‘Do Not Be Afraid’

Posted: March 22, 2023 in Uncategorized

‘Do Not Be Afraid’

Easter is traditionally regarded as the most important church season in the liturgical life of the church. Its stories are passionately told every year often without critique. In the text I chose for today is a story from a bloke we call Matthew. So we begin by asking what his special take on all this is as we unpack his story seriously, rather than literally.

Before we do I have to admit some preferences such as a preference for the Christmas Story as opposed to the Easter story. My reasoning is that my humanism suggests that the Christmas story reflects the beauty of the human species in its desire for the new, the novel and the birth of a child symbolizes the magnificence of this newness, this new life that is the innate desire for embodiment. For me the ‘incarnation’ as metaphor for the divine human relationship is underrated when the commercialization, the idealism and the story is trivialized.

But today is about readiness for the Easter week and it is a time I suspect for the challenge of the execution of Jesus and the story of his ‘resurrection’ or more importantly how the story of his resurrection impacted the followers of the Jesus Way I put the struggle down as the wrestle with the individualization of the understanding of the ‘Resurrection’ proposed by Greek and Roman Thought and the more ‘Universalistic’ Resurrection of the Ancient Hebrew and Judaism. This is a very important distinction to make when coming to the Easter Story in that the Western world can very easily miss the richness of the challenge with its obsession with the individualism, and I am not referring to the value of the individual nut rather to the destructive limiting obsession with individualism which manifests itself as me over others, the one over the many and isolates and belittles those who struggle to keep up, succeed etc.

In his book ‘The Matter with Things’ McGilchrist, quotes Schelling as saying that there is no higher revelation in all of science, religion or art, than that of the divinity of what he calls the ‘All’; but this comes on the back of his recognition that each sphere of intellect and spirit – science, religion and art – sees something particular and special. In those ages, he warns, where we are mindful of this unity, a culture enjoys vigour, and vitality, and the fruits of the collaboration of the arts and sciences: but the price of losing that vision is the loss of everything we value. We struggle, he says, to put things together, adding grain of sand to grain of sand.

Unsurprisingly the left hemisphere, having dismantled the universe, it is at a loss to know how to put it together again. …… We need both, and each gives rise to the other, not in sequence but simultaneously. Once again, the opposites that are indicated by the One and the Many, the unique and the general, remain opposite, while being nonetheless coincident; and hence generative. Note that both the uniqueness of the individual case and the oneness of the whole are dependent for their appreciation on the right hemisphere. The left hemisphere substitutes membership of highly generalized categories for uniqueness, and then tries to achieve a sense of the whole by aggregating these categories. It is part of the unifying disposition of the right hemisphere to see similarity within difference, and part of its capacity for fine discrimination to see difference within similarity, whereas the isolating disposition of the left hemisphere sees similarity and difference as a simple opposition, at loggerheads with one another.

But that is not a bad thing in itself, there is a role here for the left hemisphere – provided, as always, its contribution is in service to that of the right. In short I think the above is suggesting that the Christmas myth is as important in the Jesus story as is the Easter Story with its recognition of the limitedness of humanity (The Cross and all its reason for being) and its recognition of the social, interdependent beauty and synergy of the collective, universal resurrection, renewal, reconciliation, and wholeness of the species. Let go of the importance for the individual for a but and discover the power and beauty of the collective.

Another way of saying this about the efficacy of a wholistic understanding of the Jesus story is to be able to say with Christmas;

Glorious are you, Mystery of Life,

Essence of all creation.

You are the symphony of stars and planets.

You are the music of atoms within us,

You are the dawn on mountain peaks,

The moonlight on evening seas.

Forest and farm, the rush of the city,

Everything is embraced in your love.

And at Easter to be able to say at Easter’

Glorious are you, O Jesus Christ,

Cosmic love in human flesh,

You graced the smallness of time and place

To teach us to dance to the music,

You walk on our seas and heal in our streets.

You make your home in out lives,

Revealing that cross and resurrection

Are one on the road to freedom.

And holding together Christmas and Easter say;

Glorious are you O Spirit of Truth,

Wisdom and breath of our being.

You are the wind that sweeps our senses.

You are the fire that burns in our hearts

You are the needle of the inner compass,

Always pointing to true North,

Guiding us on the sacred dance

Into the Mystery of Life.

Having encouraged  another look at the Jesus story we acknowledge that each so-called Easter morning story has its own distinctive slant on things. Matthew’s story alone recounts an earthquake. Only Matthew’s story has an angel rolling the stone away and then sitting on it. And Matthew has a most distinctive story element: fear. And its this I want to spend a bit of time on today. First because the above suggestions go to the very core of the Jesus story and are a challenge to centuries of creation. They are suggestions that context matters and that theology must be an applied art of it is to survive.

Out of ‘fear’ the guards become lifeless, and run scared to the authorities. The angel tells the women not to ‘fear’. After an encounter the women leave quickly ‘with fear’. Jesus says to the women: ‘Do not fear… go tell’. There are four occasions where Matthew says the dominate emotion was ‘fear’.

We too live today in a culture often dominated by fear, and nurtured by media headlines and graphic film footage. Just listening to the concerns around ‘Climate Change the other day I realized that all through the need to awaken awareness is the cultivation of a level of fear so as to engender urgent action. I am not saying this is bad but I question whether it is the only way to motivate humanity to take seriously its interdependent rich and important relationship with the planet and in fact the cosmos. When are we going to stop polluting space with or junk?

Gene Robinson, now retired, was the Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire in the United States. He was the first openly gay man to be elected and consecrated a bishop, in a so-called ‘mainline’ church. In a very moving 2005 article, he tells of the preparations that were going on around him prior to his consecration as Bishop, and of the fear some had, if his consecration went ahead… “I was getting a lot of death threats.  Preparations were being made for the consecration security, and I was asked for my blood type, so that preparations could be made for immediately beginning medical treatment on the way to the hospital, should something violent take place.

