Sermon: Be Not Afraid!

8 April 2007

The Rev. Bryn Smallwood-Garcia
Congregational Church of Brookfield (UCC)
April 8, 2007


Be Not Afraid! 

Matthew 28:1-10

Prayer:   “May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts and minds be acceptable to you,
O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.”


“Be not afraid!” the angels always shout, when they burst upon the scene.  How many of us got to play an angel in the Christmas pageant, when we were little?  Did you get to say that? “Be not afraid!”  I did – in my Kindergarten pageant.  It was my theatrical debut.  My teachers told my mom that I had been picked for the role because I had the biggest voice.  But you can bet I wasn’t the biggest kid!  How scared do you think those shepherds were when I made my entrance?  They were a bunch of mean little boys who liked to tease me and pull my pigtails.  So I gave it all I had when I rushed onto the stage, “Be not afraid!”   Do you think they were scared then?  No.  But I got a big laugh. 

How many of you ever got to play the angel of the Lord as an adult?  One Christmas in California I cast my old Shakespeare-in-the-Park friend Daniel in that role.  He’s not a huge guy, but he is wiry and intense –we dressed him all in black, black sunglasses, black military boots, and a floor-length red Matrix-style duster jacket.  When he rushed the stage, lighting his sword from one of the Advent candles and waving those high flames above his head, you can bet we were all afraid – especially the ushers, even though they’d been briefed on all the fire extinguisher locations.

Here at the empty tomb at Easter, no matter which version we read from scripture, we lifelong church members I think can easily forget how scary the story really is.  We don’t pay a lot of attention to the angel of the Lord, because we’re so focused on Jesus and the Good News of his resurrection.  We forget that it all took place in a graveyard, in the darkest dawn hours.  This story is loaded with fear – so you might think we should be celebrating Easter more as we do Halloween, with dark tombstones and dazzling bright, scary angels as decorations instead of little fluffy bunnies and pretty pastel eggs!  Fear is what this story is all about, and fear is the enemy that ultimately runs away defeated when the full impact of Easter dawns on all the disciples and the Jesus movement begins to spread throughout the Roman Empire.

Fear is the premium fuel that keeps empires running, then and now.  Fear of outsiders.  Fear of people from other countries, other races, other religions.  Fear of government authorities and the punishments they can inflict.  Fear of homelessness.  Fear of starvation.  Fear of disease.  Fear of death.  All of these fears help a ruler keep order and control over a silenced nation.  On a smaller scale, fear keeps dysfunctional family systems running too.  Fear of pain from an abusive parent or spouse will keep a victim quiet and obedient.  Fear of loss of control, ironically, is often what sends an abuser spiraling out of control, with anger driven by fear.

Even in our ordinary lives, when you stop to think of it, how many fears paralyze us?  Fear of just being ourselves, in case people think we’re too weird or different and leave us out of their groups.  Fear of giving something away, in case we might want or need it later.  Fear of speaking up, and saying what we really think, in case someone might disagree – or worse, laugh at us.  Fear of reaching out to a new friend, in case we are rejected.  Fear of standing up to a bully, in case they refuse to back down. Fear of trying something new or difficult, in case we make a mistake. 

The question that Easter begs us to ask is, “What power runs your life today?  Is it faith or fear?”  Sometimes we aren’t even aware we’re afraid, because the symptoms can be subtle or indirect.  Fear of failure can manifest as overwork, with a variety of stress-related illnesses.  Fear of stillness can manifest as a life of meaningless activity.  Fear of strong feelings can manifest as abuse of strong drink, or drugs.  But fear of death remains the big fear, bigger than most people would care to admit.  I think the root fear is fear is fear of suffering.  Most people can live with the idea of being dead, even atheists – it’s the how-we-get-there that gives us pause. 

