No More Fear
Easter Sunday A-17
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
My earliest memory of Easter morning comes from a black and white photograph my mother took. It features me as big brother in a white-pressed shirt and narrow black tie, escorting my younger twin sisters in their new Easter dresses across the front lawn on a bright Easter morning before church. This tradition is alive and well today judging by the good looks of all of you. My daughter Leah was so insistent on having a new Easter dress she spent her own money to procure one—and it looks great.
Because Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox, it is mostly a cheerful day made all the more happy by the good news. Alleluia! Christ is risen. (He is risen indeed. Alleluia!) But the light-hearted spirit of Easter comes after some hard won experience. The bright colors and spring flowers are the unimaginable surprise ending God brings out of death, despair, and desolation. Alleluia, “God be praised,” an expression of rejoicing, is the right word for Easter because that’s really all you can say after hopelessness has given way to new life.
Today, we find ourselves rushing before sunrise with Mary Magdalene and the other Mary through the Jerusalem Market, past sleeping dogs and horses, through the cool pre-dawn air, out the gates of the ancient walled city, the Ganneth Gate, deserted at this hour, but for the soldiers on top of the wall. Outside this gate is the countryside, except for a large stone quarry, looking like a huge gravel pit, off to our left. From this quarry many slaves provided stone blocks for building the city. To this quarry the two Marys go through the morning darkness with their grief.
These women shared in Jesus’ ministry. They and other women, like Joanna and Susanna, traveled throughout Israel with the other disciples. Scripture says that they provided for them out of their means (Lk. 8:3). These independent women of means are going to the place where their hopes were dashed, where their dreams had died, where their worst fears were realized.
They pass beneath the clifftop where the two men who had been crucified with Jesus still hang on wooden crosses against the sky to be devoured by birds and dogs. Around and beneath the men, small mounds of garbage lay strewn about, hauled out in simple carts and dumped at random. The women go to a far corner of the quarry to a garden, where the cliff-side has row upon row of hand-hewn caves, tombs for the dead.
There should be a check point here for us on the way to the tomb. Each one of us should answer a question before proceeding. The question is, do you have fear in your life? Are you now or have you ever been really afraid? If not, then turn back. It’s okay. This tomb, this story will wait for a time when you do. We need not trouble ourselves with this difficult Easter business if you have never been afraid of the approach of death, or the loss of a loved one, or the total unraveling of your life. What person reaches for the pruning shears in January, or the garden hose in February, or for Christmas lights in April? Philosophers are right to say there is nothing more useless than the answer to a question you have not asked yet.
On the other hand, this path to the tomb is for you for anyone who has dreams that have ended, hopes that have died. Come with the two Mary’s if you know what it means to be unrecognized, or if you’ve lost a job, a good friend, a child, or a spouse. The tomb should be our destination if we are anxious about what to do for the poor or what we are doing to destroy life on earth. Whatever fears we hold, come to the tomb.
Kate Sawford is now 36 years old. When she was fourteen, she published a book of photographs telling her story of when she had cancer, when she had to have part of her leg amputated, and the lower part of her leg rotated and re-attached. She writes in her book: “Days of my life I’d like to forget: the day the doctors told me I was sick. The day I had to tell my friends I had cancer. The day my hair fell out. The first day after surgery. These are also the days I will always remember.” (Kate’s Story, Candlelighter’s Childhood Cancer Foundation, 1995) Young Kate has been to the tomb.
Kate Sawford has been fortunate in having been cured. Yet even more important than a cure, Kate has discovered what we all need when we are afraid. We need not to be mocked. We need something more than idle hope. We need more than casual optimism, “Cheer up, everything will be alright.” We need what God offers at Easter. We need blessed divine re-assurance that what we fear or thought was the end is not the whole picture. The story continues. A new day will come. We have a future forever in God that makes it possible to live and love without fear today.
But listen to the voice of angels who have incredible good news. Whatever fears you may have brought to this place, regardless of the heavy burdens in your path that block our way, are rolled away like the stone from Jesus’ tomb, or like storm clouds that must give way to the sun. For Easter we wear bright colors and shout alleluia because God interrupts our fear, calls us by name, speaks to our mortal lives from beyond eternity, and has given us a permanent dwelling place with God that travels in with and under us wherever we go. It is strong enough to withstand any calamity that might befall us. The hearth fire of rekindled hope warms this sacred place. Therefore, joy is never far from our hearts and even the vaults of heaven resounds, Christ has triumphed! He is living! Alleluia! Christ is risen. (He is risen indeed. Alleluia!)