What are you afraid of? Sickness? (What if I never recover?) Loneliness? (What if my spouse doesn't keep the promises?) Bankruptcy? (What if I'm not able to pay the bills?) Responsibility? (Will I be able to protect this child in my arms in this scary, scary world?)
So what is it? I know it's something. We all have fear. But ultimately, it is all the same. Really, just about all fear boils down to the same thing - fear of failure - your own or someone else's. It might be your past mistakes that condemn you to current failure, or your present circumstances or even something that might happen in the future. Either you might not be good enough, strong enough, smart enough, rich enough, or whatever else. Or the one you're relying on will not be up to the task. All fear comes back to fear of failure.
In our Easter reading from Mark 16 today, we see it from every angle. From the beginning to the end of the text we see fear. Those ladies on their way to the tomb with arms full of spices and hearts full of disappointment had fear because their teacher, the one they relied on, was gone. All His promises of a new kingdom lay dead in the grave with Him. And their words show the fear spreading now to what even they could accomplish: "Who will roll the stone away?" They had set out to try to accomplish one last worthwhile thing - to show love to their failed leader, treating His body with those spices. Now they were afraid they wouldn't even be able to do that. The stone was too big for them.
Then we see them scared by seeing an angel. They even leave scared. Look at their description in verse 8: "Trembling and bewildered (the Greek word is ecstatic - outside themselves), "Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid." They are in that state of shock when your world is turned upside down. That's scary - but as the truth sets in, realize what has happened - notice - what just happened at that tomb. Easter is the death of fear.
They went there with every kind of fear - failed hopes, weakness for the task, terror of the unexpected, fright in the presence of power, and then the fear of the unknown, the confusion.
But one by one Easter Life destroyed every fear. They were afraid the stone was too big and they couldn't move it.
It's gone. They were afraid when they saw the angel. His first words are, "Don't be." He was on their side. They were afraid Jesus had let them down. They were afraid that His crucifixion was the end. The angel says, "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him."
And then he says, "Go, tell His disciples and Peter (in case Peter was afraid he could never be forgiven after his denial). "Go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you." And right there, right there, it ought to smack us in the face - "Just as He told you."
This is what Jesus had been telling them all along. As recently as that Thursday in the upper room He said, "AFTER I HAVE RISEN, I will go ahead of you into Galilee." (Mark 14:28). Had they not heard that? They didn't have reason to fear all that had gone on. He had told them. They should've known.
But, you see, real life was too real. Fear had won, for a while. It was real. They saw His arrest. And it was very real. They saw the power of that military force come to get Him in the Garden. And it was very real. They saw the scourging and the thorns and the nails and the death. And it was very, very real. They saw His body. And it was dead.
What it looked like was that He had failed them. Just like it so often looks for us. When the injury happens and the relationship breaks, when the check bounces and the credit is rejected; when the crime grows and the cancer spreads; when the sickness lingers and the life ends. It is all very real and it looks like He has failed us. In the midst of our distress, Jesus looks at it as good for us as what those women went expecting to see - a cold lifeless body, someone long dead.
Until we remember what He told us; until we are reminded what He told us. All of that suffering - the scourge and thorns and nails - all of that was meant for me. All of our problems in life we had coming and then some. Because we have failed. We are failures, born already failing the one task given to us humans: "Be perfect." We're not. We failed. We deserve the wages of sin. We deserved the death He took. We deserve hell. And that is real. But Jesus took it. He did not let us down. His death was not defeat. It was exactly what we needed to see. And since, on that cross, He proclaimed "It is Finished," God declared the payment "made in full" by raising Him from the dead.
CHRIST IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN INDEED! And if our life, if our salvation is not based on our past, current, or future performance, but on Jesus' flawless and finished performance, then what do we have left to fear?
Easter Life is the Death of Fear.
The Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday is at 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.