The Resurrection of Our Lord - 4/12/2020
Reading: Matthew 28:1-10
The Word That Tempers All Our Fears With Joy
Understanding the True Message of Easter in Times of Fear: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!
With these powerful words, we have traditionally greeted each other every Easter, filled with enthusiasm and joy. However, in the midst of the current global situation, can we still embrace this ancient confession with the same fervor? As we find ourselves isolated in self-quarantine, motivated by government mandates and our own desire to protect our loved ones from the Covid-19 virus, the usual exuberant exchange of "He is risen!" seems distant. The absence of gathering, the inability to sing "Jesus Christ is Risen Today!" together, and the absence of joyful Easter egg hunts paint a bleak picture. It's hard to perceive any goodness or positive aspect in this situation.
At the heart of this unfortunate state of affairs lies pure fear. Undoubtedly, the sickness and death caused by the virus are devastating, and it is crucial to take necessary precautions to protect the vulnerable. However, what is more alarming is the overwhelming paranoia that has accompanied this pandemic. In my lifetime, I have never witnessed such a widespread reaction. The media, government, medical professionals, and ordinary citizens alike have treated this virus as an unconquerable, monstrous threat. Unfortunately, many of our efforts to combat it might prove to be more damaging than the disease itself.
Recently, I overheard a woman lament, "Covid-19 has prevented me from celebrating Easter!" Is the message of Easter truly so feeble that it cannot transcend the noise of sickness, death, social distancing, and stay-at-home orders? Has it lost its power to bring joy and hope to our lives and the world?
Regrettably, the true essence of Easter seems to have been lost on many. Its message should alleviate all our fears. The evidence of this loss is apparent in our society. People from all walks of life, regardless of education, wealth, or social status, are living in absolute fear. They cry out, "America is doomed! All is lost! Our lives will never be the same! This is the end!"
What is truly remarkable about Matthew's account of Jesus' resurrection is its direct addressal of the fears that grip our hearts. It mentions fear twice: first, the fear of the soldiers guarding the tomb, and second, the fear experienced by the women who witnessed the empty tomb and encountered the risen Jesus Himself. Strikingly, both instances of fear are met with a command: "Stop being afraid."
Of course, it's easy to say, "Stop being afraid!" But when someone tells us that, our instinctual response is often, "You think I enjoy being afraid? If only it were that simple to overcome fear!" The text acknowledges that mere words cannot silence our fears. However, when those words come from the mouth of God, it's an entirely different story. When God's command is spoken—whether through His holy angel or from the mouth of the risen Son of God—the command itself has the power to accomplish what it declares, just as Jesus commanded the wind and the waves, and they obeyed.
Nevertheless, the command to "stop being afraid" is not the only thing the Lord offers. It is followed swiftly by the good news that can genuinely calm and conquer all fears. The angel declares to the women, "He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where He lay."
But what about the soldiers assigned to guard the tomb? One can't help but feel a tinge of sympathy for them. No fear-dispelling words are spoken to them. They found themselves in an unenviable position, caught between a rock and a hard place (pun intended). They were under strict orders from Pilate, the Roman Governor, to secure the tomb—a rock-hewn structure sealed shut by a massive circular stone slab. The political stability of Jerusalem and Judea relied on their success. The Jewish Sanhedrin had warned Pilate that the tomb must remain impenetrable, as Jesus' zealous disciples might attempt to steal His body and falsely claim His resurrection. Failure to fulfill their duty would have dire consequences.
Already on edge due to their responsibility, their situation escalated further on Sunday morning. An earthquake suddenly shook the ground, and a radiant, angelic being appeared, rolling away the heavy stone door with great power, exposing the empty tomb. The body of Jesus was gone! Overwhelmed by shock and awe, these professional soldiers were paralyzed with absolute fear. However, no words of comfort were offered to them. The angel left them, and they fled in terror. As Matthew later recounts, the soldiers, still gripped by fear, sought assistance from the highest Jewish authorities—the high priests—in concocting a cover story: Jesus' disciples had overpowered them and stolen His body. One can only imagine how Pilate received such an absurd excuse from supposedly elite soldiers.
On the other hand, the women, astonished and fearful upon seeing the open tomb and encountering the glorious angel of the Lord, received the good news swiftly. They were assured that Jesus was no longer dead but alive, fulfilling His promise of resurrection. They were reminded that this news should not have surprised them, as Jesus had foretold His arrest, death, and resurrection. Jesus had kept His Word. Moreover, the angel directed them to examine the evidence with their own eyes—the unmistakable proof that Jesus' body was gone. He had left the tomb by His own power. What reason was there left to fear? In fact, the angel informed them that the living Jesus had a mission for them—to quickly inform His disciples of His resurrection and His plan to meet them in Galilee.
The women promptly left the tomb, their fear still present but now accompanied by profound joy. Is it possible for fear and joy to coexist in one's heart? Absolutely! Just as fear of God and love for God can simultaneously reside in our hearts, fear of harm and joy in Christ's victory over all that threatens us can and should coexist. A heart that does not genuinely fear the enemies of sin, death, and the devil cannot experience true joy in the triumph of the crucified and risen Jesus over them on our behalf.
For instance, an individual who completely disregards the fear of death might recklessly endanger themselves and others. As Jesus responded to the devil's temptation, "Do not test the Lord Your God." On the other hand, a person who possesses a healthy fear of death, combined with the assurance provided by Jesus' resurrection, will hold a respectful regard for death. Such an individual will take appropriate measures to protect themselves and others without succumbing to paralyzing fear. They won't abandon their friends in moments of danger just to save themselves.
The good news of Jesus' resurrection had the power to quell all the fears of the women. No longer driven by fear alone, they could continue to serve Him with great joy, regardless of the challenges they faced. As they made their way to report to Jesus' apostles, they encountered Jesus Himself in His risen flesh. He greeted them, saying, "Stop being afraid." Unlike the angel's visit, Jesus' presence did not necessitate assurance through spoken words. His very existence with them was the embodiment of the Good News. They could see Him, hear Him, and even touch Him—the Word made flesh. Every fear within them retreated to the deepest recesses of their hearts.
Dear friends, who have placed their faith in Christ through baptism, this is the essence of Easter. Easter is not confined to a gathering of people within a physical building. It is not limited to times when everything goes smoothly according to our desires. Easter is not hindered by pandemics, job losses, illnesses, or tragedies.
Easter disrupts the world with the overwhelming joy of Jesus' resurrection from the dead. The proclamation that Jesus is risen possesses the power to silence and conquer all fears, annihilating every force opposing truth and life in Jesus Christ.
Easter beckons us to "stop being afraid" because the crucified Christ, who bore our sins, is alive and assures us—as the apostles declared—"Christ was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification" (Romans 4:25). Similarly, we read, "God raised Him on the third day; everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name" (Acts 10:40, 43).
Easter guarantees that, in Christ, we possess the saving truth. Jesus' resurrection verifies His divine nature and affirms that His Word alone is the truth that leads us to eternal life. As the angel proclaimed, "He has risen as He said." Scripture attests to this: Jesus was "declared with power to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:4). As the only one with power over death, Jesus has no reason to deceive us. In the face of our fears, Jesus' resurrection ensures that we will stand alongside Him in eternity, declaring, "Surely this is our God. We trusted in Him, and He saved us. Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation" (Isaiah 25:9). He is risen!