Isaiah 25:6-9; Matthew 28:1-10

The angel says to Mary and Mary, “You must not be afraid.” Jesus says the same thing later. This is the central message of Easter; some have called it the central (human) message of the whole Bible: “Don’t be afraid.” God is in control. Righteousness will prevail.

But we’ve had good reason to be afraid. God is not always obviously in control. Just days ago, Jesus was rejected by the forces of power and violence. Jesus reveals God’s love, truth, and compassion, and the powers of our world reject what that means. They seek to put an end to God’s life.

Scripture affirms that this is all part of God’s plan, but it doesn’t always look like it. Even if John’s gospel is right that Jesus had it sorted out all along, the rest of us sure don’t. We know our own lives and relationships to be under the power of death in many ways.

We have spent forty days walking through reality of death, and it’s been a long Lent. It’s been hard to find God in civil wars, earthquakes, and tsunamis. We haven’t been sure how to pray for politicians as they contend with each other to balance budgets, with jobs and services at stake. We have tried desperately to seek hope when tornadoes killed hundreds in the southern US. Our hearts ache for many in our communities who have lost beloved family during this time. Lent always feels long, but this has been an especially long forty days for many of us.

But when the Bible says “forty,” it means “enough.” Forty days has been long enough. Death has been in power long enough. We’ve spent long enough in fear that sin can cut us off from the love of God. We’ve spent long enough being relationally crippled by resentment and distrust. We’ve spent long enough ignoring others, living in the death of being strangers to one another. We’ve spent long enough denying our gifts as if God can’t do something new with us.

God says, “Do not fear.” Death has prevailed long enough. The powers of death that guard the tomb have collapsed as if they were dead themselves. Something new is coming to life. The fear of the unknown gives way to hope for future adventures. The insecurity that leads people to defend and expand their power through violence now gives way to gratitude, generosity, and true abundance. Old grudges give way to reconciliation and mutual understanding. And death itself gives way to life beyond finite human limitations.

The power of death is empty. Come and see where Christ used to lie bound – he’s not there anymore! Life is no longer bound by death! Christ has gone ahead of us to Galilee, to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Christ is still in the world. We’ll find him where he always was – where he called us, where he taught us, where he healed and fed us. It’s there that God invites us to begin serving and feeding all over again. Go back to where you were fed, to feed others. Go back to where you were taught, to teach someone else. Go back to where you were found, to open the door for another of God’s children.

God’s boundless life in the world hasn’t ended, it begins again today. We’re still invited to enter God’s new life, to live God’s dream. We’re released from the burden of judging ourselves and others, and we’re freed to hear and speak the truth in the confidence that eternal love bears us up. We’re freed from fear and invited to discover the abundance that comes from trusting God’s generosity for all people. We’re invited to tell others what God has done, to share with words and actions the transformed reality of life.

That’s where Easter happens. The angel doesn’t show Mary and Mary where Christ is, only where he was. They don’t see the risen Christ at the tomb. Instead, they meet him on their way to Galilee, while responding to the angel’s message. As they take the small steps of faith, Jesus appears. I’m convinced that the angel’s message is true: Christ is risen; the life of world can’t finally die. But I’m equally convinced that we can’t see it until we try it, until we take up the invitation and respond to the good news by living as if it were real.

We don’t have to respond by getting it all right at once. We don’t have to be models of new life, forgiveness, abundant generosity, and life-changing evangelism. Instead, we’re invited to start somewhere small. To forgive one person, to share one thing with someone in need, to plant one seed in the garden, to tell (or hear) one story. Please don’t try to get Easter right all at once. Just do something. Take one step, and Jesus will meet you on the way. God’s restored life will start to take shape in you as you take that one step.

I know a mission worker in El Salvador. She’s investing her career in empowering communities through partnership with US Presbyterians, but she didn’t start there. She started with handling the coffee orders for the Salvadorean coffee growers’ cooperative, some light paperwork in her spare time. She recognized as she went that this partnership was changing lives. She traveled with delegations to El Salvador and met some of the people she had worked with from afar. Eventually, the opportunity came along to replace the retiring mission coworker, and she took that big leap. And I can see (even from here) that it’s her calling.

That leap was a long time coming. Really, it was made of several smaller leaps, many trusting steps along the way of following Christ. Christ met her at each of those small steps to welcome and affirm her. He greeted her with peace and blessing, saying, “Don’t be afraid, I’m going to do something new in you. I have joyful and loving plans for you.”

Slowly, gently, and peacefully, Christ transforms our lives. God makes us new. So have no fear: life isn’t bound by death. Have no fear: the future isn’t bound by the past. Have no fear: we don’t have to overcome the world all by ourselves. All we’re invited to do is to start down the road, to follow with as much faith as we can find, and God’s almighty love will do the rest.

Have no fear: Christ is risen. We live again. Alleluia!