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“But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.”
Cannons blast with pastel colored confetti. Trumpets sound in victorious cheer. Lilies erupt into bloom. The heavenly chorus sings Alleluia in resounding joy. Finally, the Easter declaration resolves the melody. “He has been raised; he is not here.” The long expected finale to what seemed a bummer of a story. But is it?
Don’t be mad, but…
Whether a friend begins with this phrase instead of a greeting or these words come from a toddler with paint covered hands, you brace yourself for what is to follow. Often what comes next will most likely cause anger, or they would not have started their sentence in that way. This phrase serves as a precursor for something unpleasant. We know to brace ourselves when someone begins by telling us not to be mad.
Do not be alarmed…
What follows will definitely cause alarm. Throughout scripture, heavenly beings begin with a greeting encouraging humans not to be afraid. This greeting is typically followed by something that definitely causes alarm or fear. This phrase serves a precursor for God upending the norm. Earlier, in chapter six of Mark, a synagogue leader begs Jesus to heal his daughter. Others distract Jesus on his way to accomplish this task. Some people approach the synagogue leader, informing him of the terrible news that his daughter has died. Jesus overhears this conversation and interrupts, saying, “Do not fear, only believe.” Jesus finds the leader’s daughter and raises her to life again.
These words do more than indicate something difficult lies ahead; they signify that God is at work. This phrase voices the offer of comfort for what will come. We know that God is doing something incredible and that God asks for trust when we hear “Do not fear” or “Do not be afraid” or “Do not be alarmed” in Scripture.
Do not be alarmed, for God is with you.
The young man in the white robe announces the Easter proclamation. This is not the resolution but a beginning. This greeting indicates that God will upend in the norm. The Easter proclamation leaves us more in suspense than in resolution. He has been raised. This will cause alarm, but trust that God is at work. Do not fear, only believe.
The celebration of Christ’s resurrection unfolds so quickly in the church. We spend an entire week contemplating the events leading up to Christ’s death, but the emotions of the empty tomb are a blur. There is little time to reflect on the uncertainty and suspense in seeing the place where they laid him empty. It is like the slow expectation of a roller coaster clicking its way up the first incline and the whirlwind of the downslope. At the turning point, the heavenly call away from fear turns us toward renewed hope. It is a gift for those places in our lives that feel unresolved.
Do not be alarmed. He has been raised.
A boy watched as the older kids celebrated. It was his older brother’s birthday party. The younger brother watched as all the invited guests gathered around the cake. As everyone prepared to sing an off key rendition of the birthday song, the father slid over to the small boy. He knew something that the rest of the party did not. While everyone had been in the other room, the father had exchanged the candles on the chocolate cake with trick candles. No one else knew that the magnesium flakes in the wick would reignite the flame. Making a wish, the older brother filled his lungs with as much air as possible. Just as he released his deep breath, the father leaned over to the younger brother, and said, “Watch this…”
Brian is the rector of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church and School in Beeville, TX.
Hi friends, Easter is this Sunday! Allel—oh, sorry, I got excited. It’s not quite time for that yet…but almost!
We usually make two mistakes with Easter Season. First is that we sometimes start to celebrate Easter too soon—Easter Egg hunts on Holy Saturday, for example. It’s important to wait: Lent is still Lent. Holy Week is about the way of the cross, Jesus’ last supper with his friends, the foot washing, his death and being laid in the tomb. The story loses some of its power when we skip straight to the last chapter.
The second mistake is that we sometimes don’t celebrate Easter long enough: Easter Season is a full fifty days, all the way until Pentecost on May 20th! Think about it: Lent is about fasting and repentance and mortality, and it’s forty days long. Easter is about new life and resurrection and forgiveness of sins and rejoicing—so it’s a full ten days longer! Easter isn’t just one day; it’s a whole season. If you took on a Lenten discipline, maybe take on an Easter one, too—only let your Easter ‘discipline’ be fun. Go to a movie with your spouse every week. Learn to two-step. Make fancy desserts. Adopt that puppy you’ve been wanting to adopt for six months. Die your hair pink. You get the idea. Fasting and repentance are practices of Lent. Celebration and refreshment are practices of Easter.
Part of my practice for Easter, and part of ours as a church, will be a seasonal change to our newsletter. Many of you know that I write an article like this every week. This practice is a joy and source of learning for me, and I hope it’s thought-provoking for you as well in some small way. For Easter Season, I’ve invited seven guest authors, one for each week, to write instead. Each is a priest, each is a friend and colleague of mine, and each serves a church either in the Diocese of West Texas or in Austin.
Our Gospel passage for Easter Sunday will be Mark 16:1-8. This will be our newsletter theme for Easter Season. It’ll work like this: I’ll focus on Mark 16:1 in my Easter sermon. Each week after that, a guest author will focus on one of the other verses. Mark 16:2 the week following Easter, Mark 16:3 the next, and so on until Pentecost. Not only will this give us a chance to hear from (and celebrate!) some talented clergy in our area, but it will also give me a little end of year refreshment in the form of a break from writing for a few weeks.
I look forward to hearing from them. I hope you do, too.
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