Easter Takes Courage
April 9, 2023
The Rev. Dr. Tim Hart-Andersen
It’s Easter morning and everybody’s afraid. When an earthquake shakes the stone loose and a burly angel shows up to move it out of the way, the guards posted at the tomb are so terrified they faint and fall over – they “become like dead men.” Was it the earthquake or the angel? We’ll never know.
Next, we’re told three times in ten verses that the women at the tomb are afraid. First, the angel tries to comfort them, and then, after the women run from the scene “in fear and great joy,” the risen Jesus himself tells them not to be afraid.
Matthew is joined in this tomb-side portrayal by the other gospel writers; they all speak of fear and trembling that morning. And, they also highlight the strength and courage of those frightened women. Unlike the guards
they are not overcome by panic. If not for the nerve of the women would the world even know about resurrection?
Apparently, Easter takes courage.
The women have the courage to ask the rock-rolling angel where Jesus is. He tells them he has risen from the dead and they will find him in Galilee. Even angels make mistakes. Jesus is not in Galilee. He’s still near the tomb. As the terrified women hurry back to tell the others, they run into him.
No doubt their fear spikes at that point. They had seen him die on the cross on Friday, they may have seen him placed in the tomb and the stone rolled into place., and here he was, standing before them. Everything they thought they knew about how life and death worked is suddenly turned on its head.
That’s the lesson of Easter for us. Nothing will be as it once was.
The women run to tell the disciples what they have seen, but the news seems more than the men can take. Only a few venture out to see for themselves, and the other
gospels tell us that after checking the empty tomb, the men go back home, as if nothing astonishing has happened.
Maybe fear clouds their judgment. They’ve been hiding for days from the authorities in Jerusalem. Maybe they’re paralyzed by anxiety. Maybe their fear has made it impossible for them to look beyond their own tight little world, a kind of first century echo chamber of fear.
That can happen, as we all know. Fear has overrun us in our time. It drives our politics, our culture, our health care, our religion, our education. Dread of the other or of the unknown or of things beyond our control so consumes us that we’ve lost our capacity to dream of a world where all are worthy of respect, where truth might be valued, and hopes shared.
That kind of community is what Easter imagines, and it runs counter to what the world wants to tell us about each other right now.
Easter takes courage – because it’s a counter-narrative. It resists the main story.
A Westminster group just returned from a visit to Bethlehem, Palestine, where they were hosted by our partners there, Christmas Lutheran Church and Dar al-Kalima University. One day the group visited an organic Palestinian farm called the Tent of Nations. I’ve been there several times. It’s a 100-acre farm owned by the Nassar family, Palestinian members of our partner church in Bethlehem.
I remember my first visit to the Tent of Nations many years ago. The road to the farm had been blocked off, forcing people to walk to the site. The farm was surrounded by Israeli settlements, and the settlements are now getting closer. The Israeli military and settlers have attacked the farm and destroyed fruit and olive trees. Knowing all that, I was stunned to see at the entrance to the farm a flat stone upon which someone had written, “We refuse to be enemies.”
Our group talked with Daoud Nassar about that approach to life in a hostile environment. “We are people who believe justice will prevail,” he said. And knowing Holy Week was coming, he added, “The Son of justice will rise again.”
We refuse to be enemies. Imagine living like that here. Easter takes courage.
Following Jesus is not an easy path, and it’s been like that from the start. Remember the first words out of the mouth of the angel hovering over the shepherds out in the fields watching their flocks by night: Fear not. They knew this was going to be difficult. And when King Herod hears of the birth of Jesus, he, too, is afraid. He panics, in fact, and “all Jerusalem with him,” leading him to order the terrible slaughter of the innocents, from which the Holy Family has to flee. It’s the first brush of death for Jesus.
When Jesus preaches in his home synagogue in Nazareth, telling his neighbors and friends that the ancient prophecy of Isaiah about a future Messiah had finally come true in their hearing, they’re so terrified by what he says they chase him out of town and nearly throw him off a cliff – his second brush with death.
Jesus has this effect on people, especially those in places of power and privilege. Between the religious authorities and occupying Roman forces, a sub-text running the length of the gospels is all the conspiring that happens to take care of Jesus by silencing him. After the grand
entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, their fear of Jesus finally leads them to arrest him and condemn and crucify him in short order. They want to rid the world of the menace he represents. They think death will finally get the better of him. Little do they know.
From Herod to Pilate and everywhere in between – and maybe even in our time – people are afraid of Jesus and what he preaches. He imagines a just world,
in which those with the least power – the meek – will inherit the earth,
in which the kingdom of God will belong to those who are poor,
– remember his Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes
in which those who weep and mourn will be comforted,
in which those who hunger will be fed,
in which those encumbered by debt will be set free,
and those sick and in prison visited,
children included and women welcomed,
in which those excluded because of who they are or how they look, whom they love or how they act will all be honored as people bearing the image of God.
A world where people refuse to be enemies.
That’s an Easter world – and no wonder it makes people afraid. “God threatens us with resurrection,” Letty Russell once said. (Church in the Round, p. 111)
I think she meant that on Easter all the stops are pulled out and all bets are off and God gets serious about turning things inside out and upside down, just as Jesus preached. When that stone rolls away, the powerful grace of God begins to go to work in the world to find a holy balance, where those on the top and those on the bottom meet in the middle; where insider and outsider will be relics of the past, where we will let go of artificial constructs designed to judge each other and divide us all.
Are you and I ready for that? Are we prepared to be witnesses to the claim that fear and hostility and even death do not win, in the end?
I wonder if the point of Easter is that we no longer have to be ruled by fear. We take our cue from the women at the empty tomb: Resurrection defeats trepidation. Such a world resists the way things are and proposes a new way to live.
Imagine that: a world defined not by what we fear but by whom we love.
Easter takes courage. And, together, we can find it.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!