Easter March 31, 2024: Don’t Be Afraid

Don’t Be Afraid

Matthew 28: 1-10

Easter Service on March 31, 2024

Does anyone know the most frequent command in the Gospel stories? Angels say it. Jesus says it. What is that command you hear most often in stories related to Jesus?        (Don’t be afraid)

What are you afraid of these days?

Something bad happening to a child or grandchild.

A shooter.

Cancer returning to our body or to someone we love.

Democracy ending in our country.

Dementia for ourselves or a loved one.

A family member dying.

A health issue getting worse and worse.

What are you afraid of these days?

I remember a time a few years ago when I had trouble with being afraid.

Did I ever tell you that I like to canoe up in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of northern Minnesota?

This story comes from a time fifteen years ago when I took a trip with our daughter Sarah who was 23 at the time.

          That day, we quickly drop off stuff at our campsite and paddle to the Mountain Lake overlook. We hike up the trail to the top of this palisade bluff. It’s my favorite spot in the whole world. Today the sunshine and blue skies add to its amazing beauty.

We take many pictures. Then Sarah says, “Dad, get a picture of me standing over there.” She points to the end of the rock ledge. It drops straight down about thirty feet. She’s telling me she wants to stand right next to the edge. I shudder even today thinking about it. Can you imagine…

 We’re in the middle of the wilderness. There are no guardrails to prevent her from slipping and falling to her death.

          I say, “No, you’re not going to go over there.”

          “Dad, it would be a great picture.”

          “I don’t care. I value your life.”

          “Dad, come on.”

          “I said ‘No!’”


We go back and forth. Then she says the words that fit into this sermon, “Dad, don’t be afraid.”        

          Don’t be afraid? Sure. Like that’s really possible. With my daughter’s life at risk on this mountain ledge? Don’t be afraid?

God says to us in our Scripture reading today and many places throughout Scripture: “Don’t be afraid.”

At first glance, it sounds like we get off with an easy command. That should be no problem.

But as I see Sarah standing up and start moving toward the end of that ledge, I realize that command is impossible for me to do. Of course, I’m going to be afraid.

Maybe you find that command difficult as well.

We respond, “God, how can one not be afraid?”

Mary Magdalene is facing that same dilemma.

The angel says these words to Mary: “Don’t be afraid.”

Probably the response of Mary’s heart is, “God, how can I not be afraid?”

How can she not be afraid? Think of what she’s been through in the past few days.

Mary was there on Friday. Mary watched Jesus being nailed to the cross by the Roman centurions. Mary saw Jesus take his last breath. How could she not be afraid?

Mary was there. Mary knelt by the body of Jesus as Joseph took it down from the cross. Mary touched Jesus’ cold forehead before Joseph covered the body with a shroud and carried it away. Mary followed Joseph to the dark tomb. The stone rolled in front put a final period to the end of life as she had known it. How could she not be afraid?

Mary was there on Saturday. She hid with the other women in the village of Bethany. They wondered if Jesus’ death was only the beginning? Would the Romans and Jewish leaders work together to capture and execute every member of their group? How could they not be afraid?

It’s like for Mary her worst fears are coming true. It’s like she watched Jesus being nudged closer and closer to the edge of that rocky overlook. She was so afraid that something might happen to Jesus. And then something does. On that Friday, it’s like Jesus is pushed over the cliff. She hears Jesus scream as he falls to his death.

What’s next? In a world where fears become realities, there is only more fear for the future. How can she not be afraid?

Mary is there early Sunday morning. As soon as the Sabbath restrictions are lifted, two women leave Bethany for Jerusalem: Mary Magdalene and the other Mary.

They arrive at the tomb. The first thing they notice is that the door of the tomb is open. The stone has been rolled away.

Mary Magdalene screams and drops her jar of ointments. She yells, “Something is wrong. Something is very wrong.”

Mary is there on Sunday morning seeing the stone rolled away. How can she not be afraid?

 But her fear doesn’t stop Mary from moving toward the tomb. She bends down into the tomb. It’s difficult to see. The light is dim. Mary reaches over to the ledge. Her hand feels the top of the ledge. It’s empty. This is the ledge where they placed the body of Jesus. It’s empty!

