Pastor John Kerr
Easter Sunday, April 12, 2020
Theme: “Don’t Be Afraid” Text: Matthew 28:1-10
This year Easter is different than any before in my entire ministry. Because of the coronavirus, health care workers are exhausted from shifts in emergency rooms, intensive care units and makeshift hospitals. People are waking up at night fearful about not being able to pay the rent. Others are experiencing unrelenting coughs, having shortness of breath and flu-like symptoms. We hear of grieving families who can’t be with their loved ones in the hospital, and we pastors can’t be with our congregations to participate in the Easter pageantry of worship.
An editor of Sojourners magazine asked a Palestinian Christian how we can celebrate Easter without going to church. She said, “We get to celebrate Easter like the first disciples did with no church, no priests, no pastors, no fancy worship services—just the good news that Jesus had risen from the dead. Now, go and tell it as fast as you can!”
Jesus was dead. That was hard for the early followers of Jesus to say and harder to believe. There are some people so important to you and to so many people that you can’t imagine their dying. As a child, I couldn’t imagine my mother, father, brother, or sister dying. They shouldn’t die and leave me alone. Jesus was that kind of person.
It was hard to imagine life going on without him. He didn’t gossip or turn his back on anybody. He was gentle, caring and helpful to everybody. He made no distinctions whether you were rich or poor, educated or not, and he didn’t want anybody to be forgotten. It was almost impossible to imagine the world without Jesus.
Some of us die and there is little notice of it. We poke around and do so little and somebody one day says, “She died.” “He died.” “Oh? How did you know that?” You couldn’t tell the difference between when they were alive and when they were gone. No difference. But with Jesus you could tell. It was difficult to believe Jesus died. It was easier to deny it.
Early in the life of the church, stories circulated that Jesus never really died. One story said that when Jesus was carrying his cross and fell to the ground beneath the cross, they took from the crowd a man named Simon of Cyrene and he carried the cross. When they reached the place of crucifixion, the Roman soldiers didn’t know one Jew from another and crucified Simon and Jesus never died. Another story said that on the cross Jesus fainted and the authorities thought he was dead, they buried him and he came to in the tomb.
The fact is he died. You can ask his mother. “Yes, he died.” Ask the soldiers at the cross. “Yes, he died. We were on crucifixion detail. He was dead.” Don’t ask his followers. They all abandoned him and ran. After all the time they spent with him when he was popular, but in his hour of crisis, they deserted him, nowhere to be found. But ask the women from Galilee. They were there when they crucified him. They watched everything.
Especially two women mentioned by Matthew in his gospel—Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph. They go to the cemetery after everybody’s gone. At the tomb they are surprised to see a detachment of Roman soldiers there, and they wonder what they are doing guarding a dead man as though they were guarding a crime scene. They ask the guards, “Why are you doing this? He’s dead.” One of the guards said, “We’ve been told that some of his followers might come out here at night and try to steal his body and go into town and say, ‘He’s alive.’ But we’re not going to let that happen. By the way, what are you women doing here?” “Well, we’re friends of the deceased.”
That was a good question. Why do you go back to the cemetery? You’re not sure. To get away from people. To be alone with your thoughts. To rehearse what happened and see if you can understand it all and get a little closure to his terrible thing.
While the women were there, something extraordinary happened. The four gospel writers describe it in different ways. How do you describe a life-changing experience that you can’t describe? They did it in
supernatural terms—an earthquake, a divine revelation, a messenger saying, “He, gone. He’s risen as he said. Look in the grave.” They look. “Now go and tell his disciples.” Then they run from the tomb. Matthew says that on their way into town the two women met Jesus and he said to them, “Go and tell my followers that I’ll meet them in Galilee.” And the women did as he said.
Permit me to point out a couple of things Matthew says in this brief account. He says that the ones who experience the risen Christ are the ones who were there for the funeral. They didn’t skip from the Palm Sunday parade to Easter morning. There was his last meal and his last hours and these women were there. They watched him die and be buried and then they came back.
Their lives were changed. The cross was not the end for Jesus. In Jesus they saw a life and a presence of God in his life that couldn’t be destroyed. And also notice something else that Matthew says. When the women were on their way to town, they met Jesus and worshipped him and heard him say, “Get along now and go on your mission.” When did they meet Jesus and experience him? They experienced him while they were doing what they had been told to do. While they were doing Jesus’ work, they had this experience.
People have asked me, “Do you have a book or video or something that will help me have a more spiritual experience of Jesus?” I don’t have a book, video or article for you, but I do have an assignment for you—do something for somebody. In the process of doing something, doing things Jesus did, and carrying on what he did, you will have some marvelous life-changing experiences.
Talk with people who visit the homebound or visit those who are hurting, and they will tell you that that time spent with them was more like Sunday that Sunday is. Talk with members who take meals to individuals confined to home and they will tell you, “That experience was more Sunday than Sunday. Talk with those who help at the local food pantry, and they’ll tell you, “Some days when we hand out peanut butter and bread, and cans of fruit and vegetables, it’s more Sunday than Sunday.” No book is going to do that. Doing it is going to do that. It was in the doing of what Jesus wanted done that the women experienced Jesus.
Twice it was said the these two women, “Don’t be afraid,” “Don’t be afraid.” I don’t know if those words worked or not. It’s easy to say, “Don’t be afraid.” Do you remember when those words started? Shepherds were watching their flocks and were told, “Don’t be afraid. I have good news of great joy for everyone.” Do you remember Mary in Nazareth was told, “Don’t be afraid, God has chosen you”? Do you remember Joseph was told in a dream, “Don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife”? It started with “Don’t be afraid,” and it ends here with “Don’t be afraid.”
Fear is the opposite of faith. Why didn’t you go out for the play? I was afraid I wouldn’t get a part. Why did you lie to your parents? I was afraid I’d be punished. Why were you so jealous? I was afraid of losing her love. Why do you cling so tightly to your money? I am afraid of uncertainty.
Fear is an enemy of all that we are and do. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to live and love and learn and laugh. Don’t be afraid to give and serve and help and care for. Don’t be afraid to speak about your experience with Jesus. Don’t be afraid to be hospitable and take into your circle of friends those who are on the short end of things. Don’t be afraid to take part in conquering evil, injustice, suffering and pain in the world.
That’s what Jesus did. It’s life changing. In doing it, you’ll experience Jesus. Jesus said, “I’ll be with you always, in all you say and do, to the end of the world.”
That’s the message of Easter. Have a joyous Easter!