“I remember saying to our two grown daughters, who were worried and anxious about my well-being, ‘You know, there are worse things than death.  Some people actually never live – and that is the worst death of all.  If something does happen, remember that the God who has loved me my whole life, will still be loving me, and I will have died doing something I believe in with my whole heart’.

He continued: “As I strapped on my bulletproof vest just before the service, I remember feeling blessedly calm about whatever might happen.  Not because I am brave, but because God is good and because God has overcome death, so that I never have to be afraid again.  That is the power of the resurrection.  Not in what happens after death, but what the knowledge of our resurrection does for our lives… before death.” (Robinson. www.thewitness.org/)(2008).

I want to add here that there is another dimension to this lack of fear and it is to be found in the collective, the communal and the togetherness of what it means to be human.

Matthew’s story slant is important. There is much ‘fear’ around and within the Easter story.
As there is much ‘fear’ in our world today. Jesus’ death was primarily the result of ‘fear’.
The fear of one insecure and unstable Roman Prefect. The fear of religious and community leaders as to what might happen should political trouble break out.

Over the years the early Jesus followers sought to make sense of his death. Now modern scholarship in our time has identified at least three ways these followers interpreted what happened:

  • as victim of Roman power,
  • as martyr for the Empire of God, and
  • as sacrifice that bound together a new community

Stephen Patterson. Suggests in one of his articles the following.

“I have become convinced that in each of these ways of interpreting Jesus’ death, the followers of Jesus were in fact drawing attention to his life.  His death mattered to them because his life had mattered to them.  They spoke of his death in ways that affirmed his life, and reaffirmed their own commitment to the values and vision stamped into his life by his words and deeds.  To the followers and friends of Jesus, his death was important in its particularity – as the fate of him who said and did certain things, who stood for something so important to him that he was willing to give his life for it.  That something was the vision of life he called the Empire of God.  They too believed in this vision of a new empire.  And if this vision was indeed God’s Empire, then the bearer of this vision was not dead.  No executioner could kill what he was.  To kill Jesus, you would have to kill the vision.  This is what the cross could not do.” (Patterson 2007:77)

I think Patterson is taking the so-called Easter stories seriously, not literally. And that is what we are invited to do every time we hear biblical stories. For many of us today who have been brought up in the traditional or so-called orthodox teachings of the church, Jesus’ death has been separated from, indeed lost all connection to, the real human events of his life which brought about his death. As Stephen Patterson has also said: “Jesus’ death has become… a mythic event connected to the universal problem of death and the mysterious and frightening end of human life.” (Patterson 2007:78)

Traditionally this has been given the lofty name of ‘The Theory of Substitutionary Atonement’. This theory is expressed well in the propaganda from many fundamentalist Church. The message of that sort of Easter says “He (Jesus) made you good enough through His sacrifice and resurrection.  He knew your shortfalls in advance and out of love paid the price with His life.  He didn’t want humanity to live with condemnation or fear or a cycle of sin-shame-forgiveness-sin-shame-forgiveness over and over.  So, the Father gave His son Jesus to pay a permanent price in advance”. They then it goes on to say it is like post-paid verses pre-paid credit on one’s mobile phone. “Option 1, post-paid, is to accumulate a debt and try to pay for it later.  Option 2, pre-paid, is to have the credit to pay for it always available.  All we need to do is look to Jesus and what He has already done”. I among many of you and many scholars today say without apology, this is theological rubbish! Such a ‘theory’ is an absolute disaster for the church. A ‘theory’ which has no concern whatsoever for Jesus’ life or what he said or did or stood for.

All that – what Jesus said or did or stood for – has been diminished. Now we have all the elements of a cosmic drama, enshrined in fossilized creeds and the heavy-handed traditionalism of sin, guilt and forgiveness – He came to die for our sins!

Matthew Fox, when commenting on the title of the Living the Questions DVD study called “Saving Jesus”, said: “Of course saving Jesus is important.  It’s an interesting title.  Saving Jesus from whom?  I guess from the church… We have to break our tea-cup talk about Jesus…”.

Back then, Jesus was killed because of what he said and for what he stood for. The problem now is we, the church generally, are trying to kill him all over again. His humanness has been killed off! Jesus has helpfully been described as a secular sage or a prophet. Both these professions earned their living by what they said and did. But for many today, raised within traditional or fundamentalist Christianity, “his words and deeds mean little to us, if anything at all.  We do not look to Jesus for a way of life, but for salvation. ‘He died that we might live’…”. (Patterson 2007:80)

To mimic Matthew Fox. We need to end this tea-cup stuff And end it by sound, scholarly, biblical theology.

The message of Christmas/Easter is that he somehow still offers us the vision of a new Empire, into which we are still invited in a real way… a real invitation into a way of life we can see reflected in his own life.  If there is any valid fear it is that: When the life of Jesus no longer matters to those who would claim him as Lord and Saviour, then the life that changed the lives of many finally will have come to an end.” (Patterson 2007:80)

The story of Christmas and Easter is not what happens after death, but what the knowledge of the words and deeds and the way of the one we call Jesus, does for our lives… before death. Amen.


McGilchrist, Iain . The Matter With Things: Our Brains, Our Delusions and the Unmaking of the World (p. 1338). Perspectiva Press. Kindle Edition.

Patterson, S. J. “Killing Jesus” in (ed) R. J. Miller. The Future of the Christian Tradition. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2007.
John Prine. “Jesus: The Missing years”. <www.lyricsfreak.com/> Accessed 22/4/2011.

RAE Hunt


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.