Grace and peace to you on this Lord’s day, in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
True story. A United Methodist pastor was asked to conduct a graveside service for a member of his church. The only problem was, the cemetery was more than an hour and a half away from the church. The pastor wasn’t feeling well so he decided to ride with the Funeral Director in the Coach.
By the time they arrived at the cemetery, the flu had invaded completely. Feverish and sick, he made it through the service, but he was starting to look like most flu victims, like death warmed over.
As they headed back home, the funeral director suggested the pastor stretch out in the back of the coach. It had curtains and nobody would see him. The pastor thought it was a good idea and promptly fell asleep.
He awoke when the vehicle stopped. Taking a few minutes to fully awaken, he slowly sat up and drew the side curtain to see where he was. He was face to face with a gas station attendant, who was surprised and shocked to see a body in the back of the hearse staring back at him.
With all the color drained out of him and his eyes as wide as saucers, the gas pump flew into the air, and the attendant ran on shaky legs back into the gas station, while the funeral director tried to catch up to explain the whole situation.
I’m pretty sure that’s how the women who came to the empty tomb that first Easter morning must have felt. They had to have run on shaky legs back to the Disciples, their hearts pounding with both shock and excitement.
Twice during the gospel this morning, the words, “Do not be afraid” are uttered. It was a message the people closest to Jesus needed to hear on that first Easter morning when they came face to face with him after he rose from the dead – and it is a message we need to hear today. Do not be afraid.
This week, as some pastor friends and I were thinking about that together via a message board on facebook, people started listing things that caused them fear. Within minutes, a long list had begun of people sharing their fears, including:
Danger befalling our children
The leadership of our nation
Never being truly happy
Not having enough money to pay the bills
And so many more. People know how to name their fears. We get to know our fears so well, we carry them around with us all the time. Heaven knows we’ve each probably brought them right in here with us this morning as they linger somewhere in our thoughts filed away between the “alleluias” and thinking about what might be on the menu for brunch today.
And yet, Jesus’ message for his followers on the first Easter morning, and for his followers this Easter morning (that’s us!) – is do not be afraid.
Seems like a tall order to me.
After all, we’ve been carrying around our fears for a long time. We know them so well. Unfortunately, I often feel much closer to my fears than I feel to God. How, how, how do we not be afraid when there is so much to fear?
When my boys were little especially, and even now sometimes, I would have to laugh because I could be holding three bags of groceries, two coats, my purse, and balancing a pile of books on my heads and my boys would still ask me to hold the one small thing they were sick of carrying. “Here mom, hold this.” I would say, “what am I, your Sherpa?” But to them, all they knew was that I was there for them. I’m so glad they know that– that I’ll help them however I can, that I’ll listen to the small and big things, that I’m here no matter what – when they are the champion of the day, or if they mess up big time, I’m here – loving them through it all. We all need that – no matter how old we are – to know we have someone to lean on always.
And so…“Do not fear,” Jesus says to us this brilliant Easter morning. “I’ll help you carry that load.” “Do not fear,” he says – are you sick of carrying around that burden? Leave it with me. Do not fear, Jesus whispers – has the way been hard and your destination is unclear? Rest with me a while. I’ll give you strength for the journey. I love you, I love you, I love you – just as you are. No matter what. Do not fear. This is the message for you today and every day. This is the beautiful message of Easter. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.