April 3, 2016 / GREETINGS. DO NOT BE AFRAID / Sara Wolbrecht / Matthew 28: (1-7), 8-10
Friends, did you have a good Easter? We did – it was incredible to spend Easter with y’all and celebrate one year at Salt House. Are there still signs of Easter at your house? We still have our giant kitchen chalkboard covered in Easter messages (walking the tension of both Easter bunny AND Jesus’ resurrection). And our almost 2yo continues to obsess about finding eggs everywhere in our house. So yes: Easter lives on in many ways in our home.
Our wider culture has certainly put away the Easter decorations, the Easter candy is on clearance sale. The Easter brunch specials are certainly done. But the Christian church really sees the celebration of Easter not as a day, but as a season. It stretches six to seven weeks, depending on the calendar for the particular year.
And so for us, we are with great intention, moving into the next six weeks, together. If you were around for the season of Lent, the six weeks leading up to Easter, we lived into someone else’s story – Ed’s Story. Because hearing someone else’s story is always powerful. Some else’s story helps us to live into our story, too.
And then last Sunday, Easter Sunday, we heard the story of resurrection, as our story. We live on this side of new creation, that God is in the business of restoring the world, and we get to be a part of it. And we asked ourselves: what story are we living?
I love this question – and this conversation continues today, and continues in the weeks to come. We ask: what story are WE living? We looked at Ed’s story; and jumping off from Ed’s Story, naming resurrection as OUR STORY, it is our turn to really consider our story. And to frame this question, we’re diving into the seven conversations that Jesus had after his resurrection. After Easter: The REAL Seven Last Words of Jesus.
Last week was the first of these seven words. We read John’s gospel, John’s telling of the Easter story, where Mary Magdalene turns to see Jesus and he asks her a question – do you remember it? “What are you looking for?” And we heard it as a question for us. The challenge to be people who LOOK FOR new creation, resurrection, hope, possibility, because new creation is quietly exploding all around us.
And now, this week, we turn to Matthew’s gospel, Matthew’s version of the Easter story. As we read, as always be visualizing what’s happening, get into the story, notice who is there, ask questions about what you see – and hear what Jesus’ second word is for us this Easter.
Matthew 28: (1-7), 8-10 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped 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.”
So what does Jesus say here? It is our second word: “Greetings…Do not be afraid.”
First, for fun, we need to talk about “greetings,” then we’ll really dig into the “Do not be afraid.” The text we read says that Jesus says, “Greetings.” Which feels really formal (like he should be wearing a tux) – but it wasn’t. Jesus actually uses a very friendly word. The Greek word here, chairette, is still a common street greeting used in Greece today. But get this: the word’s closest modern American equivalent would actually be the extremely simple word: “Hi.”
And I love this! We ask ourselves: what will be the first words of the risen Lord? Answer: “Hi.” What else could Jesus have said? “Here am I!” Or “Ta-Da!” But in Matthew’s gospel – where Jesus has been a very earthy, accessible kind of guy, the first word is: Hi. That’s just fun.
And besides saying Hi, what does Jesus say to the women? Do not be afraid.
Do not BE afraid. Do NOT be afraid. “Do not be afraid,” is a phrase that comes up about 190 times in the Bible. Jesus says it 19 times. It is a common phrase spoken by Jesus, by angels, by the prophets. And it is a common word spoken because it is a word that people need to hear again and again and again.
I wonder, when are the times this week when we have needed to hear those words? Do not be afraid. Another way to ask is: when did we stress eat the whole bag of Easter candy this week? When were we short and cranky with our coworker, our child, our partner? When did we cry as we thought about the future? When did the headlines, the election updates, the news from our community cause our stomach to tighten? When did we self-sooth our anxiety by online shopping or Netflix binging or looking at things we shouldn’t be looking at online?
In other words, when did anxiety, or discomfort, or fear rise up in us? When did we need to hear: do not be afraid? Because it is something we need to hear again and again and again.
