Grace to you and peace from God Our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Pastor Alan Watt

As the story goes, when my mother was in the delivery room at the hospital—about to give birth to my oldest brother—on the other side of that door my dad was pacing up and down the hallway. After what I am sure seemed like the longest time, the doctor came out to give him the good news. What, then, did my father do? He proceeded to faint—dead away. Plop!Right down on the floor!

In another story—part of the Divine Drama according to St. Matthew—not one, but two or more men did the very same thing. For them, it was considerably more traumatic. During the earthquake, their bodies naturally began shaking violently, but even more so on seeing the stone dislodged from the entrance to the tomb. The sheer terror they felt sent them into a state of shock, causing them to lose consciousness.

Now, what about the two women who came to visit the grave? Did they faint? No. You know why? I believe it’s because women are tough; women are strong. They can handle it. That’s why God gave them—and not men—the ability to bear children.

At the same time, that does not mean the women were not scared. They were. Not once, but twice they were told, they were encouraged not to be afraid. But fear tends to have a life of its own—independent of our desires or wishes. Sometimes that’s a good thing. A certain amount of fear—or caution, if you want to call it that—is what helps us avoid, is what helps us get away from danger.

On the other, hand chronic fear can be downright debilitating. I remember a professional counselor once telling me almost every client he had ever had exhibited some level of fear, because it is about as primal, as basic an emotion that anyone can have. Either alone or along with depression, he said, it is what brings most people to counseling.

In contrast to a sudden fear like terror or a sense of dread, it’s usually manifested more as a generalized kind of anxiety—occasionally something a person is not quite able to put his or her finger on. Symptoms can be small things…

·         Like nail biting.

·         Or shoulder and neck muscles in a constant state of tension.

·         Or a stomach often tied up in knots.

·         Or difficulty in falling asleep at night and/or staying asleep.

And the list goes on.

And what are some of the things that can lead to such symptoms? Fear of, say, financial instability?Fear of serious, long-lasting illness or disease? How about fear of death?

At some point after hearing what that counselor said about fearfulness, I asked myself: “Now, in the range of basic emotions, what might beat the other end of that spectrum, at the other end of that scale?” Courage, maybe? Not really. That’s seems more of a thought process—one that leads to a positive action in spite of one’s fear. It might be the same when it comes to confidence or optimism. Those are very important. But, again, they may have to do more with our minds than with our hearts. They’re not exactly emotions, but attitudes, outlooks on life.

Then it hit me! The light went on! What stands at the other end of fear is the emotion, the feeling of joy. And that’s what we see so much of in the scriptures. Just listen to these examples.

From the Book of Psalms:

O send out your light and your

            truth;

let them lead me;

let them bring me to your holy hill

and to your dwelling.

            Then I will go to the altar

                        of God,

            to God my exceeding joy;

            and I will praise you with the

                        harp,

            O God, my God. [43:3-4]

 

And from the Prophet Isaiah:

And the ransomed of the LORD

            shall return,

and come to Zion with singing;

everlasting joy shall be upon their

            heads;

they shall [receive] joy and

            gladness,

and sorrow and sighing shall

            flee away. [35:10]

 

In the first chapter of Luke, when Mary praises God for choosing her to bear the Christ Child:

My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God

            my Savior,

for he has looked with favor on

            the lowliness of his

            servant. [1:47-48]

And in the Book of Revelation, when a wondrous noise descends from heaven:

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunder-peals, crying out,

            “Hallelujah!

            For the Lord our God

            the Almighty reigns.

            Let us rejoice and exult

            and give him the glory,

            for the marriage of the Lamb has

                        come,

            and his bride has made herself

                        ready…” [19:6-7]

And finally, in Paul’s letter to the Philippians—probably my favorite because he is reminding us that, even in difficult times, we can still feel the joy of Christ in our hearts: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice….The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known.... [4:4-6]

It’s revealing that in today’s gospel, when the women were told to tell the disciples what they had witnessed, that “they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy…” Such different feelings, different emotions—both at once. That’s something, isn’t it?...Maybe it’s that way, in part, because each of them is such a powerful emotion. Each of them has such a great excitement about it.

I think again of my father and what it must have been like when he fainted. He was anxious. He was scared. So when he got the good news, down he went. But when he came to, he was so glad, he was so filled with joy that that brand new baby had come into his life.

On this day we are filled with joy, because we have heard good news,  that a new life has come to be among us. Because it is a life that has been raised from death—for our sake. That life has a name—Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Let us rejoice and be glad in him!