WORSHIP THIS WEEK: “It’s not fair!” We’ve all said it. We’ve all heard it. This Sunday, September 24, we hear a story that reminds us how incredibly unfair God’s grace is – and how we depend on that unfairness every day. Join us for worship at 10:00 on Sunday, either at 300 Shunpike Road or in our digital sanctuary here: https://www.youtube.com/live/pyQW0rXruqM?si=4Y9usDoGoO4q87Bv
April 9, 2023
Yesterday I had to run a few errands, and afterwards I stopped for a quick lunch before heading here to church. The restaurant was almost empty. Only one other table was occupied, by a mom and her toddler daughter. I smiled as I watched mom helping her kid try different foods. At one point the girl turned to look at me, and she said “Hi!” That started a back-and-forth that went on for quite a while. I learned her name is Maggie, and she is 20 months old – a “big girl,” she insisted. Maggie told me her food was yummy. She wanted to know if mine was yummy. She likes to have good dreams, and sometimes she dreams about being a puppy. She also loves to color; her favorite colors are pink, orange, blue, and green. At one point her mom laughed and said, “I’ve never heard her have a complete conversation with someone before.”
As they were leaving, Maggie waved and said, “Have a nice day!” I said, “Bye, honey!” And she turned to me and said, “Bye, honey!”
It’s amazing to watch kids learn new things. Their first steps, their first words, their first day of kindergarten, their first time behind the wheel, their first year of college, their first real job – these are moments that are filled with delight as you watch them grow. But there’s also an undercurrent of terror. Each milestone means they’re one step closer to being independent, one step farther away from you being able to control their entire world. You can’t bubble-wrap them. You can’t protect them against everything.
This is a truth of the human condition: to love deeply means walking around with a strange combination of fear and joy.
While we celebrate the joy of resurrection this morning, there’s plenty to be afraid of in this Easter story from Matthew’s gospel. There’s an earthquake, for starters. I lived in California for a decade, and I can tell you that even a small earthquake can get your heart racing.
As Mary Magdalene and the other Mary come to the tomb, they also carry the trauma of having seen their beloved friend and teacher die in the worst way imaginable. A gruesome, bloody, awful death that they had witnessed.
When they get there, they find the stone rolled back and a strange-looking angel sitting on it, his clothing white as snow. Whoever this creature is, he looks scary enough to make even the guards shake and become like dead men.
The angel tells the two Marys: “Do not be afraid.”
I love how angels in the gospels are always saying “Don’t be afraid.” It’s like their default opening line. “Don’t be afraid, Mary. You’re going to be the mother of the messiah.” “Don’t be afraid, shepherds. Even though the whole sky is filled with a heavenly chorus telling you about a baby you have to go see.” “Don’t be afraid, Joseph, even though a murderous tyrant named Herod wants to kill your kid, and you’re going to need to hide out in Egypt for a while.”
“Don’t be afraid, women at the tomb, even though you’ve watched your friend die, and now his body seems to be missing.”
OF COURSE they’re going to be afraid. Any of us would be.
But there’s more. The angel tells them that Jesus has been raised from the dead. The angel tells them to go – to go quickly – and tell the other disciples that Jesus will meet up with all of them soon.
I might have said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
The women don’t hesitate. They leave the tomb quickly and run to tell the disciples. But do you hear how they leave?
With fear and great joy. There it is. Two wild emotions jumbled together in their hearts. He is risen…What does this mean?…He is risen…Did someone steal the body?…He is risen…This must be a trap…a mix-up…an awful joke. But maybe it’s true? Maybe he’s alive?
In spite of all of the confusion in their hearts, they keep moving. They go, prepared to tell the others what they have seen and heard. And there he is. Jesus. Jesus meets them on the way. “Greetings,” he says, as if it’s just an ordinary morning, and they’ve agreed to meet for brunch.
They fall at his feet. In that moment I suspect the joy outweighed the fear.
And soon Jesus is giving them the same message: “Don’t be afraid. Go and tell.”
What do we do when we are in the grip of both fear and great joy? It’s tempting to get stuck, to refuse to do anything because we feel so overwhelmed. I wonder what we might learn from the two Marys, who keep moving. I’m not suggesting that we ignore our feelings, but what if we were to welcome them? We keep moving. We keep telling the story. We keep bearing witness to the risen Lord. In what we do and what we say, we try to become the way that other people encounter Jesus.
Fear and great joy. That’s the tension that comes when we love deeply, when we love so much that we are at once terrified about how vulnerable it makes us and filled with joy at the wonder of it all.
Writer Clint Smith has a new poem called “All at Once.”[i] In it he places side by side images of love and hope with images of horror and grief. Here are a few lines:
“A man comes home from war and holds his son for the first time. A man is killed by a drone that thinks his jug of water is a bomb. Your best friend relapses and isn’t picking up the phone. Your son’s teacher calls to say he stood up for another boy in class. A country below the equator ends a twenty-year civil war. A soldier across the Atlantic fires the shot that begins another…There is a funeral procession in the morning and a wedding in the afternoon.”
What would be your two images? What is a time when you were more afraid than you’ve ever been? And when did you feel a joy you didn’t know was possible?
This is the life we share on the other side of resurrection. Until the kingdom of God is fully realized, we sit in this tension between fear and great joy.
And we have the gift of God’s presence. In the meal we receive this morning. In the love we share. In the beauty of creation and the heartbreak of loss, the risen Lord is with us. The risen Lord has saved us from sin and death, and he meets us on the way again and again.
Connected as the body of Christ, let’s keep moving together through all of it…the fear, the joy, the hope, the worry, the belly laughs, the wrenching tears, the love, the love, the love.
And then, let’s go and tell the story. Amen.
S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ
[i] See Clint Smith’s new volume of poetry Above Ground, p. 3.
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Rafters will explore how to serve God and God’s mission for their lives. Rolling River Rampage VBS is for children who will be 4 years old by October 1, 2018 with the oldest completing Grade 5 in June.
Monday through Thursday, July 16-19, 9:30 am – 12:15 pm
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