Sermon: No Fear!
Scripture: Matthew 28:1-10
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Date: Easter, April 12, 2020
Jesus Christ is risen! And the people reply with me, “He is risen, indeed!”
Is it just me or does it feel like Easter is just a little different this year? For the first time in over three decades of ministry, this is the first time I have not been able to come and be with my church family. It causes me to feel sad on one hand but eagerly excited on the other. The sadness is that we cannot physically be with one another; the excitement arises from knowing that this season of time will pass and we will be together again; when that happens, what a celebration it will be!
Late this past week in the weekly sermon sneak peek, I threw out a challenge for you to see if you could read Matthew 28:1-10 and discover something you have never noticed before. It was not until this year this small but very interesting fact jumped out drawing attention to itself. One’s context is everything, I suppose. It’s a reminder that the Word of God and the old, old Story is both the same and very dynamic at the same time. The Spirit is moving all the time to reveal new revelations from God in the midst of our routine readings of Bible stories we have read or have heard many times before. Let us listen and read Matthew 28.1-10 and see if you can discern that which you have never noticed before! Hear the Word of the Lord!
28After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” 
As you listened to this old, old Story, did you notice something new? You see, just like today, there was not a public Easter celebration! Just like today, people were in lock-down huddled in their homes afraid to emerge and show themselves. It was not because of COVID-19 but it was for fear of the locals in Jerusalem who may want to herd the Jesus Followers up and give them a kangaroo court trial and kill them like they did Jesus. In the public’s mind, these Jesus Followers were agitators. They were disturbing the status quo because they followed a man, Jesus, who held a mirror up to his people, his religion, his culture, the government and showed them how unjust they really were. It was the life of Jesus who reflected to the people that the true way to honor God and neighbor was through willful, extravagant, costly love. Forget public and political displays of self-righteous living and pomp, these Jesus Followers were taught that the conversion of a person to the heart of God begins in the heart – first in God’s and then in a follower’s. Just like today, people during the first Easter Sunday were not gathered in community but were sheltered at home in fear. Dale Bruner from Whitworth University writes, “Fear monopolizes (our) attention and paralyzes (our) response.” So, beloved, as you live in lockdown and social distancing, what are the fears that are gripping you? What are those thoughts that keep you up at night? What does the devil Wormtongue whisper into your ears during your time huddled behind closed doors?
So, what are those whispering fears you hear? I want you to gather them up, collect them, put them on a list! Acknowledge the fears of lost job and wages, health, dying alone, or getting behind on rent or mortgage. Point them out in your mind: Call them out! And beloved, once you and I do, I want you to hold that list of fears up into the Easter morning light and hold them up to what the promise and hope this days provides!
Yes, I am afraid to die alone! But Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! His resurrection means I am never alone as God is my constant guide and comfort.
Yes, I am afraid of getting the virus! But Christ is Risen! He is risen, indeed! His resurrection enables you and me to overcome our fear and strive to live outside of ourselves and love others out of their loneliness.
Yes, I am afraid that as a working parent I will not have the energy to work at my job from my home while watching over my kids undergoing homeschool for the rest of the year! But remember Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! He promises strength, resolve, courage and Spirit that will sustain you through anything life throws at you!
Beloved, our Easter scripture is a resounding call for us not to cower behind closed doors but to go and check this marvelous thing out ourselves! Come, look, the tomb is empty! No fear! Jesus is telling us to go and tell others about how our fears have been overcome by the power of the resurrected Christ! There is no longer a need to cling to those fears as Easter beckons us to let them go and lift our hands in holy wonder and praise! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!
Easter is different this year and to quote Martha Stewart, “It’s a good thing.” It’s a good thing because we get to experience what the first century church and the first disciples experienced: A dislocation from supportive community and fear. We get to experience the Easter miracle from the inside and behind the door just like Peter, Mary, John, Andrew and the others did.
Let me ask you? How’s that working for you? It’s not easy, is it? Perhaps Church throughout the world needed a slap in the face to remind us that our gathered community is precious and we have taken it for granted. Perhaps Church around the world needed the reminder that there is no such thing as solitary Christians but that to be in Christ means to be in Christian community. Perhaps the Church throughout the world had to die to her old ways and habits, get buried behind doors so that it eagerly prepares and anticipates to be released into new life and launched back into the community!
Me? I miss the hats. Easter is the one time of year young girls and women come to church wearing hats! I love the bright dresses and bright bows in the hair. I miss seeing the young boys who are forced to dress up in suits and a tie with their hair slick back to look good in the family pictures. I miss Mr. Jackson Easter Bunny at our children’s Easter party in Colee Hammock. I miss the solemnity of the choir singing their beautiful music helping us to physically enter into the spirit of Lent and Easter. I miss seeing the Chreasters – those who only show up at Christmas and Easter – because they are now friends asI have come to know them the last few years and I long to see their faces in the pews. I miss breaking bread and drinking from the cup of Holy Communion but I realize its absence in our life will make it that much more powerful when we gather to take it again. What do you miss?
Yet, the more I ask that question, the more I realize that is a sophomoric question, a silly question to ask. The right question we are to be asking ourselves is, “What have I, what have WE gained from Easter this year?” Already we are learning the preciousness of this life we have been given. We are remembering the gift of a hot cup of coffee on the patio of Anne’s Florist and Coffee Bar surrounded by friends. We are remembering how in the midst of the lockdown, hundreds of members of this church have been making masks for hospital staff and first responders in Broward County because even if they are locked up at home, COVID-19 cannot lock up the Spirit’s work in helping others sustain their lives while helping others.
Easter, new life miracles are abounding all around us, beloved. It’s just that we, like Mary, have to go and see for ourselves how the Spirit is already moving. My Easter prayer is that the Spirit of Christ will reveal itself to you and declare very plainly, loudly, and clearly: No fear! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed. Jesus invites you to look at your life with a new set of eyes. He invites you to look and see! He invites you and me to go and tell others. He also tells us gather everybody up because we will all be together again in Galilee. “I promise,” he says, “you will see me then!”
Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
401 SE 15th Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
© 2020 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew. A Commentary, Vol. 2, The Churchbook, Matthew 13-28, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishers, 1990), 787