As Matthew tells the resurrection story, Matthew 28:1-10, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary had just stepped into a new reality. Jesus had been crucified. The earth itself was shaking. They had no idea what life would be like in the future. If the grave could be empty, there was no telling what else God might be up to. If the risen Jesus could meet them on the road, then maybe he actually could be going ahead of them and meet them as he promised! For as he told them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers and sisters to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Mt. 28:10)
This Easter, as our congregations tell the resurrection story, we each step into our own new reality. Perhaps it is the first “more normal Easter” that we have been able to look forward to in three years. Thinking back, three years ago, we were in shock. Two years ago, we were wondering what the “new normal” would be. Last Easter, we had to acknowledge, like St. Paul said, “for now, we see in a mirror dimly” (1 Cor. 13:12). And this year, we cannot be in denial; we know this new time of being the church brings realities yet to be discovered and experienced.
On this holiest day of the church year, Easter Sunday 2023 is an opportunity to speak good news that our world longs to hear more than ever. Some will come to worship because it is an expected family tradition. Some will come because someone invited them to go with them. Some will dare to come to worship in person because you met them where they were online, and now there is something drawing them to beloved community with you. And some will come having the story nearly memorized but knowing they need to hear the old, old story speak to the new reality of their life today.
Whoever the worshipers are, wherever and however they hear the Easter story, the words of Jesus according to Matthew speak a word for today. “Do not be afraid; go and tell.”
“Do not be afraid” is one of those assurances God knows we need to hear. Again, and again! So, it appears frequently in Scripture. Here in Matthew’s Easter story, fear figures prominently and appears four times: “For fear of him…..” “Do not be afraid….” “… with fear and great joy…” “Do not be afraid….”
What a relevant word that is for Easter 2023! It seems like fear tries to grip us in so many ways. We are afraid about:
- health issues and emotional well-being – our own or of those we love;
- the polarization of our communities and congregations;
- flooding and drought;
- our children’s safety while at school;
- the health of creation;
- peace in Ukraine and in the Middle East;
- the economy;
- the survival of our churches;
- the future of opportunities to even tell the Easter story.
Do the words of the living Jesus make a difference this Easter? Yes! Like the Marys, you and I have stepped into a new reality. Sure, it’s not what we would have chosen; but this is where, by God’s grace, we are standing right now. And like the Marys, by God’s grace, Jesus does not just tell us to keep on standing where we are in fear. He says:
- “Do not be afraid.” Calm down. God is on the side of life, and nothing can stop God from loving you. If Jesus could go to the cross and overcome death and the grave with life, be assured that he has the power to give you courage and strength for the living of these days.
- “Go and tell.” Go. Don’t freeze where you are. Walking the way of Jesus is THE way to live; it is what it means to have life and have it abundantly. And that is a message too good to keep to oneself. So, go. Be a witness. Tell someone else.
- “I am going ahead of you.” Yes – Jesus is out ahead of you, bringing new life before we can even imagine the power and presence of God being there. There is no place where you or I will go that Jesus has not gone already.
- “Go to Galilee.” Jesus and the first followers went to Galilee. You and I are sent to the Galilees of our lives, our communities, our world – to the places and people who look for healing, freedom, forgiveness, faith, love, and belonging.
This January, I had the opportunity to walk in the historic and sacred places of the Holy Land, going to the places where Jesus was born and did his ministry – places like Bethlehem and Galilee, holy places where God chose to move, to speak, and to be. They are also places where one hears from the ‘living stones’ who tell the story of Jesus today. Walking in these historic and holy footsteps changes the way I hear Scripture and the way I see the Holy Spirit at work there and here in our synod.
Dear friends, I give thanks for you and for your faithfulness to tell the Easter story in the cities, farmland, and towns where God has planted you. I pray for each of our congregations as you embody the good news of a living Jesus this Easter and every day. May this living Jesus strengthen your hearts, calm your fears, and send you to go and tell.
+ Grace, and peace in Christ,
Rev. Dee Pederson, D.Min.
Bishop, Southwestern Minnesota Synod, ELCA