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Easter Sunday - Fear Not: Go and Tell Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 28:1-10

Most newspapers worthy of such a name carry an agony aunt’s column. One of the original agony aunts was the American Ann Landers who died in 2002. She received an average of ten thousand letters each month-nearly all of them from people with problems. She was asked if there was one predominant theme in the letters she received. She said, "The one problem above all others seems to be fear. People are afraid of losing their health, their wealth, and their loved ones. People are afraid of life itself."

Fear Not
The reaction or emotion of fear runs through our gospel reading today telling us about the events on the Sunday after Jesus’ death. The guards at the tomb were overcome by fear at the earthquake and the appearance of an angel. They were so afraid they first shook and then froze with fear. The women who had come to the tomb were frightened by it all, too – who wouldn’t be? But the angel told them not to be afraid. After he had shown them the empty tomb they left with a mixture of fear and joy swirling round in their heads. As they hurried back into Jerusalem they unexpectedly met the risen Lord Jesus. He also told them not to be afraid.

Today’s other reading from the book of Acts gives us the Christian message in a simple and straightforward way, although a great deal lies behind it. The story of Cornelius, the Roman army officer, and his household coming to faith in Jesus, is an important turning point in the growth of the Church. The message given to them that day when non-Jews joined the Jewish followers of Jesus was preached by a man who had known a great deal of fear in his life. Peter was a key leader in the Church, but it had not been an easy path for him. His fear had led him to deny knowing Jesus when he was arrested. It was only after Jesus had risen again and spoken with Peter that he realised he could make a fresh start and be counted amongst Jesus’ followers again.
Although Peter had been bold in Jerusalem and had preached the first Christian sermon on the day of Pentecost, he had expected only his own people to become followers of the way of Jesus. When it looked like non-Jews or Gentiles might also join with them, Peter was afraid that he would be going against his religion. Just before he went to preach to Cornelius and his household, Peter had a vision which he began to understand only as he went in response to the strong plea to go with Cornelius’ servants. Peter realised that his fears about what was allowed and what was not allowed were unfounded. He needn’t fear what God was doing, he need only fear God himself – fear in the sense of reverence.

Fear and Simplicity
Here’s an illustration from the world of business. Insecure managers create complexity. Frightened, nervous managers use thick complicated planning books and great long Powerpoint presentations. Real leaders don't need clutter. People must have the self-confidence to be clear and precise, to be sure that every person in their organization--highest to lowest--understands what the business is trying to achieve. But it's not easy. You can't believe how hard it is for people to be simple, how much they fear being simple. They worry that if they're simple, people will think they're simple-minded. In reality, of course, it's just the reverse. Clear, tough-minded people are the most simple.

Go and Tell
Returning to our Easter story, the other repeated word is, “Go!” The angel tells the women: “Go and tell Jesus’ disciples!” Then they meet Jesus and he says to them: “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee!” The result of not being afraid is action. We saw how the guards were frozen with fear, how they seemed to have died with fright. They could not move because they were terrified. But the women, released from fear, have much to do. As their fear subsides, their joy propels them into action: they are to go and tell. Often the release of tension that builds up with fear is released in a great sigh. Relief and the smile that spreads over the face of someone who has been afraid and is now free of that fear is accompanied by a great breathing out. As the women go to the disciples and the disciples go to Galilee, they release their fear and they begin to tell of what they have witnessed.

This is true for Peter, preaching to Cornelius and his household. In response to the urgent invitation, Peter goes with the messengers who have been sent to fetch him. Peter goes and tells them of the Way that they may follow and the fellowship of others who have joined in the Way together. Peter goes and tells them of Jesus and of his life and work on earth. Peter tells them that this Jesus was truly from God, and therefore anyone like Cornelius, who was doing his best to be a good man, can turn to Jesus, become a follower and know what it is to be forgiven his sins. Our reading ends there, but the story in Acts goes on to say how the Holy Spirit descended on his hearers. Peter and his helpers realise that they better catch up with God and they baptised Cornelius and his household there and then. The Holy Spirit had, as it were, beaten them to it! Cornelius, who wanted to be godly, heard how his desires could be fulfilled in Jesus, and how he could be given power to live a godly life through the Holy Spirit.

These two words are spoken to us today, too, as we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. We are fearful in so many ways and our fear freezes us so that we cease to live. We dare not risk anything because of our fear. But the Lord says to us, “Fear not!” Sometimes it helps for us to ask, “What is the worst that could happen?” But the real reason we need no longer fear is that Jesus has risen from the dead. When we are released from our fears it is like a sigh of relief and we start breathing again. Free from our fears we hear the Lord saying: “Go! Go and tell!” Live, work, be free! Go and tell of Jesus’ resurrection. Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Copyright © Rev Paul Smith



God of glory,
by the raising of your Son
you have broken the chains of death and hell:
fill your Church with faith and hope;
for a new day has dawned
and the way to life stands open
in our Saviour Jesus Christ.