Do Not Be Afraid

Easter sermon for Community of Christ, Whitehouse, Ohio, 2023

“Do not be afraid,” the angel greets the women at the abandoned tomb. Pretty much every time angels show up in Scripture, they have to preface their announcements with “Do not be afraid.” Presumably, because they are terrifying. 

“Do not be afraid,” Jesus himself repeats when these same disciples encounter him—alive again—on their way to tell the others the news. 

What exactly did the angel or Jesus expect to accomplish by saying that? Obviously folks were afraid. In the way that telling someone who is riled up to “calm down” almost never has that effect, telling people who are terrified by your very presence to “not be afraid” is a waste of breath. 

But I am pretty confident that neither the angel nor Jesus are saying to these witnesses: “Suppress your feelings.” Their feelings are a key part of them which they are going to need in the days and months and years ahead. Spreading the news of resurrection is not something you can do without feelings. Trusting that new life can happen after death is not something you can live into without feelings. Loving others as Jesus loves you is emotional action. 

Who you are—all of you, even the responses that other people might say are “too much”—is loved by God, and embodies the good news in the world. YOU embody the good news.  

So if it’s not a command to hold it together, then what is it? What if instead the repetition of “do not be afraid” in Scripture—whenever people are confronted with the holy—is like a spiritual practice? We keep saying it and hearing it, until we start living into it. Yes, sometimes you are going through the motions. Then the community carries you along with them. Other times, while you’re practicing this impossible thing, the veil between our world and the next tears a little and you glimpse the holy. Until that point, “do not be afraid” is going to sound ridiculous, and maybe even insensitive to what we’re going through. But repeat it enough, listen to others’ stories of when death was not the end as much as possible, and defy the “after” times with hope. Eventually, “do not be afraid” becomes a way of life. We might find ourselves repeating it to others, who cannot believe it either until they live into it. It takes much practice to not be afraid, and to trust that resurrection can be for us too.

Can we do this? Can we practice and behave our way into not being afraid anymore, into believing that new life is possible even after trauma and death? The first disciples live into Jesus’ resurrection because 

  1. he keeps showing up, and 2. They keep telling each other about their encounters with him: “He eats! He still has the wounds! He called me by name!” 

Eventually, together, they become “resurrection people”. 

They’re probably still afraid, on some level. But practicing the stories together and being there for each other and others for whom life as they know it has ended, starts to plant the truth in their bones. “We know he was dead, and yet we know this is him, alive again.” As they grow, they start to recognize resurrection in their own lives, not just in Jesus’ life. Once they were hopeless, but now they have: hope, love instead of shame, belonging in a community. Resurrection becomes real, a living thing.

Now notice the two different locations of these “do not be afraid” encounters in our Easter Gospel. The first one is at the place of death, the tomb. If the Marys had stayed there, paralyzed by fear, they never would have gotten to Jesus himself meeting them on their way. We need enough glimmers of hope and enough nudges of solidarity, to live into resurrection. Find yourself another Mary to make your way towards new life together. There are some of them here. Neither of you has to be a super-believer. You only have to be just enough to keep each other going.  

People of God, followers of Jesus in 2023, is this for us too? Can we be “resurrection people”? We can try together, even though we know we are not going to perfect any of it: the not being afraid, the loving as Jesus loves, the trusting that all our losses can birth new life. (We are making this up as we go) but we can at least be another Mary for each other, who keeps us moving towards where Jesus will meet us. 

  • When the pandemic clarifies our priorities of caring for other people, 
  • When we experiment with ways to defeat loneliness and create belonging in our community,
  • When we do not give up on dialogue across the ugly political divide, 
  • When we take seriously people’s stories about injustice done to them and follow the urge to organize
  • When we move forward instead of staying paralyzed by fear or apathy…

We are living into resurrection. Resurrection people can see that life is possible even after all the losses. We see each other, in all our flawed glory, as signs of life over death. But only because we are living into it, together. Do not be afraid. Go and tell, and there you will see Jesus too.

1 thought on “Do Not Be Afraid”

  1. What an inspiring message for all church members everywhere. Thank you Pastor Lee Ann for sharing your gift of bringing the Gospel to enlighten us in these complicated times.


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