Saturday, April 8, 2017

Stop Being Afraid!

Matthew's account of the resurrection of Christ, found in 28:1-10, appointed for Easter Day in the Year of Matthew, is unique in many ways.  Most obvious is the presence of the earthquake which is apparently related to the presence of the angel who rolled away the stone from before the tomb.  But it is also noteworthy that Matthew's account mentions the fear that is present in this event no less than four times.  The persons in Mark's gospel are "amazed, trembling, and astonished."  In Luke's account they are perplexed and frightened, and in John there is no mention of their state of mind.  In Matthew, however, fear is the predominant state of mind.  It is also worth mentioning that the word of Jesus in Matthew's account addresses this fear, literally, "Stop being afraid."  This word also comes to us.

(The following questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but simply supplement many other fine sets of exegetical questions available to preachers.  These questions come from my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted.  For a complete review of my guide, it can be purchased from or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  If there is a text in the Bible that is pure Gospel, this is it.  The Word functions as gospel when it announces, "Here is Jesus!"  Clearly that is the function of the Word here:  "Here is the Crucified One, resurrected, to give you 'a new birth into a living hope'". (I Peter 1:3)

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  The Law is only hinted at in this text.  The Word functions as Law when it says, "You need Jesus."  The hint of our need for Christ comes only in the lifting up of the fears of the actors in this scene.  The guards are the first ones who fear.  Then it is the women who have come to the tomb who fear.  So it is clear that whether we are followers of Jesus, or have nothing to do with him, when we encounter him resurrected, it will be cause to be afraid.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  We are invited to identify with the women who come to the tomb.  Like them we are ones who live in fear, whether it be fear in the presence of miracles, or fear when miracles fail to come.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  There is a brief call to obedience in this text  found in Jesus' last words to the women:  "Go and tell..."  That is our charge as well.  When we have been freed from our fears by the word of the Living Christ, we too are charged to go and tell the good news to others who live in fear.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  There are many possibilities here.  The classic couplet for this text is despair/hope, but given our emphasis on fear, perhaps we might want to think in terms of fearful/fearless, or trembling with fear/trembling with joy.

6.  Exegetical work:  It should not be forgotten that the earthquake at the empty tomb is the second earthquake in Matthew's account.  The first one comes a chapter earlier, when at the death of Jesus, "the earth shook, and the rocks split," the tombs were opened, and "many who had fallen asleep were raised."  Matthew is signaling to us that the ground has shifted beneath our feet both at the crucifixion and at the resurrection of Jesus.  They are equivalent events.  The death and resurrection of Christ are both events wherein we see the power of God at work.  Also noteworthy is that  apocalyptic literature is the place that we typically encounter earthquakes and scenes like this.  Earthquakes are mentioned seven times in the Revelation of John, and in each of the synoptic accounts of the last days (Matt 24:7, Mark 13:8, Luke 21:11).  Is Matthew's account of the resurrection a rendering of this story as the end of the world as we know it?  That might be a fruitful way of thinking about this story.

7.  How does the Crossing Community model work with this text?  Archived under Gospel A for Easter Day 2011, Paige Evers does an interesting analysis of this text by suggesting that when we only do "what's expected" by the culture around us, we end up dead.  Jesus saves us from this death spiral by doing the unexpected.  See the complete analysis at study.

8.  Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic?  Fred Craddock always insisted that preachers need to bring the experience of the text to the listeners, not just the content.  How will we bring the experience of the empty tomb to our Easter morning crowd? that is our joyful challenge.

Blessings on your proclamation!

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