Responding to Fear with Resurrection
Updated: Apr 11
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: Matthew 28:1-10
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. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.
And what does he say to the two Marys? Do not be afraid. Um, excuse me? I’m sorry. That whole experience is terrifying.
These women are coming to tend to Jesus’ body. They saw him die. They are devastated. And probably very tired. And when they get there, there’s an actual earthquake, and a shining being comes down from the sky and rolls away a giant boulder like it’s nothing. Sitting here now, we have the benefit of knowing what happened. But these women didn’t. The whole experience was completely out of their realm of possibility.
It was completely out of the realm of experience of the men who were guarding the tomb to make sure the disciples didn’t steal Jesus’ body. And what happened to them? For fear, they shook and became like dead men. They passed out. They literally became paralyzed by their fear.
I am sure that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were afraid, but they responded differently. They did not let their fear paralyze them. And so they were able to hear the good news of hope that this angel had for them.
This angel tells them not to be afraid because, well, he understands that they probably were afraid. But he also tells them not to be afraid because what he is about to say is wonderful. Literally full of wonder. It is a great shift in our world. An unfathomable change in everything we know and understand. “I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.”
So we have two different reactions to this incredible event. We have the guards paralyzed and incapacitated by their fear. And we have the women who, despite their fear, waited for and trusted in the good news.
So it’s not so much “Do not be afraid” as “Do not let fear paralyze you.” Do not let fear rob you of the hope that is always present. Do not let fear stand in the way of resurrection.
Change can seem terrifying. Even good change. Sometimes it IS terrifying. But it’s about how we respond in the face of fear that shows us what we really believe.
There’s a lot to be genuinely afraid of right now. Our climate is changing at an unprecedented rate, and no one knows exactly what that means for our future. There is an undercurrent of white Christian nationalism and fascism threatening the foundations of our democracy. There is a pandemic of gun violence across our country, killing our neighbors and children.
I would feel worried if these things didn’t make us afraid.
But living a resurrection way of life means recognizing our fear and then orienting ourselves towards hope. It is trusting that the Spirit is moving in the world through us. That what we do as the Body of Christ makes a difference. That in the face of climate change, our choices make a difference. That in the face of threats to our democracy, our actions make a difference. That in the face of gun violence, our voices make a difference.
Easter isn’t just a celebration—though it is also that! It is a commitment to a certain way of life. A resurrection way of life. The belief that love will overcome sin, that hope will overcome despair, that new life will overcome death.
That’s what believing in Jesus Christ means. That’s what living into our baptism means.
Baptism isn’t just a rite of passage. Baptism isn’t just a celebration—though it is also that! It’s not something we do to make babies official. It is a commitment to a certain way of life, a resurrection way of life.
It was in fact originally understood to be death to an old way of life and resurrection into something new. That’s why we go under the water and then come up. Now in just a bit we’ll be baptizing baby Wrenley, and I don’t think she needs to die to an old way of life. She just came into this life last September.
But what I love about baptism is that it’s about becoming part of the Body of Christ. It’s about community. Today, Wrenley’s parents and godparents commit to something deep, something important. They commit to bringing Wrenley up in the vows we speak today. To resist evil, to seek and serve Christ in all people, to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.
Underlying each of these vows is a promise that though we may experience fear, we will not be paralyzed by it. When we encounter evil, it might scare us but we will not be paralyzed by it. When we encounter people who look or live or believe differently from us, we might feel afraid at first, but we will not be paralyzed by it.
It’s okay to be afraid. Our fear teaches us that we are on the cusp of something new, and our faith teaches us that we must respond to that fear with justice. With peace. With respect and dignity for every human being.
Jesus faced the most terrifying thing I can possibly imagine. Betrayal by his friends, humiliation, torture, and then death by crucifixion. And our scriptures make no secret of his fear: As he knows what is coming, he prays in the garden, “if it is possible, let this cup of suffering pass from me.” His response to that fear? “Yet not what I want but what you want.” What he also knows is that God wants hope for us. Love for us. Resurrection for us. Not all of us are called to step into the kind of suffering that Jesus stepped into, but all of us are called to move beyond our fear and into a faithful response.
So when we baptize Wrenley, let us remember that as she grows she will be watching us, this little part of the Body of Christ into which she will be adopted. She will be looking to us for how to live. Not just her parents, not just her godparents, but this whole community. And not just by our words, but by what we do. How we act.
It is up to us to teach her that it’s okay to be afraid. But that as people who believe in Jesus Christ, we must respond to that fear with hope, with love, with resurrection.