And Jesus speaks it here, as his first word to these women – why? Well, what did the text say about how they were feeling – they were afraid!
Even in Mark’s Easter gospel, he also writes that the women “flee from the tomb bewildered and trembling.” Why is that? Here’s the thing: this response of fear, trembling, bewilderment – all of it is indicative of something vital for us in the life of God. It’s this: The first, natural response to new creation, to seeing something of hope, risk, when we’re face to face with the unexpected surprises and possibilities of God, the first response in us is: Oh, crap. WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON? Let’s get out of here. Fear is what we feel when we stare down new creation – new creation in us, in our relationships, our world.
These women were face to face with new creation – and it was terrifying. Looking back at our text, I wonder, did you notice how the women were feeling? Yes, it says they were afraid, but that is not all that it says. Did that get your attention? The text actually says: “So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy…” Matthew 28:8
Fear and great joy. I’m sorry – isn’t that contradictory? Aren’t fear and great joy mutually exclusive?
I have a friend who was sitting in a bible study on this text and this same question was asked, “How can people have fear and joy at the same time?” He said, “Fear and joy can co-exist; I know, I just got married.” And, yes. Doesn’t that just capture it? We know joy and fear can coexist. At marriage, graduation, at the birth of a child, and every moment of parenting, at starting anything new that we’re excited about, yet feel unsure about. When there is risk. When we’re staring down something that we don’t understand.
So: let’s be clear. New creation is scary. It’s scary for at least two reasons, first is that we have to walk into places of death and darkness – we named this last week, that new life is born out of death. Something has to die. In order to see transformation in ourselves, we must face all the uglies we have – willingly walking into the deepest regrets and darkness and addiction and grief and anxiety we have – and not walking away from it. That is scary.
New creation is hard for another reason. Just curious: does anyone here like to be in control and/or like to know what’s going to happen? When we walk into the unknown, when we let things die. We don’t know what things will be like ion the other side. When we say yes to a new dating relationship or friendship – it is vulnerable work to show up with someone and we don’t know if we’re going to get burned. When we stare down a new job, moving – there is so much unknown – and yet God may be inviting us to step into new creation and see what this new thing can become. We have no control over the outcome.
It is hard, it is scary – That’s why the women fled the tomb in fear. And yet. There, also, on the verge of new creation, there, nestled in alongside the fear, if we look for it, there is great joy.
This coexistence of fear AND joy was made clear to me at a particular moment when I was living in California. It was a sunny day in January, 2014 – because let’s be honest, it is always sunny in California (why did we move?). And Jason and I sat in Andy’s office, Andy is the kind, wise, compassionate Executive Pastor of the church where Jason and I both worked. We with some fear, we had just told Andy that I had been offered the call, the job, to move here to Kirkland to be the pastor for this new thing that was to start – and so Jason and I told Andy we were listening for God, trying to decide what to do. And we felt such fear and grief – to leave the stability of our large, flourishing congregation – where we both loved our work and God was doing beautiful things in the community. Fear to leave what had become our home, our friends. And yet, also such excitement at the possibility of stepping into something new, something that felt bigger than us – something that could explore new bounds of what church and life and faith could be, yet something that really, could also fail. And Andy heard all of that with such grace told us a quote that just hit me between the eyes. He said:
The call of God is equal parts elation and holy terror.
And that is it, exactly. Elation and holy terror. Leaving the tomb with fear and great joy. Both. This is the call of God, this is how we feel when we stand on the verge of death and resurrection, when we are faced with new creation. …This is true in the big, life-changing decisions we make but also in the everyday stuff we live through.
Like this week. When this week have we needed to hear: do not be afraid? …This week Jason and I frequented Urgent Care and the ER with our children. Levi had stitches in his forehead after falling against a fence. June had her scalp glued together after falling against a stone wall. We’ve all decided to start wearing helmets.
