lord gives, that’s what endures. And one day, all earthly fear will give way to the great joy of the eternal Easter Celebration.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen