Easter Vigil Sermon
REV. JENNIFER ADAMS – April 24, 2011 – Sermon Easter Vigil
A couple of weeks ago, our Diocesan Convention speaker, Mark Bazoutti-Jones told those of us in attendance that the phrase ‘Do not be afraid’ or a sentiment of similar meaning appears in the Bible over 300 times. Now I need to contact a Biblical scholar or two and get their takes on what that means about where that phrase falls in the rankings of “most common phrases in all of Scripture,” but you gotta bet that numbering over 300, puts “do not be afraid” near the very top. So “Do not fear” is one of the most common phrase running throughout the story of salvation history. In fact, in the mere eleven verses we just heard from the gospel of Matthew “Do not be afraid” is in there twice.
Which is funny really, because I expect “be not afraid” to precede the kinds of things we’ve faced throughout the season of Lent when we took on things like the wilderness, various forms of loss, our own need for healing, foot washing (scary for some), trial, betrayal, denial, crucifixion, death and darkness. Those are very obviously scary sorts of things and so we head into Lent with an appropriate bit of fear and trepidation. But it doesn’t usually occur to me to tell people to “not be afraid” before Easter. Because Easter is about good things, right? – those kinds of things we say that we want, those kinds of things we pray and hope will come our way. Easter is about resurrection, new life! But according to this gospel passage, and if we’re honest with ourselves, we’d have to admit there’s something scary about those kinds of things too.
And interestingly enough the “be not afraids” of Scripture often appear before something very, very good happens. As if the very, very unimaginable types of amazingly wonderful things need that sort of intro too: “Do not be afraid,” God said to Abraham as he took him out and showed him the stars and told him that he would father a people. “Do not be afraid,” Moses told his people (after God had said it to him) “Stand firm, and see the deliverance that the LORD will accomplish for you today.” “Do not fear, for I am with you,” God spoke through the prophet Isaiah, “I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” And remember towards the very beginning of the gospel story the angel Gabriel spoke to Mary and said, “Be not afraid for you have found favor with God.” And then the angels told the shepherds not to fear. Then Jesus told the disciples the very same thing before he gave them the power to heal and proclaim the gospel and here’s the angel at the tomb telling Mary not to be afraid at this point either. ‘Do not be afraid,” he says. “Christ is risen.” — so it seems like whenever something very, very good was about to happen in this salvific story of God’s people, God had to tell the people not to fear it.
Because when it comes right down to it new life is by its nature unfamiliar. By definition it is “new,” unpredictable; it upsets the order of things as we know it and so there is something a little scary about holy, divine re-orientations. There was nothing familiar about the day and the night and the sea and the land and fish and the winged creatures when they first came to be. There was nothing predictable about liberation for a people for whom generations had only known life as slaves. Envisioning a new heaven and a new earth was not your everyday challenge to a people whose every day was well, everyday.
Birthing the Son of God, as salvifically as it was presented wasn’t exactly what the teenage Mary had in her plans. And resurrection? Not at all what the grieving Mary had expected to find when they came to the tomb that first Easter morning. Resurrection isn’t the natural order of things as we expect it – and even re-creation and liberation cause significant upset. But today and apparently for the last thousands and thousands of years we’ve been told not to fear it. That this is how God works – creating us, re-shaping us, coming among us, and raising us to new life.
And so while Lent may not be for wimps, apparently Easter isn’t for the feint of heart either, maybe more so. This kind of “new” demands something of us – it calls forth a sense of hope, an ever widening openness to a new day, and a genuine willingness to be caught by surprise in good, life renewing sorts of ways. And so our work this season is to let go of whatever it is that keeps us from new life, to break down the barriers we establish that keep us from being re-created, to release the ways in which we hide from own freedom or over-protect ourselves from the profound presence of incarnate love in Christ. The work of Easter is to let resurrection flow, knowing full well that that flow will likely scare us at first, upsetting our order. But trusting that resurrection will reshape us in holy sorts of ways, sending us forth like Mary as we turn from the empty tomb and live.
Easter Sermon for the Kids
At the beginning of the season of Lent which lasted for the last forty days and forty nights, we tucked away a word. A beautiful word that we put in a box. Do any of you remember that? What was the word? Alleluia. You can come with me. We’ll get the box. First what does the word mean? PRAISE GOD!! It’s the biggest sort of THANK YOU we can sing or say! And do you remember why we tucked it away. Because it has joy in it and we needed to spend some time with other sorts of things. And I’ve seen the bumper sticker that says Don’t Postpone Joy but every now and then we need to let other things enter our hearts. Things that lead us to other prayers. Things like hurt and sadness and we pray things like Help me God. Be with me here, God. This morning things have turned. Jesus died. Then he rose. And we need to say that Baptism, through death into resurrection life. Alleluia life.