April 06, 2007

Do not be afraid

Delle at Aunt Lossie's 1
Today is Good Friday, a day that I have anticipated with many tears in the past few weeks. I know she wouldn't like it, but I just can't bring myself to go to the services today. Instead, I will remember and let myself be comforted by good friends, on this day. Delle Chatman was my spiritual mother, and passed on after a 4-year long battle with Ovarian Cancer, on election day last November. Delle was a prophet, and I don't have any problems saying so -- for anyone who ever spent more than a few moments in her presence, or who heard her speak from the pulpit at St. Gertrude's church, knew it. I swear, sometimes I could see that woman's halo! Knowing her transformed my faith in more ways that I can list here. And Good Friday was all hers -- as she presided over the services that day. She is with me today, even if it is not her arms that will cradle the cross as the faithful process up to kiss it. I miss you, Delle. And I will try not to be afraid today.


Homily written and delivered by Delle Chatman
Scripture Verses: Matthew 28:1-10
St. Gertrude’s Catholic Parish
March 27, 2005

The first day of the week was dawning.

The first day of the week?

That’s Monday. For you and me. Christians start the week after Sunday, their sabbath, so Monday is our first day of the week. For Mary from Magdala – whose reputation will have us, her descendants thinking of her as a reformed prostitute when the gospel shows us that she was perhaps the bravest disciple on Good Friday, along with the Lord’s mother, and Mary, the mother of James and John. It is no sin to look to these women as heroes, and to give St. John his due as well for sticking it out at the foot of the cross. I’m not going to linger there because we’ve moved on. The clock kept ticking, the hours kept using by and this morning our gospel story picks up on the disciples’ first day of the week.

It was a bloody, awful, scary, heart-breaking Monday morning. For these two women and hundreds others throughout Judea, thousands of people who had been fed, healed, and encouraged by Jesus but remained silent on Good Friday and watched Jesus die from a distance. Now it is the first day of the week after a weekend of Hell on earth.

And these two women head for the Lord’s tomb. That is where they most want and need to be right now. There is a burial ritual that has not been completed, He died so quickly even Pilate was shocked Jesus hadn’t lasted longer on the cross. Joseph of Arimethea helped out with a burial linen and a tomb, but they were hurrying to get the body wrapped by sundown when the Sabbath would begin. These two Marys found it in them to return to the tomb, return to the crime scene, in order to fulfill the last and the least tribute to this soul that had been driven out of its body so cruelly.

Probably if they hadn’t gone, Jesus’ mother would have. Mary, Jesus’ mother, probably had to be restrained. Perhaps Magdala had to promise to do it, or Mary was going to go, by herself if she had to. He couldn’t just be thrown in a tomb and forgotten. What mother present could have borne that?

So Magdala and the mother of James and John go. By the way James and John were from Zebedee and their nickname was "the sons of thunder." Sons of thunder. Only not on Good Friday, huh? Their mother has to go and fulfill the custom for their slain leader.

And what do these two women run into?

An earthquake.

An angel.

And the Lord Himself. Resurrected in the flesh.

Both the angel and the Lord have to tell them not to fear.

"Then the angel said to the women in reply,

"Do not be afraid!

In reply? I wonder what the women said. Most likely they screamed.

"Do not be afraid," Jesus tells them after they have embraced his feet, and bowed before him again and again."

Magdala and the other Mary have to be told not to fear twice because the fear that had overwhelmed all the disciples was intense, maybe even ingrained. They were an occupied people who had just witnessed the savage execution of their teacher.

It is so easy to feel superior to Peter after those three denials, but which one of us honestly would have spoken up and said, "Oh, yes, he was my teacher, my leader, I pretty much worshipped the ground he walked on." Which of us would have copped to it that awful night?

Terrified! They were all terrified! And, brothers and sisters, so are we. Big things scare us, little things scare us. Things we don’t even spend time thinking about scare us when we do think about them.

What do we do about our fears?

Mainly we complain about them. For some reason, this Lenten season I became hyper-sensitive to the amount of complaining that I do and that I hear. I first looked at Easter morning as a perfect time to encourage you and myself to stop complaining. I became very sensitive to the amount of complaining we all do in the course of the day.

We complain about the weather. No matter what the weather is, there will be someone somewhere complaining about it.

We complain about the cost of things. Gas prices are up, and headed higher. The Fed says inflation is becoming an issue. Prescription drugs? Don’t get me started. I can start myself.

I made the mistake of telling my ten year old daughter Ramona that I was going on a "don’t complain" campaign. And then I complained out loud when a prescription drug I take slid off the we-will-cover-this-list on to a we-won’t-cover-it-no-way-you-can’t-make-us list. Many, many people in this church right now know exactly what I’m talking about. The loss of coverage was a blow, no doubt about it.

But my daughter heard me squealing and said, "Don’t complain, Mommy."

I felt like I was going to choke. I tried explaining to her that I had the right to complain, I was being broadsided by the system, this, I said, "Is like someone taking away the money we need to buy that Sims game you’re so wild for."

But she kept on with, "Don’t complain."

And I realized that it was a lot harder to practice than to preach. So, I went to work to try to make it easier on myself to not complain. Why was I complaining?

Well, that’s easy, I was complaining because I was afraid I would run out of . . .

And when you complain about the cost of anything if you boil the complaint down to its essence it’s coming out of fear . . .

We complain about the weather because we can not control it. And that scares us.

We complain about the people we call our friends because we can see their flaws (and – duh, they can see ours) and we’re afraid somewhere that when the chips are down they might not really be there for us.

We complain about our spouses, or significant others for much the same reason. We fear being abandoned by that person who means so much to us, either willfully or through a chillier indifference.

We complain about our children because we fear that, like the weather, we can not control them even though we gave birth to them. We fear that they will hurt themselves or others or us. We fear they will not be able to take care of themselves . . . ever. We see their flaws, and – duh, they see ours, and we know what they are up against and fear that they might not be up to it. Unless, of course, they do everything we say for the rest of their lives. Then everything will be perfectly fine.

In short, we complain because we fear, and we fear because we do not embrace the Resurrection of Christ as our own resurrection, our own second chance, our own transformational raising, yes, like Jesus, by the Hand of God no less.

This morning we rise with Christ, out of our fears, past the reach of our complaints – into inexhaustible possibilities. The Resurrection of Jesus as the Christ is a sign and more than a sign. It is the sign and it is what the sign stands for: Eternal Life. A forever-being in Love with Love and for Love.

The Beloved John who wrote the Passion narrative we read on Good Friday, also penned these immortal words: "God is love."

Jesus’ sacrifice proved God’s love for us. And early on Easter morning, God embraced us with the same love He has for His Son. And raised Jesus from the dead out of love.

Do not be afraid.

"Do not be afraid," he says and then he gives them a mission, "Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me."

He gives them something to do, in the midst of the Roman occupation, in the midst of oppression and grief, in the midst of hard times and challenging issues, in the midst of our friendships and our families, our jobs and our confusion – God reassures us of His protection, His love, His power, and He gives us a mission.

In these fifty Easter days that stretch out before us with Pentecost Sunday as yet another crescendo of power and grace – in these next fifty days let us set aside our complaining and our fear.

Let us embrace the inexhaustible possibilities lurking in our problems.

Let us see if there isn’t a message, some guidance from Jesus for us.

He is, after all, risen!

And He loves us more than ever.

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