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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Do Not Be Afraid & Go - Easter Sunday - 04/16/2017

This Easter Sunday officially closes our season of Lent – 40 days we set aside each year to pray and reflect on where in our lives we could stand to draw closer to God. Where we need to repent and turn our lives back toward God and God's desire to be in deep relationship with us. I wanted to tell you about an experience I had on the very first day of Lent – Ash Wednesday.

Ever since Ash Wednesday the year before, several of us on the Munising Ecumenical Team had been talking about taking Ash Wednesday right into the streets, offering ashes and a prayer or a blessing to passersby who wouldn't be able to go to Ash Wednesday service at their own church, or people who had no connection to a church at all. We talked excitedly about being public church like this all year long. Every couple of months, one of us would ask the others – “You still want to do that Ashes To Go thing, right?”

Our plan was to stand right downtown at the four main corners at lunch time while people were out running errands. We'd dress in our white albs and purple stoles and make a little sign to put out on the side walk. We sent out a press release, put it on Facebook and and talked it up around town as much as we could.

I woke up that morning raring to go. And then I looked outside … and I couldn't see across the street for the blizzard that was raging out there.  I looked up and said “Seriously, God?”

It's not the first time I've had an experience like this … I suspect many of you have as well. You're dealing with a pretty big challenge and just staying on top of the momentum and the demand of it all … like being at the end of the school year and studying for final exams and getting projects wrapped up. And then something happens that really complicates things or makes them more difficult. Like in the face of end-of-the-school-year-demands, suddenly feeling a tickle in your throat. You try to ignore it, but it doesn't go away. When you finally admit that you're coming down with something and reluctantly accept the fact that what was already challenging was going to be more-so … you find yourself looking up at the skies, …. “Seriously, God?”

I think Matthew's version of the Resurrection of our Lord can bring about that kind of reaction. It is a story we are meant to see ourselves in, and as followers of Jesus, we often see ourselves as disciples. So we place ourselves with these other disciples at the tomb and hear the words of the angel fall into our lives and into our circumstances ... “Do not be afraid,” of that huge challenge at work or that illness, or that messed up relationship, or even death. And I think we can pretty easily come to a “Seriously, God?” kind of moment.

I mean think again about what has gone on here.

The women come to the tomb. That in itself is no insignificant statement. The disciples, remember, have been hiding out for fear of their own lives ever since Jesus was arrested in the garden. To come out in the light of day to properly care for and grieve their dead teacher was to come out of hiding with targets on their back.

But things go differently than they expected too. There's an earthquake, which is not unusual in itself in this part of the world, but this earthquake isn't happening because the earth's tectonic plates are shifting below Jerusalem, this earthquake is happening because …

… there is an angel – a messenger sent from God – who is descending from heaven, has come to the place of the tomb and rolled back the stone. The messenger looks and moves like lightening and is as white as a band of snow rolling across Lake Superior.

The Roman soldiers have been charged with guarding the tomb because the high priests were afraid Jesus' people would come in and steal his body, hide it and then claim he had been raised from the dead.

But instead of finding these tough and often brutal Roman guards standing between them and the body, maybe even mocking them, the women find the men shaking, catatonic and paralyzed in fear. Completely neutralized.

It is in the midst of these otherworldly, cataclysmic, debilitating, fright-full events, the messenger says, “Do not be afraid.”

Seriously, God? I think I'd be shaking and questioning what my senses were trying to tell me.

And there's more, we soon see, as the messenger helps us realize in the midst of earthquakes and lightening and catatonic guards. “Jesus is not here. See for yourself.” So we lean in to peer into the tomb with the women. And we find it's true. Where the body should have been, there is nothing.

So “Go,” the messenger urges. “He's not here. He's been raised, just as he promised. Don't stay here, there's nothing here to keep you. Instead go … go quickly … go to Galilee … go tell!”

And that is the rather astounding proclamation and call to action we still get today, us Easter Sunday people of 2017, because, “Yes,” God would likely say to us. “I'm quite serious.”

“Do not be afraid,” no matter the otherworldly, cataclysmic, debilitating, fright-full events in your own lives and communities. “Do not be afraid” – because God has broken into all of it in that fulfilled promise of an empty tomb. That fulfilled resurrection promise that no longer are we defined by our sin, but only as the people Jesus loves and came to free through his suffering and death. We – every single one of us – are marked as Jesus' own forever and nothing in this world can ever separate us from that love or that reality.

And we are called to  “Go … go quickly … go to Galilee … go tell.” Like the disciples at the tomb in our story today, there is no need for us to stay there. Jesus is not among the dead. So we go to whatever our Galilee is too. We go knowing that Jesus has gone ahead of us as promised. We go awestruck and amazed, inspired to tell everyone who will hear about what has happened to us in Jesus.

And we go knowing that like the disciples who go to Galilee to tell the others, we too meet Jesus a long the way. He meets us in our dreams and our doubts, our illness and our healing, our failures and our wisdom, in our successes and their costs, in our dying and our birthing.

And most profoundly now Jesus meets us at this table on this Easter Sunday and every other Resurrection Sabbath of the year … this table of God's grace where we hear over and over God's message of “Do not be afraid” and “Go” in different words …

“This is my body – given for you, and this is my blood shed for you. It is given to be shared with all people for the forgiveness of sin and life in Jesus now and forever.” Amen, and yes, quite seriously.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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