Mary’s stomach twists into knots. She thinks to herself, “He’s gone! What happened? How come this nightmare just keeps getting worse and worse?”

Mary is there on Sunday morning feeling the absence of Jesus’ body. How can she not be afraid?

Our Scripture today in Matthew continues this story:

The angel said to the women, “Don’t be afraid! I know you are looking for Jesus, who was nailed to a cross. He isn’t here! God has raised him to life, just as Jesus said he would. Come, see the place where his body was lying. Now hurry! Tell his disciples he has been raised to life and is on his way to Galilee. Go there, and you will see him. This is what I came to tell you.”

So they left the tomb quickly with fear and ran to tell his disciples.” 

They were commanded to not be afraid. But how can they not be afraid??  They ran in fear….

Think about all that you face in your life today. Think about your fears for the future, your fears for your loved ones, and your fears about your health. How can you not be afraid this morning, just like Mary and the other woman? It’s an impossible command.

John’s gospel contains an additional story. Mary is by the tomb when she hears a voice.


Mary turns around.  She sees someone who she thinks is the gardener.

“Woman, why are you crying?”

“Because they’ve taken my Lord away. I don’t know where they’ve put him.”

“Woman, what are you looking for?”

“Sir, if you’re the one who carried him off, tell me where he is and I’ll get him myself.”

The man moves toward Mary. In a soft, familiar voice, the man says, “Oh, Mary.”

She gasps.

Now she recognizes who it is. “Rabboni. Teacher. You’re alive.”

Suddenly, the impossible command becomes a promise.

The command, “Don’t be afraid” is transformed into a word of hope.

She doesn’t need to be afraid.

Because the last word is life, not death.

The last word is a risen God, not a dead one.

The last word is hope, not despair.

I remember a time my mom experienced that hope.

My parents were involved in a bad car accident ten years ago. It left my mother with seven broken ribs, a fractured vertebrae and problems with her lung. I spent four days with my parents while she was in a large St. Louis hospital.

It was a difficult week for my mom. She was dealing with tremendous pain, extreme weakness, and very slow progress. It was discouraging for my mom because before this she was such an independent person. She was always doing something to help others. Now, she couldn’t do anything for herself. She had to depend on nurses and family to do everything for her.

Friday morning, a week after the accident, the doctor pulled out the drainage tube my mom had to her lungs. While he was pulling it out, my mom gasped. The doctor angrily said, “Oh, you shouldn’t have breathed in while I was doing that. Now I might have to re-insert that drainage tube.” He ordered an X-Ray and quickly walked out of the room.

My mom was scared. She was scared permanent damage was done to her lungs as a result of her gasping for that breath. She was scared they’d put that tube back in which meant that whatever progress she’d made would be reversed.

She lay in bed all that afternoon overwhelmed by her fears. She didn’t want to sit up, walk or do anything.  

My dad and I left for a little while. When I returned, mom said she was ready to take a walk. We walked to the end of the hall and looked out the window.

My mom said, “Michael, while you were gone just now, I turned on the TV. There was a program there put together by the chaplain’s office. It showed these beautiful scenery pictures. There was soft music. They shared all these encouraging quotes and Scripture references. It was about trusting the Lord in difficult times.”

My mom had tears in her eyes as she said, “I really needed to hear that. It really touched me. It gave me hope.”

I’m so thankful for how the Lord showed up in the middle of my mom’s fear and gave her hope.

This morning, God shows up in the midst of our fear-filled life.

God says, “Don’t be afraid.” At first, we respond, “How can we not be afraid?”

God says, “It’s not an impossible command. It’s a promise. You don’t need to be afraid….You don’t have to be afraid anymore.”

“But what about…”

God calmly says, “Yes, some of your fears may come true.

But the last word is not death. It is life.

The last word is not a dead God who is absent. It is a living God who is present with you.

The last word is not despair. It is hope for you.”

Let’s pray: God, each of us have fears right now. Each of us has worries about our lives and our loved ones. We entrust you with those fears and worries. We lay them down at your feet.

 We trust that you will come and remind us that we don’t need to be afraid. We don’t have to be afraid.

We can trust you. We can lean on you. We can look to you for hope. We can depend on you for life. Just as your Son found life in you on that first Easter Sunday.

Thank you.

We ask this in the name of the Risen Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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