The Roman Empire understood what a powerful motivator fear of suffering could be, and had a perfect form of painful execution in crucifixion. We forget, I think, how afraid Jesus’s closest followers, women and men, must’ve been right after his death.   Jesus didn’t name Peter “the Rock” for nothing.  To earn that nickname, and to be entrusted with leadership of Christ’s future church, the consensus must’ve been that he WAS a rock:  solid, brave, and loyal beyond a doubt.  For PETER, of all the disciples, to have been caught running away in fear the night of Jesus’s arrest, denying any part in the Jesus movement, that tells us how great the fear must’ve been.  Those women who actually watched their beloved teacher get crucified must’ve been terrified that first Easter morning when they set out to anoint Jesus’s body at his tomb.  They couldn’t have known that the guards would not have tried to arrest them, instead of collapsing in fear .  Their love for Jesus was stronger than their fear of death.  Love is the perfect antidote to fear. 

When I was 13, my grandmother Lela, who lived with us, died of pancreatic cancer.  She was 89, but until she got sick, she had been the closest I had to a sister growing up.  At 4 foot 10, she had a lot of dress-up clothes and shoes (size 2) pretty close to my size.  She had waist-length white hair that she let me brush and pin up with little pins.  We went walking and bird-watching together, she with her cane and her tiny red tennis shoes.  She told me funny stories about the 1880s, when she was a child.  She was a painter, and let me do watercolors with her.  She loved music, and was waiting every day to hear me practice the piano when I got off the bus after school.  She had a great laugh, where she’d throw her head back and laugh with her mouth wide open. 

My dad came to school to tell me she had died, and drove me home.  He said we’d visit her later at the funeral home.  I really didn’t want to do that, but my mom talked me into it.  She told me the first time she’d ever seen a dead body, she’d been relieved that it wasn’t as bad as she’d imagined.  But I was afraid.  When we got to the visitation, I hung back, but my mom urged me on.  “You’ll see,” she whispered, “it’s important to see,” she said, “that she’s not there.” I DID see – Mam-ma’s favorite robin’s egg blue Easter suit was just visible above the coffin, and I was afraid.  She clearly WAS there.  I really didn’t want to see her face.  I was afraid I might faint or scream or cry or something.  So I clung to Mom’s arm and hid my face on her shoulder.  She let me hide, but she whispered again, “You’ll feel better if you see for yourself.”  So finally I looked, and do you know what I did?  I didn’t faint or scream or cry.  I threw back my head and laughed, because I got my grandmother’s laugh.  It felt VERY loud, but I don’t think anyone noticed.  Except my mom.  She whispered again.  “See?  What did I tell you? She’s not there.” My fear was gone, because I could see for myself – she was NOT there.

That’s part of what’s behind our joy when we sing, “Christ is Risen” on Easter.  The promise of everlasting life is a blessing Christians have celebrated throughout the ages.  But there’s more to our resurrection faith than that.  It’s about being fully alive and full of hope while we’re still here.  It’s about running with courage the race that is set before us, following in the footsteps of generations of Christians who have walked on the way with Jesus. 

Our resurrection faith calls us to bear witness to the living Christ and proclaim again “Christ is risen!” when we sense His holy presence among us, but especially when we do not, when we feel afraid.  We need to name it and claim it and shout it out loud, not just for others, but for ourselves as well.  It’s easy to witness Christ alive in our children’s shining faces, when they sing for us radiant with joy.  But we also need to take the Good News of Christ’s victory over the grave to places where fear rules the world – to the halls of nursing homes and hospitals, to the cane fields of the Dominican Republic, to the places where lawmakers make decisions for war or for peace.

We are an Easter people; we need the resurrection more than ever in these dark and fear-driven days.  I give thanks to God that each of you felt called to come here today to share again in our ancient Easter proclamation, with the generations who’ve gone before us.  May God’s steadfast love cast out all fear, today and always.  “Christ is risen!”    Thanks be to God for this Good News.  Amen.

This page was last updated on 02/08/2014 09:04 AM.
Please send any feedback, updates, corrections, or new content to .