This morning we have a message of comfort for the fainthearted, the weary, the downtrodden, those without hope, and most of all for the fearful!It is the message that Christ is Risen! And that in His resurrection Glory his words to us are .. Do not be afraid!
Ours is a world which can seem full of fear. And not many of us are truly courageous. Yet without courage our world becomes limited and small. But the words ‘do not be afraid’ can offer us a bigger world even in the midst of fearful times.
The themes of fear and courage were at the heart of the world in which Jesus walked even 2000 years ago. The events of our Gospel took place in the time of the Roman Empire? It is into this scary world of soldiers and insurrection, gladiators and religious sacrifices that Jesus spoke His message .. Do not be afraid!
Into a world which was more than anything concerned with the idea of judgement! Judgement from God. Judgement from leaders. Judgement from society. The context of the message of freedom from fear is set in the Roman world where the thumbs up or down at the Gladiatorial games in the Colosseum hung over the whole of society in a way.
You may be able to imagine the scenario in your minds .. in a gladiatorial bout when a gladiator was seriously wounded or threw down their weapon the fate of that person was left in the hands of the emperor as to whether they lived or died. Or in the absence of the emperor or sometimes at their discretion the people in the Colosseum were allowed to decide the fate. The fate of course being .. life or death. This is the kind of world where the message of Jesus is proclaimed .. ‘do not fear’.
Imagine the environment. Whichever way you look at things it was mob rule! The emperor wanting to please the crowds! Life and death on the judgement of the people!
This was the world into which Jesus was born. This kind of mob rule was delivered in Jesus life. It was the kind of judgement imposed by Pilate at his own trial. Who shall I release Pilate asks from the balcony of power. It was the basis on which power was to be understood in the Roman Empire. People fearing the leaders. The leaders fearing the masses. Even the religious authorities had the power to judge and condemn and accuse.
The women who loved and followed Jesus awoke that first Easter morning .. fearful and afraid of the future. They went to the tomb where their friend and healer had been buried. With him their hope had been buried. But at the tomb they are met by the angel with the words .. do not be afraid! And running to tell the others they meet the risen Jesus who proclaims to them ‘ do not be afraid!’
How can this command to ‘not be afraid’ be understood from the mouth of the judge of the living and the dead. What does it mean to the women and the disciples? What does it mean to us?
At the heart of all fear is the prospect of judgement. If we remind ourselves again of the example of the Emperor holding the fate of the Gladiator in his hands. It is power that makes us afraid. And so the fact that Jesus is proclaimed the King who will judge us is what makes his words so powerful.
We kneel wounded and spent looking to the judge for our fate .. like that fallen gladiator in the Colosseum. But we are called not to fear. We are called not to fear as people of faith because in fact that moment in the Colosseum where we await judgement over our lives has in fact already happened.
There was a moment when God looked to Jesus asking that he determine the fate of the whole human race .. and it was at the lowest moment .. when Jesus had been handed over to the authorities by those fickle crowds of Jerusalem .. had been betrayed by his friends .. judged by the rulers .. spat upon by the soldiers and nailed to a tree .. and at this point God asked Jesus for pronouncement on this world.
The Judgement of the King was pronounced .. and it was this …
Forgive them Father for they know not what they do!
In those words of the crucified Christ is the light and hope of the Easter story. That the resurrected Lord is the One who on His death proclaimed forgiveness to all. The same One who having shown his authority even over death said to his followers .. Do not be afraid.
We look to the one with the fate of the world in his hands and we find that the judgement has already been passed. Forgive them. And in these words we find the basis for courage and strength to look to the future. Not in fear but in hope. For we have been given the thumbs up. It is for us to rise from the dust and live on in gratitude and peace .. for even the fear of death has been overcome in those words of love and mercy. Forgive them Father ..