EASTER SUNDAY Places of the Passion
April 4, 2021 Matt.28:1-11
Dear bothers & sisters in Christ,
FAITH. Faith can be a little hard to explain because its not a physical, visible thing;
it’s invisible, like a viewpoint or an attitude. FEAR is like that, too; but it’s the opposite of faith. Fear often comes when faced with the unseen & unknown. Hebrews 11 says: ‘Faith is being sure of what we hope for, & certain of what we do not see.’ Yes, faith is that. Faith is trust; but it’s not trust in ‘imaginary’ things, or in positive energy, or in the idea that things will just be okay. Faith is a confident trust IN GOD, who is a real being, who is active, aware, & has spoken real truths for us to hold on to, and live by.
If the word ‘faith’ was an acronym, with ‘f-a-i-t-h’ we might say: Forsaking -All -I -Trust -Him. I invite you to say that with me: Forsaking -All -I -Trust -Him. There is only one ‘Him’ who is able to melt away our fear. Jesus, the Son of God, our Easter-Redeemer; because He has shown Himself more powerful than death.
In the Easter event, we see fear, but it calls us to faith. Today we finish our sermon series on Places of the Passion; we’ve used Matthew’s gospel. We have followed Jesus all the way to The Tomb, which today is empty! In the Gospel reading from Mark, the women were ‘alarmed’ and ‘afraid.’ So ‘fear’ is mentioned twice.
In Matthew’s gospel, ‘fear’ is mentioned 4 times. It says, “And for fear of the angel, the guards trembled and became like dead men.” And then, “the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid.’” Then, the women “departed quickly from the tomb with fear.”
And meeting Jesus, He said to them, “Do not be afraid.” Easter is supposed to be a time of great joy & celebration; but it begins with great fear.
Fear comes from facing /the unknown, /the uncertain, /the confusing, /& from things out-of-our-control. The Easter morning earthquake made the guards fear; it was beyond their control. Seeing an angel move the tomb-stone was confusing; what else might that angel do? That was unknown, so they’re afraid.
The women also had fear; they had seen church & gov’t forces rise up against a good man, and crucify Him. Jesus had been /falsely accused & condemned, /beaten without mercy, /whipped bloody, /crucified, /speared to ensure death, /and haphazardly buried.
All the good Jesus had been doing was now over, because they killed Him. Fear stomped out their hope. What would the religious leaders do now to Jesus’ followers? That was unknown. And now, the women find the tomb empty; what did it mean? Fear!
Mark didn’t mention it, but Matthew does: As the women are leaving, they meet Jesus Himself, & He changes their viewpoint & attitude. He says to them: ‘Do not be afraid.’
So, that’s the down-side to our Easter celebration = there’s fear all around. It’s the same downside to our lives = there’s fear all around. It’s invisible, yet we can let it ruin our lives.
I wonder how often fear is a ‘choice’ we make. It’s often the first outlook we have toward things that are /unknown, /uncertain, /& out of our control. We have spent the last year facing fears = /worried about the future, /losing sleep, /losing business, /losing confidence in our leaders, /losing money, /losing physical connection to people, /losing loved ones.
For over 365 days, we have been tempted to fear because we’re told that a ‘virus of death’ is stalking us. We’re told we must fear: it’s in the air; / on the surfaces we touch; /it can jump off of people if we get too close; / it’s around ever corner, & you can’t see it. So, what about the next 365 days? That’s unknown; the experts don’t agree = it’s confusing; they’re uncertain about the ‘variants’; and it seems that some want to keep the fear going, even with a vaccine. But fear is opposite of faith.
And we haven’t forgotten our other fears. /Fire burns things, /storms destroy things, trains, planes & cars crash, /financial markets go down, /deranged people use guns to kill others; /cancers take lives; /there’s no vaccine against death. Death & fear go together. Death takes away life, fear takes away living. Like those women, we come to Easter morning surrounded by fear & death. But then we meet The Crucified One; and He stands outside the tomb with a word for our faith: “Do not be afraid.”
Fear may be all around; but then comes Easter, with our acronym for faith: Forsaking All, I Trust Him. I invite you to say it with me: (forsaking all, I trust Him). Many fears versus one Lord & Savior, with the Easter message: ‘Fear not! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen!’ Forsaking all fears, we trust Him.
