“Do Not Be Afraid”: And Other Things We Tell Ourselves

This sermon was originally preached via podcast and Facebook Live at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on April 12, 2020. To listen to the full recording, visit our podcast, “Mission Hills United Methodist Church” or search ‘Mission Hills United Methodist Church’ wherever you get your podcasts. If you would like to donate to the ministries of Mission Hills UMC, you can make a secure online gift here. 

Matthew 28:1-10

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.

For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”

So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Something unique about the Matthew account of the resurrection, is that this is the only one that mentions the earthquake. Surely there were reasons for the other gospel authors to write what they wrote, but this year especially, it’s so important that we don’t shy away from the multitude of emotions that Easter brought, 2000 years ago.

It talks about this giant earthquake, which caused the guards there to fall over, then there were  these lights flashing and angels glowing. What a scene! Imagine the women, the first to see the resurrection, as I will point out many times today, imagine them and Matthew seeing this sight, experiencing this wild thing right in front of their eyes. 

Let’s pause for a second and put ourselves in the position of the women at the tomb. Pretend for a moment that you were them, standing there surrounded by a big earthquake, then an angel comes over and removes this big stone away from the tomb where Jesus was buried. And he’s not there anymore. What feelings are rolling around in your mind right now?

Something that I absolutely hate are earthquakes. So it makes total sense that I moved from a place with lots of earthquakes to another place with tons of earthquakes, right? I still remember the tenseness of my body during the big Alaska earthquake in 2018. Around 8:30am, I had just come back from the gym, and was cooking myself breakfast, and then the house started shaking, slowly at first, then faster and faster, swaying in huge waves for two minutes or so, but it felt like twenty. While this was not the first earthquake I’d experienced by far, they never have gotten easier for me, especially this one. 

So there was that sense of fear for what had just happened, something that literally rocked my world, and then there was the looming fear of anticipation, anticipating the aftershocks that we knew were coming for the next several months. 

We don’t know the size of this earthquake Matthew writes about, but we do know the startling, life-shaking nature of this event. We know that at the very least, all who saw that empty tomb, all who saw Jesus greeting them, walking around after they had seen him die on a cross just days prior, all who saw this were changed. 

When is the last time in your life you were significantly changed? Can you think of a certain age or life event that changed you in big ways?

Easter, the resurrection, is all about being changed. And we too will be changed, if we allow ourselves to be. If we open ourselves up to the possibility of being changed, like the women at the tomb did.

The word resurrection means ‘the revitalization or revival of something’. So in the case of Jesus, it was his actual body that was being revitalized, being revived. And I also believe that resurrection goes beyond the Jesus story, meaning that we too, will be changed. We too, will experience our own resurrections. 

We don’t know when yet, but there will come a time when it is safe enough to gather together again in person. There will come a time when many of the practices we did prior to social distancing will be possible to do again. And what a joyous occasion that will be. That will be our resurrection Sunday! 

As familiar as those times may be, getting back together as if we had never been apart, we will be changed. Because that’s what resurrection is.

How are you noticing yourself changing already, even before this resurrection has fully developed? How has your time, your energy, your motivation, your passion, shifted, as you have lived through this startling, life-shaking event?

If we go back to the days after Jesus died, and even the days leading up to his death, that process of life, death, and resurrection had already begun. For his followers, he told them what was going to happen, that he would be betrayed, that he would share one last meal with them, that he would leave them. And then when it actually happened, when Jesus died on that cross, it became even more real. The change became more real. Things were going to change. And they did. The days after he died were full of a range of emotions. All who loved Jesus were grieving a huge loss, and they were learning that it was okay and good to grieve. 

Jesus’ followers learned a lot, I’d imagine, even before the resurrection, things they certainly took with them into the future. They learned about the goodness of emotions. They learned about the value of faith and community. They learned perhaps about the strength of God and God’s people. And those things led them to be an even stronger community, an even stronger family of Jesus followers, even after the resurrection.

So even though we aren’t there yet today for our church, it’s worth asking.

What will we carry with us into our resurrection?

What have we learned in this time, about ourselves, about church, about relationships, that we want to bring into the next season we encounter?

What will we take with us from where we’ve been into resurrection?

We have already started planning for our own resurrection, our own step into change and new life. And the good news today, on this Easter Sunday, is that we have the example of Jesus, the one who showed us resurrection in profound and beautiful ways, the one who wasn’t afraid to lead those around him to embrace holy change, to allow themselves to be changed every step of the way. We too, will change, if we allow ourselves to. 

May we allow ourselves to be changed, risking routine, comfort, and normalcy for resurrection, in this season and always. 

As my clergy colleague, Rev. Elizabeth Hurd says, Jesus didn’t need a full on celebration in order to experience resurrection. Jesus never gave stipulations on how big an Easter breakfast had to be, or a dress code for Easter worship. Jesus got up anyways.

In our scripture today, we read that the women arrived to an empty tomb. Jesus could have dramatically timed out his return, giving a real show and walking out, waking up, just as the women passed by. But he didn’t. Jesus came out quietly, solemnly, giving it some space before he announced himself. Jesus did not need our celebration to rise.

May this be our prayer and our good news today. No matter how we are feeling today, joyful, devastated, somewhere in between, Jesus has indeed risen. Christ is risen, indeed. Go in peace, Friends. Amen.

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