Easter 2014: Do not be afraid!

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!)

With those wonderful words we began the feast of Easter and Easter season. Happy Easter!

Before Easter was Christmas and Lent and Holy Week, and oh, the plans we had to be with Jesus!
We welcomed him in the manger, in a cradle.
We were suspicious when he taught us scripture in the synagogue. “Who does he think he is?” we thought.
A little later, we were sure that we could leave our lives for him and follow him anywhere …
Then we thought that Lent is only forty days and surely we could spend some time with Jesus and give up cake and sweets …
And then we didn’t.

Somewhere along the way we all left Jesus. Young, old, children, teens, in ancient times or now, disciples, rappers, rock stars, and everyday people. We left Jesus. Some of us left at Christmas. What kind of a Savior would show up as a baby?

Some of us left when Jesus challenged us too much. There’s no way we could give that much of ourselves to the wanderings of a carpenter from Nazareth.

Some of us left Jesus in the garden
Or at the cross
Or after we rolled the stone over the tomb, putting away forever the dead body of an insignificant, sandal-footed, self-proclaimed Messiah from Galilee. There are lots of those types around these days, anyway. Good bye, Jesus.

And then there was silence. In the backdrop of everything that you did yesterday, there was the silence of Jesus in the tomb, of God doing whatever God was doing. It felt like Jesus left us. We saw him die, we saw the stone, and we couldn’t hear him. Jesus left us. (Have you ever felt like that? …)

And then what happened? Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb, and then it happens …

There is an earthquake! An angel with an appearance like lightning, his clothing white as snow. That’s the entrance of God! THAT’s the sign that we need – right?

What happens when God showed up like that? We are afraid, terrified. What is happening. Even the guards shook, became like dead men.

The angel speaks: do not be afraid.
Come and see
Then go and tell.
He is going ahead of you, and there you will see him.

The Marys leave with great fear and joy – is it true? Will we see Jesus?

Jesus shows up, suddenly meeting them. We grab onto Jesus – he is risen! Again:
Do not be afraid.

Jesus does not always show up with an earthquake and an angel, with the color and brightness of lightning. But Jesus always shows up; sometimes, when we don’t expect it.
We expected an empty tomb. We get that, and so much more – Jesus, speaking to us, coming to us when we make the tiniest effort to be with Him.

Do not be afraid.
In a moment, Mary and Mary are with Jesus. His disciples will see him soon. He is risen; he is alive, and so are we.

Sometimes we are just like our early disciple friends. We go to church, a gathering, a tomb, and expect to find death: the death of faith, the death of hope; all is lost. Sometimes God comes to us in great magnificence. That’s what I want, every time. Usually though, the voice is quieter. “Mary.” He knows our names! “Mary.”

Do not be afraid. I will never leave you. I will show up – everywhere.

On Easter day, and on whatever sweet moment we recognize Jesus in front of us, we are home.
Even if we left Jesus a long time ago.
Even if it feels like Jesus isn’t with you today.
Especially when we are bowled over with joy.
Especially when we are driven to our knees in sorrow, loss, or fear.
While you sorrow, we will pray for you. When you cannot pray, we will be praying.
When you rejoice, we will rejoice with you. When you know the awe of recognizing Jesus again, we will join in that mystery and miracle.

In some very particular way, my prayer is that you hear Jesus calling your name: precious child, I never left you.
Precious child, I adore you.
Precious child, I love you and will never leave you.

That sandal-footed self-proclaimed Messiah? Really is God’s Son. He looks like you, and he looks like me. That’s a savior in whom I can believe. You know the one: the one who cried out in the garden just a few days ago, who wished what was about to happen wouldn’t, who knows every pain that we might ever encounter. That’s the one who saves us. The humanity of Jesus saves our own; in His divinity, we are saved.

Now I have a practical question for everyone:

Was it easy to get here today? Look at your neighbor – go ahead, take a look – and decide who had a harder time getting here this morning. Did anyone have to dress a toddler? You know, those little ones who strip off their clothes as fast as you can button and zip and straighten and turn around. Does anyone have pain? Bending and pulling on socks and working painful joints around small buttons can be very difficult tasks. Some of our struggles aren’t so obvious: maybe we would rather have pulled the covers over our heads and stayed there, for lots of reasons. We all had a particular difficulty in getting here today. And I have good news:

You were not alone. Everyone had an obstacle to getting here today. Who had it worst?

(I think it was Jesus.)

There was the trial, the beating, the hanging. Then there was that stone, and the part about being dead, and the silence and the waiting on Saturday. How does one “get resurrected,” anyway? We don’t know.

What we do know is that Jesus rose from the dead. Mary’s life was made new when she experienced the miracle, not of a rolled away and (almost) empty tomb, but of the risen Lord.

I mention an “almost empty tomb” because the tomb is not quite empty. In it are the burial garments of our old life. Today we step out of that life and into a new one, and in this new life Jesus knows us and calls us by name. We know Jesus, too. We know Jesus even when we do not recognize Him. He searches us out, FIND US, talks to us, loves us, and frees us from the darkest parts of our life. No matter how many times we leave Jesus, he waits for us to find him. He will always come back into our lives.

Jesus is inviting us to a deeper faith. He has given us commandments: to love one another as he has loved us; to serve others in a posture of deep humility; to remember him in the breaking of the bread; to go and tell the world about the good news of our risen Lord. Jesus has transformed the empty tomb into the place where our old life is shed and where angels speak. One and all, welcome home. Alleluia! Alleluia!

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