Seriously, why bother with the resurrection? It seems a bit of an over-statement, don’t you think? After all we confess that salvation came on the cross, our victory won in Christ carrying away our sin and the sting of death in His own death upon the cross. Sure, I like the Easter bunny as much as anyone, okay not as much as children do but I like the bunny quite a bit and the celebration of the rising of Jesus makes a nice capstone for the whole season of Lent so that’s great.
But nothing Jesus did was for no reason and sometimes it is hard to fathom why, after saving us all, Jesus does a victory lap. After the majesty of the gift given to us, think about that, all the sin in the world, all the punishment, all the recompense for all the things we do that are naughty in the eyes of God carried away in an instant; compared to that even rising from the dead looks like a smaller trick.
Like Usain Bolt running 100 meters very, very fast and then showing off by running 400 meters very, very slowly. Theologically at least, the resurrection lacks punch. It’s all for show.
Although I suppose that is the point, the show I mean.
The show is also important because not everyone has a master’s in theology and appreciates the finer points of substitutionary atonement. Probably just me, actually. And, you know, Jesus didn’t just come to save the theology nerds, though from talking to them you might get that impression.
No, Jesus came to save the whole of the world, you and me and all the people we love and all the people we like a bit less than that and everyone in between and frankly, to get our attention, there had to be something special.
Because the message was not, I have saved you from the power of sin and death! Sure that was the effect, that was the blessing that was the mission of God, that was the point, but that was not the message of the resurrection.
The message is the same as the message throughout the life and ministry of Christ, the same message that Jesus preached in the synagogues and in the temple, on the streets and in the houses where people welcomed Him and his message.
The message is simple but profound and it resonates with us today, in this grand and magnificent world we live in now just as profound as it was in the simpler times when Jesus walked among us. It is because Jesus came to know us, to walk among us and to learn what it means to be us and truly, one of the things that defines us in this life is that we are afraid, we are a species that worries, some more than others, but nobody is free of fear.
I know, nobody likes to admit it and I’m not just talking about existential angst or the fears of the Cold War when the “big one” could drop at any moment and fear was institutionalized into children as they ducked and covered, hiding under the desk to protect themselves from Nuclear War.
It’s more complicated than that. Those are the easy fears, Al Qaeda and crime and those morons who run red lights, they are the obvious ones; it is completely obvious that we might be afraid of them.
But we’re also, if we’re honest with ourselves, afraid of losing our jobs, afraid our kids won’t get into a good school, afraid we won’t be able to pay for a “good school” if they do get in, afraid the somewhat wonky toilet in the downstairs bathroom will finally fail on the evening we have the big dinner party. We’re afraid of embarrassment but thankfully, not as much as the English. We’re more afraid of crime than almost any people on earth, as often as not exaggerating the threats facing us.
In fact, that’s the most pernicious part of fear.
It’d be great if we were only afraid of things that warranted fear, losing your job looms large in a shaky economy, for example.
But we invent things to be afraid of, and inflate things beyond their reasonable scope, seemingly looking to be afraid of them.
I don’t know if bunkering in is an unavoidable human tendency, but we do relish it, surrounding ourselves with security patrols and alarm systems and highly paid police and fire departments; a standing army even though our revered founding fathers said it was the very worst thing you could have. But what did they know? Their fears took an entire ocean voyage to arrive and couldn’t just be launched with the press of a button a continent away.
And so we hunker down, we make sure that we are keeping the dangers at bay and that we feel safe.
The problem is that hunkering down in your place of safety only accentuates your fear, it does not dispel it. You have given fear a great power over you when you spend your time hiding, building a bunker, dwelling on the thing that frightens you. You do not conquer fear with safety; you simply push it a little farther away.
That is not what the angel means when it says “do not be afraid.” It’s appearance was like lightning and it arrived in an earthquake and if anybody on earth had reason to be afraid it was the women who approached the tomb that morning.
And these were women who had come to tend the dead, decaying body of their friend, their Lord and their teacher, stuff that would scare the pants off of many gathered here today was just the course of business for them. Unlike us they didn’t have much and so the fear of losing everything didn’t loom as large in their minds. Unlike us their entire world was as likely as not as far as they could walk in a day or two: from here to Healdsburg to the North and Rohnert Park to the south, to the coast and maybe as far as Glenellen.
