Sermon delivered on Easter Day the 16th April 2017 by Bishop Nicholas JG Sykes in the congregation of St. Alban's, Church of England, George Town, Cayman Islands.

Scriptures: Jeremiah 31: 1 - 6     Acts 10: 34 - 43     S. Matthew 28: 1 - 10

S. Matthew 28: 5f The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has risen, as he said."

S. Matthew 28: 10 Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me."

I have little doubt that the words "Do not be afraid" of the angel and of the risen Jesus Himself in St Matthew's Resurrection account will apply in some way to every man, woman and child here today. When the angel told Mary Magdalene and her companion not to be afraid, that may have referred partly to the fear with which they had ventured out in the first place - the fear of the guards finding them, the fear of being identified and the fear of all that life would hold without Jesus. But more particularly it would have referred to the fear of the stupendous unknown upon which at that very moment they had just entered. Expecting to see a sepulchre sealed with a huge stone barrier, they had come upon the unforeseeable scenario of the tomb opened and the presence of the divine messenger, and St. Matthew says that this scenario began with an earthquake; and anyone who has experienced one knows this to be a highly unsettling phenomenon in any case. Then they were invited into the tomb to be able to see for themselves that it was empty, and to be reminded of the words that Jesus had said to them many times without people understanding them, that the Son of man must suffer and would then rise from the dead. At such an overwhelming moment it is only to be expected of one's mind that it would turn to rubber. Hardly knowing what to think, you find yourself making responses without being able to identify your own decision to make them. We read that, responding to the messenger's instructions: "They departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples." The emotions of fear and great joy, I suggest, are not easily accommodated together in a calm and rational frame of mind, but if their minds had turned to rubber, then one can understand how those emotions could co-exist. According to St. Matthew's account, they still seemed to be in that emotional state when the risen Jesus Himself met them and repeated the angel's words, “Do not be afraid.” Such words would help their distorted and fluid minds to settle into what would eventually become for them a new and permanent shape: they would then become minds of great joy, but no longer of fear.

Just as through the knowledge of the Resurrection the minds of the first human witnesses to the empty tomb could be changed in stages from fear to joy, so it can be for you and me. As I suggested at the beginning, the words, "Do not be afraid", or "Fear not" have a ready application to all of us, because there are circumstances that will make even the most stout-hearted of us afraid. Most of us know this already from personal experience. We are afraid, perhaps, of the progression of some sickness or frailty, in some other or in ourselves. Perhaps we are afraid of some family circumstance. A youngster may have all sorts of fears about school that his parents are unaware of. There are very many people around us that are fearful. Some of us have real fears of various sorts over what sort of society the Western world will offer to our descendants, and that would apply at least equally in the East. There have always been those with real fears over their financial future. Some will be afraid that the vision they have of their own contribution to the world will flounder and never be accomplished. The continued turmoil in the Middle East, the slaughter in Syria, in Africa and elsewhere may well contribute to a great feeling of fear.

To help us we can call to mind that nothing that we ourselves have experienced or that we are afraid about could be as frightful as a world that casts off the Son of God Himself when He comes into it and takes upon Himself human flesh. Let us recall that it is God who sustains the universe. What ought to be done to a world that rejects its Creator, and scorns and mocks the Son of God and sends Him to the ultimate humiliation of death by crucifixion? Logic demands that God should destroy and do away with such a world. The parable of the vineyard that Jesus applied to Israel could be applied to all humanity. None is worthy of being the guardian of the kingdom of God. Yet the grace of God is such that the very act that demands by law and logic our destruction and elimination for all time, is chosen to be the means of our redemption. So when the women, after they approached the sepulchre with their terrible fears, began to be infused with a great joy, God was teaching them that even the consequences of law and logic were subordinate to His grace. Through the words of Jeremiah in our Old Testament lesson we can begin to get the picture. "The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared to him from afar. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel!" God chose the worst of all that man could do in the worst conceivable scenario of all to be the means of man's salvation. And yes, our fears at the present time are real and well-founded enough, but at the same time, is God not able to fashion and fold every bad scenario into His own good and loving purpose? If He can do that with man's rejection of His own Son, can He not do the same with all the things we are afraid of, which bad though they certainly are, are not as bad as that?

In our second lesson today, Peter witnesses: "They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and made him manifest; not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God to be witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead." The fact that Jesus was raised released not only the first witnesses but the whole company of those who had been with Jesus from their fears, and that release from fear is our own great inheritance as well, and the inheritance of all who are baptised into Christ and hold onto the faith. Though there is much cause for fear when we contemplate the reality of our existence in time, we are to recall that all this is subordinate to our inheritance of a greater joy in Christ, who by His resurrection was declared by His Father to be the judge of all things and of the living and the dead, and in whose Name, Peter said, everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins. God has declared to us Gentiles and Jews alike, as He did to Israel of old in the words of Jeremiah, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued My faithfulness to you. Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel.”

1. Identify occasions in your life in which you felt fear and joy simultaneously. What was the outcome?
2. Identify some of our current fears. How might the grace of the Resurrection be applied to any of them?