Matthew 28:1-10 – April 9, 2023
“Don’t be afraid!” Is that a familiar thing to say to your family? Children or grandchildren? Even ourselves?
There was a lot to be afraid of, this past Passion week in Jerusalem! The Rabbi Jesus marched right into the city out in the open, riding on a donkey. Even having a grand procession. The Jewish leaders, scribes, Pharisees, and members of the Sanhedrin were all on the lookout for this troublemaking Rabbi Jesus.
Imagine, He said all kinds of things that made the Jewish leaders really angry! And, many Jewish leaders wanted to throw Jesus into prison, if not have Him tried and executed. With all that going on, this upstart Jesus entered Jerusalem like a big shot! Like someone claiming to be the Messiah! I am sure some of the followers of Jesus were afraid of what might happen.
The Rabbi Jesus openly traveled in Jerusalem, for the next few days going to the Temple and having lively discussions with the Jewish leaders, lawyers and Pharisees. With the city overflowing with visitors because of the upcoming holiday of Passover, I am sure many people heard stories about this amazing Rabbi Jesus. Perhaps a miracle worker? Maybe even the Messiah? Was it possible? Except – many of the Jewish leaders, Pharisees and members of the Sanhedrin wanted to put this upstart Rabbi behind bars! So much to be afraid of!
Yes, the Rabbi Jesus walked through the days of Holy Week, debating with the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders in the Temple and in public places. And then, the Passion Week got even more intense. He ate a Passover dinner with His disciples on Thursday evening. The special thing Jesus did on Maundy Thursday was instituting the Lord’s Supper with the bread and cup of the Passover meal. Do this in remembrance of Me, He said.
After dinner, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. He wanted His disciples to keep watch with Him, but they were too exhausted. After the events of a very busy, anxious and fearful week, just think. The disciples couldn’t keep their eyes open!
This is when the most feared part of the week happened. Most feared yet, that is. Imagine one of the friends of Jesus, a disciple, who traveled with Him intimately for years, coming up to the Rabbi Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. And, kissing Him hello! An intimate gesture of affection! Yet, not affection. What is this? What happened? What was going on, thought the other, sleepy disciples? Roman soldiers? An angry crowd of people? Taking their Rabbi away?
Oh, don’t be afraid, we hear. But how can we not fear? How can we not be anxious?
Then the events follow in rapid succession. The arrest, torture, trials, and sentencing. The walk down the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrow. Jesus dragging the cross outside the old city of Jerusalem. The disciples fled. (I won’t blame them—since their Rabbi and master was sentenced as a criminal and enemy of the state, I suspect the disciples were afraid they might be connected with their leader Jesus, too!)
We see the women at the foot of the cross. The faithful women. And Jesus’ mother, Mary. Then—Jesus dies on the cross. The earth quakes, the sky is darkened. All creation mourns as the Word made flesh, the creator of all the universe, dies on the cross.
What some do not know is that our Lord Jesus was taken down from that cross later Friday afternoon and laid in a new tomb. Quickly, quickly, before night fell on that Friday evening, and the Jewish Sabbath began. A time of God-ordained rest when no work could be done, not even to bury a dearly loved one.
Friday night passed. All day Saturday—the Jewish Sabbath—passed. Saturday night, and nothing could be done. No work, certainly. It was dark, after all!
On Sunday morning, the first day of the week, the two Marys came to the new tomb. I’d imagine they came early, early in the morning, creeping—coming on tiptoe toward the tomb. I’d also imagine that they might have been frightened to come into a graveyard.
“Don’t be afraid!” Is that a familiar thing to say to your family? Children or grandchildren? Even ourselves? Just think of the dedication and love and respect the two Marys had for their beloved Rabbi Jesus. Even with that strong feeling, it must have taken a tremendous amount of courage to go to that new tomb early on that Sunday morning.
What about you? What about me? Would we be with the women disciples, courageous enough to go to the tomb? Or, would we be like the rest of the men disciples? Running away, hiding, afraid to show our faces?
As Matthew tells us in his Gospel, an Angel of the Lord had rolled away the stone, and sat upon it. “3 [The Angel’s] appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.”
What about the two Marys? The Angel said to them, first thing, “Do not be afraid!”
This is an important command for us, too! Do not be afraid! Let’s go a few verses further. The risen Jesus greets the two women with the same words: “Do not be afraid!” Here, I am certain the women were scared half to death when they encountered Jesus!
Talk about an Easter surprise! No one expected their Rabbi Jesus to be alive again.
What on earth does this mean for us, today? “For children, this simply means ‘don’t be afraid of anything. I am stronger than the worst evil there is. And, no matter what happens I will be with you always.’”  And for us big people, it can mean exactly the same thing. Jesus tells all of us, “Don’t be afraid!” This is a message we can tell each other again and again.
Who among us needs to hear this Good News from Jesus this morning? Who needs to be reassured with “Do not be afraid?” Jesus has His hands stretched out wide. This is very much the truth. Yes, Jesus is alive. Yes, He is Lord. And, yes, He has conquered death once and for all. Do you hear? Listen again to the words of Jesus: “Do not be afraid!”
We, too, can worship Jesus. We, too, can go and tell. Tell our friends, families, even strangers on the street about our Good News. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!
Worshiping with Children, Easter Sunday, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2014.