Easter Sermon from Rev. KJ Norris, Kerr Presbyterian Church.
Today is my favorite day of the year. I know that’s true for many of us. Sure, we like birthdays and Christmas and Pentecost. But for me, at least, this is it. This is the day where we remember sin and death are no more.
This is the day when we are reminded of the true power of God. This is the day where we somehow feel more connected with our loved ones, even those who have gone ahead of us into the next life, into glory, for we know that death is not the end. We will be reunited.
This is the day where we proclaim loudly along with the Apostle Paul: That we are convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord! (Romans 8:38-39).
We know this is true because it is Easter Sunday. This is the day that the Lord Jesus Christ proved he has power over life and death itself. Nothing could hold him back. Nothing can stop the love of God. Christ is Risen! He is Risen, Indeed, Alleluia, Amen!
It is Easter Sunday. And I stand in joy.
And yet as I was drawn back into this familiar passage of old, there is one word that jumped out to me this year. Do words do that for you sometimes? They seem to just jump off the page, especially if you have been praying before coming to Scripture?
Well, this word surprised me because I don’t think it is a word we most often associate with Easter. When we think of Easter we think of resurrection. New life. We think of chocolate and bunnies. We think of eggs and empty tomes. We think of children singing—and oh I am so thankful for our kids singing and sharing their pictures. Jesus does indeed love you, Kerr Kids, and so do we. We love you so much.
So this word—the word that jumped out at me surprised me.
Let’s look at the Scripture again. It’s a word found in verse 4. And then in verse 5. It’s again in verse 8. And then in verse 10. Do you see it?
It’s the word: fear. They are full of fear. Or told to not be afraid. Fear.
It’s only 10 verses. But fear shows up four times. The primary emotion in Matthew’s resurrection story is fear.
In this moment of history, as we are experiencing the first global pandemic any of us have ever lived through, there is much fear.
Fear manifests itself in many ways.
- For some it has lead to a rash in hording: toilet paper and hand sanitizer being stockpiled in some houses and unavailable for others.
- Stores report record sales in guns and ammunition, showing that for some this had lead to fear of the other—fear that someone will try to steal from us or harm us.
- For most of us, it has lead to fear of the unknown. We have so many questions about our jobs, our livelihoods, our churches, our schools, our routines. What will our lives be like for the next week? The next month? The next year? Fear of the unknown future.
In my mind, the Easter story is the exact opposite of fear. Easter is about hope and renewal and joy. I don’t think the Easter story is about fear.
But this is the thing: we are called to read Scripture anew every day. To be continuously walking with God. To allow the Holy Spirit to show us the truth about who God is and how God is at work every day. We can’t assume that we know what God is doing because God is a person, one who cannot be controlled—the Bible describes God as a roaring lion and a mighty wind and raging fire. God is full of surprises.
And God surprised me through the Scriptures once again. God surprises us by showing us that the Easter story is full of fear. The Easter story is exactly where most of us are.
In this story we get to look at two main groups of people. And they are both the same. They are both filled with fear.
Now, they don’t look the same at first glance. The first group is a group who we don’t associate with fear. Back on Good Friday we read the story of Jesus in the tomb. In Matthew 27, we are told that the chief priests and Pharisees gathered before Pilate and asked that the tomb would be made secure so that no one could get in and steal Jesus’ body away. And Pilate responds to them in verse 65 and says: “You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can” (Matthew 27:65, NRSV).
So they do. They put brave, well trained soldiers on tomb duty. These are not men who are easily scared. If you’ve ever seen children’s books depicting the soldiers in front of the tomb, you know that they were big burly men with swords and body armor. Our Scripture doesn’t really give us all those details, but that’s what the Roman guard was like. Fear was not tolerated. They were trained to be brave. And strong. And yet all we know from Scripture is that they were afraid.
And then we also meet a second group of people who were the women. I imagine women in Jesus’ day were often afraid. Women didn’t have any power. If something happened to them, if someone committed a crime against them, they couldn’t even go to the court and seek justice because their word wasn’t considered valuable or truthful. Unless a man saw it and would testify for them, they had no legal recourse. So they were at the mercy of those who could and often would take advantage of them. Women often lived their whole lives in fear.
These two groups of people could not have been more different:
- Male verses female
- Citizens verses undocumented
- Soldiers verses civilians
- Strong verses weak
Everything about them appears to be different except for one little detail. They were both afraid.
But afraid of what? And how did the fear shape them? How did it control their actions?
Well, for the soldiers: when they saw the angel and the empty tomb, our Scripture tells us, they “became like dead men” (Matthew 28:4, NRSV). They were frozen. Unable to move. Unable to talk. Certainly unable to fight against an angel—not that there would have been any wisdom in that anyway. They simply lost their ability to function.
Sometimes this happens to us when we are afraid. Many people talk about fear creating in us a fight or flight mode, but often we don’t do either of these things. In all actually there is a third “f” that comes for many when we are afraid: Fight, Flight, or Freeze. The soldiers are frozen in fear.
The women, on the other hand, respond differently. The word that describes their fear is exactly the same word in Greek. They aren’t feeling anything different than the soldiers, the emotion is the same, but the reaction is different. The women, in their fear, find something else. The ability to keep moving. They go, verse 8 tells us. And they go with fear and also with joy.
So, what is different? Why do people who share the same emotion and respond to it so differently?
Well, I don’t really know. The Bible isn’t explicit about this. But prayerfully, I have a hunch. I think they respond differently because they are afraid of different things.
The soldiers are probably afraid of humankind. They are afraid of what will happen to them when their superiors find out Jesus is not in the tomb. They are afraid for their jobs and their livelihoods. They are so afraid of things on earth that they can’t even see the mystery in front of them—there is an angel, like lightening, standing in front of them and the guards don’t really notice. They simply know that their whole lives are about to change and they are afraid.
The women also know they their whole lives are about to change, but somehow, through the power of the Holy Spirit, their eyes are open. They see the angel and the angel talks with them, “Do not be afraid, I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified” (Matthew 28:5). Why do the women respond so differently? They are looking for Jesus. They have eyes to see what is right in front of them.
How about us? What are we looking for? What are we afraid of?
In this moment in history it is so easy to become focused on ourselves. As we practice physical distancing it is easy to also find ourselves practicing emotional and spiritual and relational distancing as well.
It is easy to find ourselves closing our eyes to the needs of those around us. Closing our eyes to the needs of the world. It is easy to turn inward and to only think about ourselves.
But when we do this, we become like the soldiers. We lose our ability to see beyond. We become frozen in fear, like dead men.
But the good news of the gospel is: God is in the business of bringing dead ones to life. God is in the business of bringing joy to fear. God is in the business of bringing the frozen to motion.
When we lift our eyes up from ourselves and out to see the one who has power to shake the earth earth, to tear the curtain between heaven and earth, to conquer death itself we find that even in our fear we can have joy.
Even in our fear we have hope for tomorrow. Even in our fear we can bow at Jesus’ feet and receive a new call to go out and proclaim the good news. Fear does not need to freeze us. We can find the strength to keep moving even in our fear for we can remember where true power lies. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus who is the author and perfecter of our faith.
On this Easter day, remember that there is nothing–nothing in all creation that will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!
Christ is Risen. Christ is risen, indeed. Alleluia, Amen.
Let us pray…