And these were absolutely “do not be afraid moments” for me. When I needed to hear that word from Jesus in my fear. But honestly, there was not just fear there. With June, it was last night and we were in Ballard for her cousin, Isaac’s, 7th birthday. And it was 8pm and all the cousins were having a glorious time outside at the end of the party, when June fell and Jason and I scrambled a bit to figure out what to do, but once I was in the car, sitting next to June, I had this moment of: my job right now is to help June feel safe, loved, cared for. To be a presence for her so that she knows she’s ok. Even as I am freaking out about the blood in her hair. Fear? Absolutely.
In that moment, holding the ice to the back of her head in the backseat of the car as she cried, I remembered the call of God – that I am called to be her momma. And there is such joy in that – joy even (and especially!) in the moments that are messy, scary, unwanted and literally bloody. And so I started asking June if she thought maybe they’d give her a puppy at the hospital for being brave – and just being silly to help her come out of her tears. And she was amazing. …After we got June home and tucked in bed at 11pm, I was tired, but so grateful for her courage and for the chance to be her momma and help her through it. That’s joy. And fear. So really, it is not just fear that we feel, but it is elation and holy terror, Fear [and great joy!] is what we feel when we stare down new creation.
This is why Jesus says: Do not be afraid. Because he knows the fear that is there. He has just lived through his own fear, his own death, to discover and prove the life and joy on the other side. And so for these women, for us, Jesus speaks the words we can live by.
And in these words it is not just an invitation away from fear, it is actually an invitation TO Jesus. He actually says to the women: “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” Do not be afraid and send out the call to come and be with me – he says. That fear is in fact that birthplace where new life, the presence of Jesus is just waiting for us to reach out and welcome it in. Where in your week did you hear the invitation to Jesus, in the midst of your fear?
For our final thought with this, let’s talk a bit about us, our community. It is just over two years ago now that Jason and I sat in Andy’s sunny office and shortly after said YES to the elation and holy terror of moving back here to Washington, to figuring out what we’d do with this building, to naming our church, gathering a community. And friends, the elation and holy terror continues for us all as we celebrate our one-year birthday of Salt House. Friends, we are still new. We are still experimenting with how to grow in the life of Jesus and live into new creation, together. And it is awesome to be a part of it.
And this Easter season the other piece for us as we look to Jesus’ seven words and consider our story, is to really dig into who we are, what we do, what we want to be about here as a group of folks who belong to each other at Salt House. What story do WE want to live together? After one year, it is time to rewrite the story of who we are becoming by naming who we actually want to become.
Over these next few weeks we’ll do this together in various ways, both looking backward and forward as we pull together our sense of renewed vision and mission for Salt House. Different kinds of exercises, conversations, reflections.
And that begins today. On your bulletin insert you have a question on the back. It is this: Tell me about the moment at Salt House that you were most yourself (most able to lean into who God calls you to be).
We need your response. We will gather these up today. You can list a few things – more than one. But do try to describe one moment in greater detail – in worship, at dinner, at HopeLink, at coffee, maybe a sermon or experience that spoke to you in a particular way – a time as a part of Sal House when you were most able to be yourself. Who was there? What happened? How did you respond?
You can take time to write this during our song of response, during communion, after worship. You can even email me later – but we really, really need your insight, your experience, your voice as we move into our future, together.
And this question opens up room to begin to name the pivotal moments that are defining what God is doing already among us. So thank you in advance to being brave and naming those moments. And if you are new to Salt House, and don’t have a moment to name – choose one from another time in your life where space was made for you to lean into who God calls you to be. Describe that.
Jesus, not only calls us out of fear, but call us TO him. To engage with new creation and the fear and joy that comes with it. Where in your life do you need to hear: do not be afraid? Hear that word today. And where are we, together, invited to move into the elation and holy terror of God’s call? Let’s continue to listen for that, and move into it, together. Let’s pray…
QUESTION FOR RESPONSE: Tell me about the moment at Salt House that you were most yourself (most able to lean into who God calls you to be).