It’s hard to come up with a deep seated fear of the world when it is so small, the threats were remote to the point of being meaningless. Sure the Romans might invade, but they were just taking the place of the Greeks who took the place of the Egyptians who took the place of the Canaanites who took the place of and so on and so on, keep your head down, don’t make waves and you’ll be just fine.
But the message was “do not be afraid.”
And when Jesus appears to them He also begins with “do not be afraid,” even though he, a person they have most recently seen dead, is alive again, walking and talking and appearing out of nowhere in a scary sort of way.
Instead of yelling “Boo!” he calls out “do not be afraid!” as if that’s going to work.
But it has to. It has to work because the stakes are high, as high as heaven itself.
You see, from inside the bunker, no ministry can escape, too much fear holding you in and holding others out.
From inside the bunker, the human voice, the medium God has chosen to spread the Word, is a distant and faint thing, it is lost to the wind, it is drowned out by traffic, it is easily overlooked and often as not ignored as being just background noise.
From inside the Bunker, people are just objects. Some threaten, some beckon, some wail and moan in their need but they are just things, far away things and from inside the bunker you cannot meet them, you cannot know them.
Why do you think online dating is such a phenomenon these days? We are afraid of taking the risk and meeting someone. We are afraid of failing if we do take a risk, winding up alone anyway. We are afraid that we will fail if we do take a risk and find someone only to find out that they are not the right someone, or the perfect someone for us; that’s what they promise, isn’t it? The perfect someone for you? Just enter your credit card number here and you can stay in your bunker, risking little and we’ll do it all for you.
We do not have less fear than the superstitious, simple, primitive women who go and find Jesus risen this morning. Our fears are just less visceral, when was the last time you were frightened of being killed with a sword? Our fears are indicative of the times we live in. Our fears are, in this place and in this time, first world problems.
We fear the loss of stuff, of status, of an election, of the selection process for that really cool school or that really big scholarship. We fear the loss of love, the loss of companionship, we fear the loss of meaning, that we might squander our lives doing something that leaves no mark upon the world.
And no bunker you can build can shield you from those fears, nothing you can conceive with your mind and build with your hands can make those things go away. They are the fears of our own making, sins, if you like, of our own design.
Christ, when he rises on this Easter morning brings the message, “do not be afraid” and we miss the point entirely if we think what He means is “do not be afraid of the dead guy walking and talking in front of you.”
He is saying “do not be afraid.” Full stop.
Do not be afraid, of anything.
Seems impossible? Well, it is. It is impossible to banish fear just as it is impossible to banish sin. We still confess each week, we still acknowledge our failings and try and do better, try and live in accordance with the salvation Jesus won for us a couple of days ago on Good Friday. Moralists are constantly bemoaning the sin rife in the world and railing that we ought to do better, that we ought to live better, be better.
Why is it that we spend so little time trying to live out the other part of Jesus ministry among us, why we seem to ignore the words Jesus says so very often, “do not be afraid?”
I suppose it is because the cause seems hopeless, fear is our friend, it came with us from childhood, wired into our hypothalamus and our amygdala, it is a part of us.
Imagine for a minute what you would do. Close your eyes and think of being totally without fear. Knowing that you are mortal, yet not fearing the end of yourself in this life. Knowing that your job is just today’s way of making a way in the world, it is not your identity, it is not your worth and that if it went by the wayside you will simply do something else. Knowing that what you want is not always what you need and yet not worrying about being indulgent now and then, that cake and ice cream is sometimes just what you need.
Imagine not being afraid for your safety, or the safety of those whom you love. The world is a remarkably safe place, it is created to be suited to us but we conflate every danger as if it were personal, as if it were looming around each and every corner, turning each young man into a potential mugger, thief, sexual predator, burglar in our minds eye.
What could we accomplish if we just allowed Jesus to quell our fears?
What couldn’t we accomplish?
When Jesus is raised, when the resurrection is made real to us. We see that no matter what direction our paths take, no matter if they are bumpy or smooth, through the creepy forest or through the lovely meadow, the destination is assured, death will not be the end of us, our worth cannot be measured in this life because this life is not all that there is for us.
We can be vulnerable enough to know one another. We can be bold enough to love one another. We can be brave enough to take the risks that will spread the message of salvation won on a cross and made glorious in an empty tomb to anyone we encounter. We can do everything in Jesus name and revel in our counter-cultural credentials as we preach an end to fear and the dawning of a new world, a new reality where fear is not the motivator of our every move. Where we can proclaim from the mountaintops and every other place that because of (point to cross) that I am saved and because he is risen, death is defeated and I am not afraid.