Part 6 of the series “Lead Us Not Into Temptation”
Rev. Mark Schaefer
Kay Spiritual Life Center
April 5, 2015—Easter Sunday
Image courtesy wordle.net
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they could go and anoint Jesus’ dead body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they came to the tomb. They were saying to each other, “Who’s going to roll the stone away from the entrance for us?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away. (And it was a very large stone!) Going into the tomb, they saw a young man in a white robe seated on the right side; and they were startled. But he said to them, “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He isn’t here. Look, here’s the place where they laid him. Go, tell his disciples, especially Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.” Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
So states the ancient Easter proclamation, the declaration of the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Today is the day we celebrate the arrival of the women at the tomb, prepared to anoint the dead body of their friend and master, only to find the stone rolled away, the tomb empty, and a messenger who proclaims that Jesus has been raised from the dead and has gone ahead of them to Galilee where they will see him.
Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
It’s the perfect way to sum up not just the Easter proclamation, but the Christian proclamation. Indeed, none of us would be here were it not for that event. Had Christ not been raised, his disciples would have returned to Galilee in sorrow and depression, having witnessed the unjust murder of their master and teacher. They would have returned to lives of fishing, or tax collecting, or whatever they had done before and the Jesus Movement would have been a blip on the radar of Jewish religious history.
But that’s not what happened. Instead, those early followers went on to spread that message of Christ’s victory over death and the imminence of the Kingdom of God throughout the known world, eventually becoming the world’s largest religion with over two billion adherents.
Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
That makes for as good a Christian slogan as any you’re likely to come up with. So let me ask you this: why do Christians act like our primary message is instead: “Be Afraid—Be Very Afraid”? Instead of a faith of boldness and fearlessness, it seems like Christianity is a religion of reactionary attitudes and fearful living.
II. FEAR AT THE TOMB
I suppose that’s nothing new. The scripture lesson for tonight makes that clear. The women have come to the tomb early on Sunday morning to prepare Jesus’ body in accordance with Jewish tradition. They find the stone rolled away from the entrance of the tomb and the tomb itself empty, save for a young man in white robes who tells them that the Jesus they’re looking for is not there; he has been raised from the dead. He tells them to go tell the disciples that Jesus has gone ahead of them to Galilee where they will see him. The response of the women is a fascinating one: they run from the tomb in terror and don’t say anything to anyone “because they were afraid.”
Let’s be honest, if you had gone to a tomb to anoint your loved one’s body after you’d seen him brutally crucified in front of you, and you’d been told by some mysteriously clad stranger that your friend had been raised from the dead and had returned to your home region, you’d be scared, too.
In an episode of the TV show Lost –a show rife with philosophical and religious imagery–one character believes that the death of another character is necessary to achieve what he wants–and so he murders him. Later, he discovers the latter character alive and well. Post-coffin alive. While on some level he had believed it would happen, the first character admits that he wasn’t really expecting it. He says,
I had no idea what would happen. I’ve seen this island do miraculous things. I’ve seen it heal the sick, but never once has it done anything like this. Dead is Dead. You don’t get to come back from that. Not even here.
And then adds, “The fact that [he] is alive scares the hell out of me.” Now, it should be pointed out, that there is nothing at all frightening about the resurrected person–he is quite peaceful, and even agreeable with his murderer. So, it’s not him that the one character is frightened of. It is the idea of him that scares him.
There’s a reason that zombies scare us: the dead are supposed to stay dead. I get it. That would be terrifying.
But that’s not the fear that I’m talking about. The fear I am talking about is not the temporary fear of the women at the tomb—a fear they must have overcome—but the still pervasive fear at loose in Christian faith, especially in our culture today.
III. A CULTURE OF FEAR
Of course, Christianity can hardly fail to be influenced by the wider culture and if there’s one thing our culture is very good at, it’s being afraid.
Fear permeates everything we do. It has long been known that fear is an effective motivator and those who desire our money or loyalty have been wielding it for that purpose for a long time.
Our commerce is driven by our fear of all manner of maladies great and small that we have been persuaded to be afraid of: off-white teeth, bad breath, carbohydrates, hair loss, impotence, growing older, wrinkles, and a whole host of medical conditions that we’d never heard of but that we’d better run out and buy the drugs for.
Our politics is driven by fear: fear of immigrants, fear of Muslims, fear of regulation, fear of public religion, fear of LGBT persons, fear of terrorism, fear of change, fear of loss of healthcare or entitlement benefits. It is a fact that you’re far likelier to die in an automobile accident than in a terrorist attack, but our politicians don’t spend a trillion dollars on a War on Traffic because fear of car crashes can’t be as easily exploited. And people are naturally frightened of change and loss of way of life, but rather than help people face change and adapt to new ways of life, it is easier to get their support by stoking their fears and getting their votes. You don’t actually have to have any ideas of your own, just demonstrate that your opponent’s ideas are frightening and your work is pretty much done.
