Three words with which St Mark’s Gospel in its original form finishes –“They were afraid”.. (Mark 16.8) Mark is talking about the disciples who have just been told by an angel that Jesus is risen. Their immediate reaction is, we are afraid. They ran off quickly and initially at least, said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. And just in case you think that Mark was talking about awe or wonderment, no he wasn’t! The word he uses is the one from we derive the word phobia – real fear, really scared.
It seems strange, doesn’t it? We think of Easter as all about joy, excitement or exhilaration. Fear seems somehow inappropriate. But even after the disciples had digested the news of the resurrection and were gathered together in an upper room, St Luke tells us that the disciples were startled and frightened when Jesus arrived in among them
Why? a fear of ghosts? Possibly, but I believe that it was far more than this. What frightened them was surely the terrifying NEWNESS of what was happening, and the massive DIFFERENCE it would have to make to absolutely everything. The meaning of Resurrection was, for them, enormous in its effect. And the change frightened them. And, let’s be honest, the thought of really changing frightens everyone, young or old..
Everything had to be different with Easter Day, and everything still has to be different.
We know that Our Lord was different after the resurrection. We are told that the disciples did not recognise him at first. Mary in the garden thought he was a gardener. Even those who walked the miles with him from Jerusalem to Emmaus did not know who their companion was until the walk was all over... Whatever was different about Jesus frightened even his closest friends.
They clearly saw Jesus as he was, and is - The Christ of God. Perhaps for the first time they knew with an unmistakeable and unshakeable certainty who it was they had been with for those three years. They now saw him as He is, and because of this they saw themselves as they were - faithless, halfhearted, unworthy of the love and the compassion of their Lord and Master.
Christ's resurrection meant so much more than the other Gospel stories of people being raised from the dead - Lazarus in Bethany, or the widow's son (whose name we never hear) in Nain. They had to go through the business of dying all again, but Christ had conquered death for all time. Christ's resurrection changed their world and why would they not be frightened? They knew that they had really fallen into the hands of the living God, and, as the writer of the letter to the Hebrews tells us, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Again that word fear, one that has all but disappeared from the Christianity of today.
When the meaning of Christ's resurrection for us does not fill us with a fear of God – a perfectly healthy and wholesome fear of God - then it is only because we have either stopped taking our faith seriously, or else never took it seriously in the first place. Because Easter means for us, as it meant for the first disciples, that everything is changed and everything goes on changing.
The announcement “all change” means you have to get out of the train or the bus you’re on, and get into another one. Resurrection / Easter means “all change” and as ordinary human beings (like the first disciples) we don't much like the thought of everything we are being upset and changed utterly.
I remember learning first-hand many years ago as a country rector that a hen run will become utterly chaotic if a stranger, anyone unfamiliar, sets foot into it.. People may not be too different! People often think they want change but are not great at handing it when it becomes absolute reality. And this applies even to relatively small changes in routine.
And yet the changes that Easter demands in every part of our lives are so huge that we really would have something to get upset about and be fearful of, if we could only be persuaded to take them seriously.
A real belief in Easter means first and foremost that we take our self-important little selves a great deal less seriously and God a great deal more seriously; it means that we sort out our priorities once and for all, and decide whether our faith is really the resurrection faith that once rocked the world or is our faith simply a private hobby that is fine but mustn’t take up too much of our time?
In other words, do we believe in our hearts (as distinct from on our lips) that we are indeed the humble followers of a crucified and risen Lord, who will put ourselves each day only at His disposal?
I am convinced that the real sickness which is eating its way through the Christian church and destroying the faith of people, young and old, is the reality that so many people in the Church take themselves and their opinions very seriously and they wish to be admired, respected and even feared by others, and yet who will not walk in the fear of God -
The God who created us, who died for us, who destroyed death for us, and before whom we will stand at the end of our earthly life, at our judgement. (If you think this is all a bit heavy for Easter, remember that these are all things we say 'yes' to in the creed Sunday by Sunday.)
In the confession, we asked that we might walk “in newness of life”, and that should be a frightening prospect if we meant it. Jesus walking in resurrection life – newness of life - frightened his disciples. Above all, any newness of life means CHANGE.
Easter is all about hope, BUT a hope that comes with real change. There can be no hope for us if we are not ready for change, and to be changed.
It is all a bit frightening isn't it? Really scary..
And yet, after we receive the Holy Communion this morning we join in prayer that we who have shared Christ's body may live his risen life. This Easter life was a risen life that scared his disciples by the hugeness of the change it meant for everything. If we're not ready for that, we're not ready for Easter.