In your bulletin this morning, I’ve included two pictures to help us visualize this Easter faith. It shows The Isenheim Altarpiece. It’s a large work of art from the early 1500s;
it’s about 20 ft wide & 15 ft high. It was made for a monastery that cared for people who were afraid that their skin diseases would kill them. As you can see, in the lower panel, the artist painted Jesus with terrible skin, to show patients that Christ understands their fear. It makes us ask ourselves *what do WE fear will harm us? — /a disease, /the stress of our family, /a financial burden, /dementia, /depression? Part of the Easter message is that Jesus understands our troubles.
In the center-left panel, we see Jesus’ mother Mary collapsing in anguish into the arms of John; she was facing her greatest fear: witnessing the death of her son. The right-panel shows John the Baptist, altho he was cruelly put to death & did not witness the crucifixion, he’s there as a witness to the faith. He’s shown with the scripture and with a lamb, pointing to The Crucified One saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
This is also part of the message of Easter. Jesus is pushing our fears are aside, because God takes control, & uses death to give us life. It all looks hope-less but Christ makes it hope-full.
His sacrifice pays for our fear-full sin; Jesus takes our sin-disease and heals our wounds in forgiveness. This is why the angel’s first words to the women at the tomb were: “fear not”.
This Isenheim altarpiece is unique. That large central painting is split in the middle, and can be opened up, like 2 doors on a cabinet. When closed, we see Jesus hanging on the cross, his body is a deathly color, he’s covered in his wounds. Jesus came to face suffering, rejection, & death for lost sinners = for you & me.
When those doors are opened, the painted panels show Jesus’ resurrection. That’s the other picture you see on the insert. As those doors are opened, The Christ bursts forth from the tomb! Christ is risen, Death has no more power over him! Jesus is the resurrection & the life! In the painting, Christ’s hands are raised in blessing. The light behind him is orange & yellow; his clothing drapes him in white & reds, yellows & blues.
What you & I can’t see in this picture is a special thing the artist did with this painting. In the place of the scars in Christ hands & feet & side, the artist painted ‘rubies.’
Like the brilliant precious stone in a ring or pendent, the ugly scars of death become blood-red jewels, that remind us of the depth of his love. From Good Friday to Easter Sunday; from nails & spear ~ to rubies. He takes us from our swirling fears to a hope-filled faith.
Our natural view is that our fears are strong; the unknown is threatening, the uncertain is alarming. But thru Easter Jesus has made our strong God known, and the Empty Tomb makes all his words certain. Forsaking All, I Trust Him.
In 1960, an startling thing occurred in a tiny village in the Ukraine. Grisha Siklenko appeared one day, to the shock of his friends & neighbors. Everyone thought Grisha Siklenko had died in World War II. Actually, that night in 1942, when he marched away to war, he actually walked home where his mother had made a hiding place for him under a manure pile. And so, for 18 years, this man lived in manure. Freezing in the winter & suffocating in the summer. But finally, in 1960, Grisha faced his fear; & came out of hiding, expecting to be punished & put in prison. But the statute of limitations had long since expired.
Fear does that; it makes us waste time and waste living worried over the unknown & the uncertain & the out-of-our-control. And it makes life stink. Faith in the God who is alive makes life the opposite. Yes, there are many things that bring fear; there always will be.
I wonder how often fear is a ‘choice’ we make. But thru Easter, God brings to us another way to view this life. The world says ‘fear’; The Risen One says, ‘fear not.’ *Who will you listen to?
*What is the most frequent command in the Bible? Is it the command to ‘be good’ = be holy = ‘be awake during the sermon’. It’s the command: ‘Do not be afraid’; it’s used 365 times = one for each day of the year.
It’s said by God’s prophets, His angels & apostles, and finally by Jesus himself.
‘Do not be afraid.’ Instead, stand firm in Him, the Son of God, who stands outside The Tomb to show us that He is in control. He understands us; He’s won our forgiveness;
He guides us with His Word; and He -alone- has opened heaven for us.
I invite you to say -again- that acronym for faith: Forsaking All, I Trust Him.
And to your faith, I say: Amen!