And don’t get me started on the news. The news media, liberal and conservative are the biggest exporters of terror we have. Everything is sensationalized and designed to scare you into watching. Because watching earns them ad revenue. And so we become terrified of Ebola, or bird flu, or swine flu, or whatever disease was supposed to have killed us all this year. Or we become terrified by missing airliners in spite of the fact that, again, cars are far more dangerous and likely to kill us. Just think about the way the news is marketed, with fear inducing teasers designed to lure you in: “A common household product that you’re probably using right at this very moment can kill you. Details at 11.” Well, if it’s so damned deadly, Action News, tell me now! Don’t make me wait until 11!” But no, then you wouldn’t get the money. And fear drives our consumption. Especially our consumption of the news.
So, I guess it’s no surprise that the same fear that permeates our culture should permeate our religion. We can hardly get away from it.
IV. FEAR AND TEMPTATION
Throughout Lent, we have been exploring the temptations that we as a people and as a church face. And we have been looking at how it is that Christ’s teaching and example help us to resist those temptations. But perhaps there is another level on which we can address the problem: by exploring the root of temptation. We have looked at our temptation to look out for our interests alone, temptation to judge others, temptation to exclude and preserve, and our temptation to go along with the crowd. And every one of those temptations is driven by fear.
Our temptation to look out for our interests alone is driven by a fear of scarcity: the deep-seated biological fear that there aren’t enough resources to go around. And something inside us screams: Make sure you get enough for yourself! We draw our circle of trust narrow and seek to ensure that only we or those closest to us benefit from our labors. Our fear blinds us to the fact that our fate as individuals is inextricably bound to the fate of all humanity, all living things. And so whether we’re afraid of the scarcity of resources or prestige or space or love, we are jealous in guarding these things for ourselves, and miss the clear Christian calling to live lives of self-sacrifice and unconditional love.
Our temptation to judge others is driven by a fear of our own inadequacy. We are tormented by the fear that we’re not good enough or that God is not merciful enough. And so while we cannot ensure that we are doing the right thing, we can sure as hell determine that someone else is doing the wrong thing. It makes us feel better to be able to declare someone else unrighteous and a sinner because that increases our chances. We are unsure of where we stand with God and that fear drives us to judge others in order to exert control over a process that relies ultimately on God’s grace, not our own merit.
Our temptation to exclude and preserve is driven by a fear of loss of identity, familiarity, and a desire to maintain the status quo and control. It sees change as a threat to predictability and security, and that dynamism is viewed with fear and apprehension. And so we draw lines of insiders and outsiders. We seek to keep things as they have always been, reluctant to embrace change for fear of where it will take us, even if that change might take us somewhere wonderful. And even though our Savior came explicitly to upset the status quo.
Our temptation to go along with the crowd is rooted in the fear of exclusion and being left out. It is a deep-seated impulse in social animals that we look for safety in the herd and we fear anything that might leave us outside the herd and vulnerable. This fear drives everything from fashion to social conformity to mob behavior to susceptibility to advertising to the impulse to use social media. It’s been demonstrated that much of the desire to use social media is driven not by the advantages of connectivity as what is known as FOMO: the fear of missing out.  The fear that we will be left out of the group compels us toward all manner of groupthink and socially formed behavior. It has even been shown that the reason that most liberals believe in human caused climate change and that most conservatives don’t has little to do with science or independent thinking: it has to do with what the expected belief is of the larger group. Liberals believe in anthropogenic climate change because that’s what liberals do; conservatives don’t because that’s what conservatives do. God help anyone from either side who breaks with tradition. If we want to belong, we adopt the beliefs of the larger group. Let the scientists figure out what’s true, I’ll believe what my group believes. Because the fear of being cut off from the group trumps any other consideration.
Fear is at the heart of all our temptations. Fear drives us to make all manner of decisions, take all manner of actions, commit all manner of sins. Fear impels us toward hatred, toward narrowness, toward selfishness, and away from God and one another. That fear impels us toward evil.
And that’s why Easter is so important. The Resurrection of Jesus from the dead is not just a victory for Jesus. It’s not even just a victory for the Church who gets bragging rights about having been right about Jesus all along (in spite of the fact that they were all hiding in terror during the worst parts of it). The Resurrection of Jesus is a victory for the entirety of Creation.
For what Jesus’ resurrection tells us is that our brokenness, our sin, even our death does not have the final word. God does. God wins. God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s abiding grace win. And if that be true, if not even death—that which we fear the most—has the final say, then what are we so afraid of?
There are only two fundamental emotions in the world: there is love and there is fear. Out of fear come all the negative emotions—fear, rage, hate; and out of love come all the good things: mercy, justice, charity, community, reconciliation, peace.
The Resurrection is the triumph of love over fear. The Resurrection is the vindication of love, the vindication of Christ’s loving, life-affirming, all-inclusive witness over the fear driven, death-wielding, controlling, greed-based power of the Empire. The Resurrection conquers death and brokenness and assures us of our own resurrection, our own victory over death and brokenness and sin. The Resurrection vanquishes fear as the rising of the sun on that Easter morning vanquished the darkness of the night.
We are a fearful people. It is hardwired into us through millions of years of evolution. Our fear is what kept us alive. But succumbing to our fear is what prevents us from truly living. Christ came that we might have life and have it abundantly,  free of fear and free to love. The resurrection is the vindication of that love and our release from fear. And so while we will continue to pray “lead us not into temptation,” we know that Christ has delivered us from evil. For Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
 John 10:10