This Week's Reflection

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A reflection for Easter Sunay 

Happy Easter!

Easter Day is the day we celebrate that Jesus’ death was not the end of the story. After a terrible week which involved friends betraying and denying Jesus and running away when he was arrested, after the awful suffering of Good Friday when Jesus was executed in a most horrible way after an unjust trial, and after the waiting of Easter Saturday – that “not knowing” in between time, we wake on Easter Day and proclaim “Christ is Risen!” and the traditional response is “Hallelujah!”. However, that’s not what we read in one of the stories about it in the bible.

One of the stories in the bible ends really quietly with the women who have come to visit the tomb of Jesus being afraid. It might not be the ending we’d expect, but, according the earliest written account of this morning, it’s what happened. And I, for one am glad, because I don’t know about you, but if I’d been there on that first Easter morning, going down to the tomb to anoint the precious body of my beloved friend who had died, only to be told by a mysterious figure that they had been raised from the dead, I too would be terrified.

However, we might not like it because we might wish fear would not be in the equation. We might want to happy ending, the “everything is OK folks, don’t worry” ending. But fear is in the equation and I think that’s a good thing.

Fear is what a lot of people live with at the moment: fear that what we are going through is not going to go away quickly; fear of how we might feel when we can get back together; fear of another wave or pandemic.

Fear is part of life for many people throughout the world: Many people live with fear because they live where life is not sacred or safe, where governments do not respect human rights in any shape or form. Many people live in fear because of their race or ethnicity, or because of their gender, or because of their sexuality or because of their gender identity. Many people live in fear because they have nowhere to call home or they have fled from violence or war and seek shelter and safety in strange places.

So when I read that there was fear in the hearts of the women who went to the tomb I am reminded of the fear that grips so many in our world, and maybe even some of us today, and I thank God that the gospel talks about fear. I thank God that fear is a part of the story of God’s people.

In the story where the women go away in fear we are also told that they are reassured by the mysterious figure at the tomb and told not to be afraid. The words “don’t be afraid” appear so often in the bible and so remind us of just how often fear is around for people and I think it reminds us that God takes our fear very seriously. This reminds us in turn that we must take it seriously. We mustn’t fob ourselves or others off with a glib response or even a reprimand. Fear is something we need to take notice off. We need to care for one another in our fear. But we also need to hear the words “do not be afraid” and see what not being afraid might mean for us.

The truth is we will be afraid, many times in our lives, but the words “don’t be afraid” are there to remind us that once we get past the initial overwhelming fear, when we find our feet, we discover what it can mean to live beyond the fear.

It is important to remember that there is a world beyond the fear because living with fear in our lives can become deeply destructive. At its worse, fear of people who are different leads to racism and Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. It can lead to homophobia and transphobia and sexism. It can feed violence and politics built on scapegoating and distrust. Fear within ourselves can lead us to turn in on ourselves and never entertain the possibilities or hope and joy that is around. Even on a low level fear can lead churches and communities to be narrow in their attitudes and welcome.

Beyond fear there is a new way of seeing the world and ourselves and others. It opens us up to new ideas even to taking a few risks. It opens us up to God.

So what might a world beyond fear look like?

I’m going to tell you a little bit about an amazing woman called Etty Hillesum. Etty was a Jew living in Amsterdam and she was 27 when the Nazi’s invaded in 194. She was most definitely someone who had every right to be fearful, and for a short while she was. But she soon realised that if she lived in fear those who were seeking to destroy her would have won. She also realised that if she lived in fear the fear would soon turn to hatred, and hatred was the creed of the Nazis, so if she hated, again they would have won. For her, life beyond fear meant a life beyond hatred. She wrote this in her diary: “Remember - every atom of hate we add to this world makes it still more inhospitable.”

Her life went on to have many more times when she would be afraid, but every time she found the world beyond it. She did this through pray and a deep belief that the world beyond fear was the place to live and so you had to keep working at finding that world. Even though she never lived to see it, Etty knew that if she did not live with her fear destroying her she would play a small part in creating the world that would go on beyond this terribly fearful time.

The Easter story doesn’t say “don’t fear, everything gets better.” What is actually says is “don’t fear, the story goes on.” This is a great comfort to us to know that whatever is fearful, is not whole story. The Easter story says God’s story goes on. So whatever fearful things happen in our world and in our lives, God goes on beyond. This is the flame that God kindles in our hearts in our darkest nights: this might feel like the end, but it is not.

We remembered this truth in a poem by John O’Donohue that I put here a couple of weeks ago:

Close your eyes

Gather all the kindling

About your heart

To create one spark.

That is all you need

To nourish the flame

That will cleanse the dark

Of its weight of festered fear.

So sit alongside the women who were fearful on that first Easter morning, and remember that they too found life beyond fear and did go and share the news. And sit alongside our sisters and brothers throughout the world whose lives and situations are deeply fearful, and sit alongside our fearful selves and remember the comfort of the words “do not be afraid”. And remember: God is with us, and the story goes on, even beyond the most fearful times.

That is why we can say and sing “Halleluiah!”

 

 

 

A prayer for Easter Day

Faithful God,

Faithful beyond our deepest fears,

beyond the rejections of the world,

beyond the grave.

Hear our prayer.

We praise you for being among us

when we are lost in despair.

We praise you for keeping promises

when we have no memory of your words.

 

You speak peace in our most anxious times;

You bring healing to the most hideous pain;

You remind us again of our place in your story.

We praise you

and dare to join those who follow you.

 

Anne Sardeson. Easter 2021

 

 

Anne Sardeson 21.3.21