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The Resurrection of Our Lord - Easter Sunday                April 16, 2017

This Weekend's Readings (click each reading to view the passage)
Acts 10:34-43Psalm 118:1-2,14-24; Colossians 3:1-4; Matthew 28:1-10

Pr. Steve's Easter Sermon -
Pr. Steve's Easter Sermon - "Do Not Be Afraid"

Children's Sermon -
Children's Sermon - "Return of Alleluia!"

Easter Sunday Choir Anthem -
Easter Sunday Choir Anthem - "Risen on High!"

Good Friday Anthem - O Sacred Head, Surrounded
Good Friday Anthem - "O Sacred Head, Surrounded"

Maundy Thursday Solo by Kelsey McDonell - The Prayer
Maundy Thursday Solo by Kelsey McDonell - "The Prayer"

Maundy Thursday Homily - Maybe We Should Just Be Silent
Pr. Christine's Maundy Thursday Homily - "Maybe We Should Just Be Silent"

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Sermon Notes from Pastor Steve...  

"Alleluia!"  It's our favorite Easter word!  It means "praise the Lord", and it sums up all of the great feelings we hope Easter brings: joy, happiness, peace, contentment, and for some of us, relief that Lent is finally over!
And yet, as we read the first Easter accounts of Jesus' resurrection, the predominant feeling isn't joy or happiness, but fear. Sure, the women run from the tomb with "great joy", but even that great joy is secondary to fear.  They run from the tomb with "fear and great joy."  And even when they meet the risen Jesus, and recognize that he's alive, they're still afraid.  Jesus has to repeat to them the same words that the angel had just spoken, "Do not be afraid."
"Do not be afraid."  It's actually the most common refrain of all the Easter stories.  And it reminds us that the first disciples of Jesus were still pretty scared, even after they recognized that Jesus was alive.
Sometimes, that strikes us as odd, especially on Easter Sunday when think everybody should be so full of joy.  And we wonder what the disciples had to be afraid of, now that Jesus was alive again.
And yet, all the things that scared the disciples were still there, even after Jesus rose from the dead.  That's why Jesus says, "Do not be afraid" instead of "you don't have anything to be afraid of anymore."
That's an important distinction.  Both the disciples and the Risen Jesus recognized that there was still a lot for the disciples to be afraid of.  The disciples were still afraid of:
  • The authorities who had crucified Jesus three days earlier (both the Romans and the religious leaders.)  They had killed Jesus, but they'd also kill the rest of his disciples if they got the chance... 
  • What the future would hold for them - when Jesus died, their whole future was shattered.  But now that Jesus was alive again, it became clear almost immediately that they weren't going back to "business as usual".  Now what?  The future was clearly going to be very different from what they imagined.  That could be scary...
  • Who they were going to have to become because of their re-newed relationship with the Risen Jesus.  God was leading them into an unknown future and that meant that they were going to have to live differently.  Jesus would now send them to places they'd never been and ask them to do things they'd never done before.  From the very beginning, they seemed to sense this was coming.  And they were scared.
And so when Jesus says, "do not be afraid", he's in fact acknowledging that there's a lot to be afraid of.  But what Jesus is really doing is calling his disciples to live in a new way in spite of all the scary stuff.
"Do not be afraid" doesn't mean "pretend there's nothing scary out there".  Instead, the Risen Jesus is calling his followers to a new way of living which is centered on:
  • Keeping perspective - Jesus' Resurrection shows that there is something greater and more powerful than all the legitimately scary stuff in the world - even the things that could and sometimes would kill them ... 
  • And that's why for us, Easter isn't a time to retreat for a moment into a Pollyanna springtime world of peace and joy where nothing bad can happen to us.  Instead, it's an opportunity to remember that the worst things we've read about in our news feeds this week - including the murders of Christians gathered inside their churches to worship - aren't more powerful or significant than God's power to renew and restore life.  Easter isn't a retreat from reality, but rather an important corrective perspective in the midst of all the bad stuff that happens each day around us and to us. "Do not be afraid" is Jesus' call to always keep in mind that the power of God to restore life really is greater than the power of evil to take it away... 

  • Trust that they're not alone as they move into an unknown future - Jesus told the women that everybody should go back to Galilee, and he didn't tell them anything that would happen once they got there, except that he'd be there already... 
  • And that's why for us, Easter can't just be a retreat back into traditions of our youth, where it seems for a moment like everything is the way it was when we were kids, when we dress up for church and hunt for Easter eggs.  Instead, Easter is the reminder that as we face a future with lots of unknowns, the one thing we can count on is that Jesus will be there ahead of us and with us, helping us to figure out what's next.  "Do not be afraid" is Jesus' promise that he's going to be there in our future, even when we don't know what the future looks like.  Even Jesus' final words in Matthew's Gospel promise that he will be with us "to the close of the age" even though nobody knows when the "end of the age" will come or exactly what it will look like...
  • Acting boldly in spite of their fears - the first part of the journey to Galilee began with leaving the places where the disciples were hiding.  That, in and of itself, was scary.  And yet, sometimes the most important part of "not being afraid" is to take a bold step into the unknown... 
  • For us, too, "church" has sometimes become a place where we feel things don't have to change.  And yet, the Risen Jesus calls us also to grow beyond who we've been so that we can be risen disciples in a new age.  It's scary and confusing whenever anyone - especially God - asks us to change and grow.  But for us too, taking the first steps to change and grow can be the beginning of living beyond our fears, and living in a new and risen way in which we don't let fear control our lives anymore...
The Resurrection is great news, but it's great news for those of us who live in the real world - a world filled with lots of stuff to be afraid of.  And that's because God's new life in Jesus promises us something that can help us deal with all the stuff that's scary and confusing in life.
So "Do not be afraid."  It's the way we live into the new life to which Jesus calls us.  It's the way we bear witness to the Resurrection of Jesus in our lives.  And it's the way we share the power of the Resurrection with the world around us.