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.”
Before Easter all the disciples had one thing in common – they were frightened. They were frightened of storms, hunger, the Romans, the Pharisees, and even each other. Fear dominated their lives. Before Easter, the disciples were a bunch of clumsy, unenthusiastic followers. Their lives were distinguished more by their fear than their faith. Before Easter, Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fishes because the disciples were afraid that there wouldn’t be enough to eat. Before Easter, Jesus calmed the storm and the waves because the disciples were afraid that their boat might be swamped. Before Easter, Peter denied his Lord three times, because he was afraid of the consequences of being associated with Jesus.
But after Easter, after Easter – they were transformed. After Easter, this same group of followers became so empowered and inspired that they spread the good news about Jesus from Africa to Rome and beyond. After Easter, they wrote, traveled, preached, taught and took on huge hardships. These same frightened, timid, disciples who ran and hid for fear of the Romans became people willing to suffer beatings crucifixion, stoning, imprisonment, and many other horrors. And the only thing that separates these before and after images are the events of this morning. The only thing that transformed them is what happened on this day. Upon first glance, it may seem hard to believe in the resurrection, in the empty tomb and the risen Christ, but not when you see the before and the after.
Do you know my favorite part of the Easter story? It isn’t the empty tomb, or the sight of the risen Christ. No, my favorite part of the Easter story is what Jesus says to his friends after he encounters them at the tomb. “Do not be afraid” – he tells them. Do not be afraid. This isn’t a command like – do not kill. Rather, it is more like what I said to my children when they were little when they woke up frightened at two in the morning because of a bad dream or strange noises in the night. I didn’t order them not to be afraid. In fact, I knew I couldn’t take away their fear. Instead, I held them, and I comforted them, and I tried to assure them that although they were afraid, they were not alone, I was with them. The risen Christ promises us the same. Do not be afraid Jesus says from the other side of the grave, for I am with you and you are not alone.
He is Risen!
Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(Book of Common Prayer)
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