Emily Hartner * Holy Trinity Lutheran Church * April 16, 2017
“Faith Amid Fear”
So, one day, Jesus was strolling around Heaven, while St. Peter was checking people in at the pearly gates. Jesus wandered on over to Peter, who was getting a little tired and in need of a break. Peter asked if Jesus would take his place for a while, and of course Jesus agreed. Well before too long an old man arrived at the gates. Jesus greeted him and then asked him what he did while he was on earth. “Well,” said the old man, “I worked with wood. I was a carpenter.” And then: “Hey, have you seen my son? He has nails in his hands?” Jesus’ heart sank. He looked at the old man and then whispered, “Father?” The old man lifted his head, Looked right into the eyes of the man before him, rather quizzically, studying his face. “Pinocchio??”
Well, here we are. The day when we declare that Jesus is risen and when we celebrate the triumph of life over death. I know this joke of Pinocchio’s Geppetto is just that–a joke–but I wonder if doesn’t speak to how confusing this resurrection business can sometimes be. What is it that we expect when we think of resurrection? Our lips are quick to proclaim Jesus is alive, but it’s really not as simple as that. At least not in the here-and-now.
One three-year-old girl has pointed out this complexity, in her video of questions about Easter that has circulated the internet this week. Why, she wonders, do we eat so much chocolate at Easter? The country is gripped by obesity, the little girl points out, and we give children more chocolate than they can eat. And she’s right: Did you know that over 90 million chocolate Easter bunnies are made each year. She also wonders: Were the Easter Bunny and Jesus best pals? What’s Jesus’ favorite kind of chocolate? Is the Easter Bunny in the Bible carrying his basket all the time?
And, perhaps the most confusing detail about Easter: bunnies don’t even lay eggs.I confess that I don’t think I’ve ever pondered the relationship, or lack thereof, between bunnies and eggs until this year.
Now, if it were the women at the empty tomb asking questions about Easter, I’d think they’d ask this one: Why is the day of resurrection so fraught with fear? Because it is, at least in Matthew’s version. Twice in these ten verses the women who arrive at the empty tomb were told not to be afraid. Why? Isn’t this supposed to be the most joyful day in the history of, well, the history of the world?
Well, let’s consider the facts. There’s an earthquake that has rattled the ground, and probably sent waves of butterflies through the stomachs of all who were there. That in itself would have been enough to scare the daylights out of me. Then, an angel in bright clothing descends and rolls the stone away from the tomb. We tend to think of angels as cute, chubby babies with their hair in bows, but this is never how the Bible depicts them.
The word sometimes used for angels–seraphim–actually means fiery serpent–terrifying, if you ask me. The guards as so scared that they shake and black out. And then in the midst of what would turn even the bravest among us into cowardly lions, the angel tells the women not to be afraid. Really, angel? Easier said than done. I mean, we may not necessarily be dealing with earthquakes or fiery serpents that roll away stones in front of tombs and sit on them, but we do have to deal with the news of the day and current events, and well, that’s perhaps as frightening, if not more.
And then, as if that weren’t enough, the women find that the tomb is empty. It’s easy to think that the stone is rolled away so that the resurrected Jesus might walk out, but nope, that’s not the case. The angel rolls away the stone to show the women that the tomb is empty. I know that’s supposed to be good news–and it is. We are so right in declaring Christ as risen. But we can’t forget that we have 2000 years of history of telling the story to lessen its shock value. If you put yourself in the shoes of those women, however, you realize that dead bodies don’t just go disappearing. They don’t walk through sealed, stone tombs. Once again I wonder what that angel was thinking when he told them not to be afraid.
Resurrection is, itself, a very frightening discovery.
And for us, today, what it means–or can mean–is walking out of our own tombs or out from behind the stones that have kept us hidden for so long. We know it’s what’s best for us and the right thing to do, but that doesn’t make it any less scary. To summarize it in one word? CHANGE
Do not be afraid? Ha!
I really just don’t see how that’s possible, and if the angel had to tell the women twice not to be afraid, I have to wonder if it’s not okay for us to retain a little bit of fear even in the midst of resurrection. That in itself could be the good news of Easter, for it says we don’t have to pretend not to be afraid. It acknowledges that there are very valid reasons to be scared, and that fear is a very reasonable response sometimes. But it also says that God can take it, and that God’s work, thank God, does not depend on how we feel about it. If that were the case, and God were worried about scaring us, Jesus would have remained dead in the tomb, leaving us to suffer in our own misery. Talk about scary!
All of this is to say that it’s easy to sugarcoat the good news with a triumphant “Christ is risen!” It’s especially easy on a day adorned with pastel colors, bunnies and eggs as signs of life, flowers, and more chocolate that we can ever eat. But when we’ve eaten all the chocolate, when the flowers have wilted, when we’ve put away the eggs and bunnies,the pastel colors have tarnished, we learn quickly that resurrection is much more complicated than that. I wonder if it’s not more like a gentle nudge to continue forward despite our fears. I wonder if it’s the courage, as the author Wendell Berry suggests, to “be joyful though you have considered all the facts.” That’s resurrection. It’s not ignoring the reality in which we live or belittling our fears. It’s stepping off the platform, knowing that you’re tethered to God in this zipline called life. And then, once the fears have subsided just a bit, it’s delighting in being tethered to God, running with the women from the tomb to share the good news.
It’s complicated, this resurrection business. But if it weren’t complicated, we’d have no reason for it. It’s supposed to challenge us, to make us think, to en-courage us–that is, to give us courage. It’s supposed to make us joyful though we have considered all the facts.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill died in 1965. He planned his own funeral, which took place in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. At the end of the service, a single trumpeter stood at the west end of the cathedral to play “Taps,” that familiar song that signals dusk and is often played at the end of a military funeral. “Day is done.Gone the sun from the lakes, from the hills, from the sky. All is well.Safely rest. God is nigh.” After the last note evaporated into the air and a moment of silence, another trumpeter, at the east end of the cathedral, the side facing the rising sun, played “Reveille,” the song that signals dawn and the beginning of a new day. “It’s time to get up. It’s time to get up. It’s time to get up in the morning.”
Christ is risen! (He is risen, indeed. Alleluia) Jesus’ resurrection calls us from our sleep and our fears, and allows us to take one bold step after another, even though we have considered all the facts. We know, we who are Easter people, that we are tethered to God, and to resurrection, and to life forever and it’s our job to give witness to that truth always. Amen.