Transformed: By Fear and Joy

Transformed: By Fear and Joy

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.

But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “greetings.” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” Matthew 28:1-10        

I have been given an assignment for today. It is simply to announce to you that this morning sometime before sunrise, God raised from among the dead, Jesus of Nazareth.

This announcement transformed the world. It transforms us, too. And of all the news and wonder of Easter, there are two emotions that embody the energy of today: they are fear and joy.

In Jesus’ resurrection, in the manner of the two women who first visited the tomb, we are transformed by fear and joy. How is that? That it was the women and not the male disciples who first had the courage, the nerve and love enough to go back to the tomb- not knowing what it was they would see (or whether they would be arrested by the guards), speaks volumes on it’s own. Matthew’s message starts with the women confronting their fear of the guards, and extends that fear far beyond with an earthquake.

This is a telling account, because there is not much else that can bring fear into your heart as the unexpected, unfathomable event of an earthquake- the ground literally shaking under your feet.

And there’s got to be something amazing going on for that same fear to take a seat behind the joy that overwhelms it, and turns that fear into just a distant memory.

Remember when it happened here? (An earthquake that is- ) It was August, two years ago, on a Monday afternoon. I remember how I experienced it with my daughter Emma. I picked her up from a friend’s house, and were driving to do a quick errand, to drop off something at her Girl Scout Leader’s house in Lutherville, just riding up the road, when…all of a sudden people came streaming out of their homes-, like everyone had a kitchen fire all at the same time… We didn’t feel a thing, were cushioned by the tires, I guess… but we knew something was going on- why else would people be running out of their homes?

When we stopped in the driveway, neighbors from both sides came over & asked- ‘are you ok?’— We looked at them and said, ‘sure- why?’

‘Didn’t you feel that?” they asked. ‘Feel what?’ – ‘That was an earthquake!’

Emma & I looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders & wondered what was really going on, if they were joking or something.

When we got back home, sure enough, some of the pictures on the walls were tilted and a potted plant had vibrated off the fireplace mantle.

Something had indeed happened- there was physical evidence of it.

What made the biggest impression on us both was not so much the earth shaking (because we didn’t feel it at all)- but rather the reaction of those who had run from their homes in fear. “Did you feel that?” ‘Are you OK?” “It stopped- we’re safe!”

Frankly, we felt sort of emotionally detached/ maybe emotionally-‘tone-deaf’ would be a better way to put it, to what had happened. What did we miss? What did the earthquake feel like?

We hadn’t experienced either the fear of the earth shaking under our feet or the joy of it just as suddenly stopping, leaving us safe and sound: we were left out of the loop of the momentary fear, and we missed out of the follow-up joy, that all was finally OK.

So, again, I repeat: I have been given an assignment for today. It is simply to announce to you that this morning sometime before sunrise, God raised from among the dead, Jesus of Nazareth.

It came first with an angel and an earthquake, with a combined force to make the guards at the tomb quake and fall over, fainting with terror. But both Marys held up just fine- and overcame their natural fear with a deeper faith: a trust in who it was who had died; more than likely remembering his words to them along his life’s journey.

What it was that both Mary’s thought as they made their way back to the tomb? What was going on in their hearts and minds? That’s what I really want to know in this story- don’t you??

Their fear was tamed with joy- and they met Jesus, face to face.

I wonder how often this happens in our lives—not exactly the same way, of course…(meeting Jesus face to face), but rather,
having our fear tamed by joy?

– how is what the Mary’s do is a formula for a resurrection of faith, of new life, of hope- a way for us to be transformed with a new lease on living?

I wonder… What are those times when you have been most full of fear- and over what? – and how & when have you been met with joy? (walking on eggshells, as it were…) Take a moment to consider….

The most dramatic example I can think of is one I will never experience… giving birth. I have to think that the fear-to-anxiety ratio/the level of fear over against the joy of giving birth has got to be off the charts.

The best I can do is to remember the fear I had when getting ready to bicycle up Mt. Evans in Colorado- thinking that I would have a heart attack in the process, or ride off the side of the mountain and tumble 12,000 feet below- and the joy I ended up feeling when I stopped at the summit, able to take in the entire view and soak it all in.

But in no way shape or form could I ever begin to compare what I have ever done to a resurrection experience. What about you?
So, again, I repeat: I have been given an assignment for today. It is simply to announce to you that this morning sometime before sunrise, God raised from among the dead, Jesus of Nazareth.

“Fear not!” The angels always say. “Be not afraid!” says Jesus.

Of course, the angel assures both Marys that Jesus has been raised from death and invites them to take a look at the empty tomb. How they managed to move from where they stood outside to go look inside, must have been bridged by something pretty powerful- more than likely, it was their trust in who they knew Jesus to be.

Their fear was overcome because they trusted who it was they were walking to see… they were able to push away their fear, just long enough to walk to the tomb. And they were met with unexpected, overwhelming joy. Their Joy first comes through the angel’s words- they haven’t even seen the risen savior yet- and they are overcome with joy.

My assignment for today is simply to announce to you that this morning sometime before sunrise, God raised from among the dead, Jesus of Nazareth.

If you’re feeling like you haven’t ‘felt it’ – the earthquake of the resurrection, the joy of the empty tomb: like Emma & I didn’t feel that earthquake we had some time ago; no need to worry. The truth and power of the resurrection will overcome every doubt and fear you can muster.

The fear that seems frequently “in the air” these days, for all kinds of reasons, can and will be ended by God’s love. Fear that we’re just not good enough; fear that we know our own anger and violence when Jesus calls us to peace; fear of our own selfishness when we know Jesus calls us to generosity, fear of death when Jesus gives us the gift of resurrection life; the fear that we are at the whim of forces beyond God’s ultimate love and care- which we are not. The stone that sealed a dead savior behind death’s door has been rolled away and joy has entered in. Christ is risen!

As a church- the body of Christ on earth, here & now- we are given ways to proclaim resurrection so that it moves and grows in us…. even this morning. Singing is involved. Singing is breath that is larger than ourselves alone and joins us in space and time, with community, with other realms and our deepest inside places, linking ourselves to everyone else, weaving with the whole and extending our hearts, souls and voices outward into a force larger than ourselves alone.

Prayer is also involved, a gift of God, in words and silence creating a bridge between souls in heaven and on earth…holy silences, spacious and inviting- a gift of peace and mercy offered to a friend – even when that most needful friend is us.

Serving in Jesus’ name, which may be the greatest gift of all.

And all of this comes as freely given by God.

Jesus’ resurrection does not spell an immediate end to fear for those who trust him, but makes it possible to experience joy amid what might otherwise be crippling fear.

The good news is that God reaches out to all of us, fearful and anxious as we are and offers us joy. In rolling away the stone from Jesus tomb, by raising Jesus from the dead, God reaches out and reaches out and reaches out. It is staggering that God is always giving us another chance, another day, over and over and over.

And all I can end with are words from Rumi- a Sufi mystic and lover of the life God gives us

“What was said to the rose
that made it open

was said…

to me
in my chest.”
Christ is Risen!
Alleluia- Amen.