And suddenly there was a great earthquake. Because the angel of the Lord was rolling away the stone that sealed the tomb of Jesus. The guards stationed there were so afraid they became like dead men.
Even after Jesus is safely dead, Pilate sends a guard of soldiers saying, “Make the tomb as secure as you can.”
It’s a double message isn’t, it? There is something in that tomb to be afraid of.
But don’t worry, I know how to keep us safe.
The world is always pointing out to us all the things that we should be afraid of.
And then telling us what we need to do to be safe.
Sometimes we act as if this is the message of religion, too. That religion is out there to create a sense of fear in us and then offer us a solution that will make us fear secure.
Some denominations want you fear of the fires of hell so they can show you their clearly marked and guaranteed path to heaven.
Some preacher wants to make you afraid you are not living the perfect life then sell you prayers that will make sure prosperity comes your way.
Some author wants to make sure you are afraid of Jesus’ call to lay down your life for the sake of another. They are here to reassure you that Jesus didn’t really mean your whole life, capital “L” life. More that you should generally orient yourself to be a good person and could perhaps be a little kinder. That kind of laying down your life.
You’ll see. We will get Jesus in a tomb as secure as we can.
He can stay there – dead and righteous, righteously dead, right where he should be.
It’s sad. We know. But at least we know where he is and where we are. We will all feel safer that way.
Then the earth shakes. The stone is rolled away and the tomb is empty. Jesus won’t stay dead. Jesus won’t stay where we – or anyone else – put him.
When the tectonic plates shift beneath the foundation of the world, a guard of soldiers is no defense. Neither is the best sales pitch, the strongest political position, or a mass of personal weapons or funds. Not even a well-meaning but poorly designed theology can save us from the earthshaking life that emerges from an empty tomb.
Like the guards outside the tomb there are people so frightened of this new life, that confronted with its possibility it nearly kills them.
On the other side of the tomb, however, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary manage to keep standing and holding out for life, even though they are clearly frightened also. The angel says to them: Do not be afraid. He is not here. He has been raised. Go quickly and tell his disciples, he is going ahead of you.
There is no effort to make the women more frightened. No attempt to deny that something earth-shattering has occurred. No offer of false security. Instead, the angel pours purpose into their lives.
The women can still feel the ground shifting beneath their feet as they leave the tomb with the message of the angel. Suddenly, Jesus is with them. Like the angel, Jesus says: Do not be afraid.
Jesus, too, doesn’t offer reassurance. He doesn’t say that everything will work out now, that everyone will be safe, that the world will stop quaking.
Instead, he offers a promise. I am going ahead of you. Go where I told you to go. You will see me there.
The women have a purpose and a promise.
It is the last anyone speaks of fear in the Gospel.
This is still the message of Easter: Jesus is going ahead of you. Do not let fear stop you from following.
Jesus is going before you into death. Oh, we love this wild and precious life that we have been given and the people we journey with. But the time will come to shake off this mortal frame. Jesus has been there. He will meet you, just as he said.
Jesus is going before into your next venture in this world, the one that you are sure that you are called to do, but it seems too big, too daring, too different and what if it fails? Oh, Jesus has been down that road for sure. If he has called you there, he will meet you there.
Jesus is going before you in your effort to live an honest and authentic life, where you allow yourself to know how much the injuries and the abuses you have suffered have hurt you and claim a courageous wholeness. Jesus has gone before you into that place and bears the scars upon his body to prove it. He will be with you there.
Jesus is going before you as you decide how you will lay down your life, your capital L life, where you will pour yourself out for the sake of another, when you will speak truth to powers of injustice, where you help rebuild the world from its charred ashes of hatred and neglect. Jesus knows the risk and the cost. And he knows the joy of following our purpose. And he has promised to meet you
Tectonic plates are shifting as God creates a new heaven and a new earth.
Jesus is going before you into an earthshaking life. Don’t let fear stop you from following.