Sermon for Easter Day

Text: Matthew 28:5
The angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead.

 

Don’t be afraid

“Don’t be afraid! We hear those words repeated a number of times that first Easter Day. 
“Don’t be afraid”, the angel said to the women at the tomb. 
“Don’t be afraid”, Jesus said to the women when they were hurrying back to the disciples and met Jesus on the way.
The disciples are afraid and this is heightened when later in the day Jesus suddenly appears right there in front of them.  Immediately Jesus calms them with a soothing, “Peace be with you!”  In today’s language, Jesus might put is like this,
“Listen fellas, it’s okay.  Keep calm!  Settle down! There’s nothing to worry about!”

When was the last time someone said to you “Shh.  It’s all right”?  Maybe when you were a child and you were really afraid of something, a parent or grandparent held you close, stroked your hair, wiped away your tears and in their warm embrace, you heard them say, “Now, now. There’s nothing to be afraid of”.  And that would fix everything.  You believed it and felt safe.  You calmed down and enjoyed the moment of that safe embrace. 

But that was a long time ago for most of us.  We have grown up since then and as adults, things have become a lot more complex and words of reassurance are harder to come by and harder to trust.  We have become creatures of reason and explanations.  When there are no explanations and we’re looking for answers, it’s harder to be comforted with simple words like, “Don’t be afraid!”  We want more than that.  We want explanations not just soothing words. Even if as adults we have experienced comforting words and a warm assuring embrace, the questions still come back and we want a reasonable answer to calm our fears.

Life constantly gives us plenty of reasons to be afraid. We know how the world works so we become suspicious even when we are told not to be afraid. 
Like when we hear the captain on a plane say,
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are experiencing an unusual amount of turbulence on our flight today, but you can be assured there is no reason for concern.”
Our response to that might be,
“Yes I had noticed that there was some turbulence and I wasn’t worried but now, that announcement of reassurance has got me thinking.  I wonder why the pilot felt the need to tell us that?”  And with that, a little bit of fear creeps into our minds.

There are so many times when fear takes a grip on our lives and when it does, it often catches us unprepared.  It might be something as simple as hearing that someone our age, who maybe fitter and healthier than we are, is suddenly diagnosed with an illness that will shorten his/her life, and we can’t help but ask that fear filled question, “That could be me – what would I do if I was faced with a death sentence like that?” 

As a pastor, I’ve spent a lot of time with those who are ill and dying and with their families.  As much as I would like to say by my own authority words of reassurance and comfort, “Don’t be afraid, don’t worry – all this will go away”, I can’t.  On my own, I can’t say, “I promise everything will be okay”.

I’m not alone in this. 
Some doctors might like to think they are masters of their particular area of medicine but they can’t say, “Don’t be afraid” and do so with any authority.  There is always an element of uncertainty.  There are always things that can happen unexpectedly.  There is room for fear to fill our hearts, and even the surgeon’s heart, before going into any kind of surgery or treatment.

When angels speak with the authority of God and when Jesus himself says, “Don’t be afraid” that’s another thing.  When these words are spoken, they don’t mean that everything will turn out perfect for us – that nothing can go wrong.  We know that while we are on this earth, things will always happen that will frighten us and challenge our confidence.  We know that even though Jesus calmed his disciples with those words, “Don’t be afraid” they still faced terrible suffering and persecution and even death.  However, Jesus words of comfort did make a difference. It changed the way the disciples faced these things. 

When the disciples accepted and believed those simple words, “Don’t be afraid” or “Peace be with you”, they accepted and believed them to be powerful words of the always-present, reassuring, powerful risen Jesus, that can really make a difference in the face of those things that terrify or sadden us.  These words came from the one and only person who has the authority to give this kind of assurance. 

There is only one person who can offer strength, comfort, security, hope and confidence in all the uncertainties and troubles that we have in this world, even in the face of the greatest fear of all – death, and that person is the one who has risen from the dead and walks with us on our journey through life. 

If we, as Christians, offer words of strength, of comfort, of assurance, to another person, we must offer them as messengers from a source greater than ourselves.  If I, as a pastor, offer words of comfort and reassurance, they cannot be my words.  I can only speak the words of the one who has the authority and power over evil and death.

We say to those who are fearful, “Don’t be afraid” because Jesus has them in his embrace and will hold them close during their time of trouble. It is the risen Christ who says, “I will be with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). It is Jesus who said, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me” (John 14:1).
“Don't be afraid! I am the first and the last. I am the living one! I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. I have authority over death and the world of the dead” (Revelation 1:18)

“Don’t be afraid.  Don’t worry.  Trust me”, Jesus is saying. “I know you and I know everything that is happening to you and I will walk beside you always and with my help and strength you will be able to endure it all.” 
It’s with this kind of confidence that Paul was able to say in the face of all the adversity that he faced as a follower of Christ, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).
In another place, he lists all the things that might frighten him, even the devil and death itself, and then states boldly that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

When it comes to our sin and the guilt that goes with it, Jesus also says to us, “Don’t be afraid”. He has conquered the power of sin to put us down and overwhelm us.  Even when our guilt is overpowering and death scares us, Jesus says, “I will never forget you … I have written your name on the palm of my hands” (Isaiah 49:15b-16).

All this is saying that Easter has a flow on effect into our daily lives.  There is a morning prayer that is attributed to St Patrick of Ireland that helps us appreciate this.  It goes like this.

May Christ shield me today.
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit,
Christ when I stand,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me. Amen.

This prayer is absolute nonsense without Easter.  If Christ had not risen from the dead and if he were not living today as our Lord and Saviour, this prayer is nothing but useless words spoken into the wind. 

Jesus is alive – risen from the dead and glorified.  Since his resurrection and ascension, he is now powerfully present with us whenever and wherever we might be and whatever might be happening in our lives.
Christ in us, behind us, before us, beneath us, above us – as the prayer says. 
He is present to guide and shield us and save us from all evil.
He is right beside when we feel vulnerable and afraid.
He is with us when we are depressed.
He is present comforting and supporting us in sickness, old age and at our dying moment.
As the prayer says – Christ is on our right and on our left; when we lie down and sit and stand.
He is with us in the people who care for us and love us and help us.
Christ is in the heart of everyone who reaches out to us when we need his presence.

Easter tells us that Jesus is alive and his presence affects us profoundly;
it changes the way we view the highs and lows of life;
it affects the way we view sin and sickness and death;
it transforms our thinking about how we are able to cope with the things life throws our way because we no longer we think of ourselves as standing alone against all kinds of trouble;
the living Christ is
with me, before me, behind me, beneath me, above me.

There may be times in our lives when we don’t feel Christ’s closeness, but there is absolutely no time when he is not right there with us and in us.  There is nothing that can happen in a day when Christ will not be there to help us through the day.  The living Christ changes our world.

Jesus says to you and me, “Don’t be afraid”.  The same living Lord who gave his fearful disciples strength and assurance through his presence, does the same thing for us today.

To use St Patrick’s words, Christ is the eye that sees your every need and watches over you and he is the ear that hears your every groan and sigh and prayer.  Christ gives you the strength of heaven when trouble, sickness and death scare the living daylights out of you.  Wherever you lie down – on your bed at home, in a hospital bed, or even in the grave – the powerful living presence of Christ will never leave you.

This is the joy of Easter.  This is the real celebration today.  Jesus Christ is risen today and he is really present in everything that happens in our lives.  We pray that this might become an ever-greater reality in our lives and that we might have an ever-greater trust in him when he says to us, “Don’t be afraid”.

 

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
16th April 2017
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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