'The angel said, 'Do not be afraid' Matthew 28:5
Alleluia! Christ is Risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
The journey through Lent is a demanding one, especially as we reach the trauma of the Passion of Our Lord. The betrayal. The Injustice. The extravagant love on display for all the world to see as Christ takes the sin of the world upon himself that we might go free. Free into a new relationship with God, with one another and indeed as our liturgy tonight reminds us, free into a renewed relationship with all of creation. No wonder we let the “Alleluias!” ring loud for all to hear.
Yet, at the risk of being a party pooper, I invite us to step back towards Maundy Thursday and Good Friday for a moment and the trauma of the Passion of our Lord. That trauma forms the backdrop to our Gospel reading. Mary and Mary have witnesses all that has taken place. They’ve seen Jesus betrayed, mocked, tortured and crucified. They’ve seen creation groan as the Creator dies – the darkness falling in the middle of the day, an earthquake and many dead being raised to life. They’ve seen his broken, lifeless body taken down from the cross and placed in a borrowed tomb. And now they come, under cover of darkness to attend to his body. No wonder they were afraid – wouldn’t you be? Arriving at the tomb there is more to be fearful of. Another earthquake and an angel of the Lord descending from heaven! We often think of angels as being like little girls in pretty dresses but the Bible paints a very different picture These are the holy warriors of the Lord, reflecting his glory – think more Royal Marines or the SAS than fluffy fairies. Pretty much everyone who encounters an angel in the Bible is terrified and so it is at the resurrection. When the Angel appeared the rough, tough Roman soldiers ‘were so shaken, so frightened of him, that they were like dead men.’ And so the Angel speaks to Mary and Mary ‘There is no need for you to be afraid.’ We might beg to differ! There was much to be afraid of. The betrayal, mocking, torture and crucifixion of Jesus for starters, not to mention a couple of earthquakes and many dead people coming back to life…
...But of course, the Angel didn’t just say ‘There is no need to be afraid’, he continued ‘I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he is risen, as he said he would.’ This changes everything! The trauma of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, the emptiness of Holy Saturday, is transformed into the glory of Easter Day as Christ is raised from death to life. As Paul describes it in our Epistle, ‘death has no power over him anymore.’ Having reassured Mary and Mary, the angel sent them to tell the disciples the good news that death has been defeated, that Jesus did what he said he would do and that changes everything. They get waylaid by Jesus himself on the way to tell the disciples and become eyewitnesses to his resurrection! I am struck that Jesus also tells them ‘Do not be afraid.’ It is clear that one of the great messages of the resurrection is that we do not need to be afraid – we simply need to have faith. Faith in Jesus who has taken the sin of the world upon himself so that we can have a new relationship with God, with one another and indeed with all of creation. Death is put to death with Jesus so that we can live free from fear, living lives that are faith-filled in the power of the Cross and faithful to the will of God. Yet, if we are honest we can all easily succumb to fear and those fears can easily corrode our faith. Fears of failure. Fears of rejection. Fears of poverty. Fears of illness, suffering and death. Even fear of fear itself! Sisters and brothers, the Risen Lord Jesus invites us to live free from fear, to live full of faith in the light of his death and resurrection for us.
The angel said to Mary and Mary ‘‘There is no need to be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he is risen, as he said he would.’ The angel might well say the same to all of us who are gathered here this evening ‘There is no need to be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he is risen, as he said he would.’ Hear those words my friends: Do not be afraid. The Risen Lord Jesus said to Mary and Mary ‘Do not be afraid’, and I am confident that he is saying the same to each one of us this evening: ‘Do not be afraid.’ Do not be afraid, do not be fearful. Be faith-filled. Live in the light of the resurrection, trusting fully in the one who has defeated sin and death so that we can live freely with God, with one another and with all of creation. May the Risen Lord in his mercy make it so for each one of us. Amen (from Fr Nick McKee, Director of Vocations).