Fear is the first, last and — along with love — one of the two most basic human emotions. We are born screaming for fear, even sincere believers die with a certain amount of fear of the unknown, and in between we face many fears: fear of abandonment and rejection, fear of not being able to provide our basic need for food, clothing and shelter now or in retirement, fear of violence, of poverty, of illness, fear for our children, our marriage and even our own sanity.
So it is not be surprising that along with love, fear is one of the two most basic themes of the Bible. We are told repeatedly to fear God — hold him in awe, do his will — or suffer the consequences. And the Good News is that Jesus has defeated Satan and broken the power of sin and death, in order to give us hope and fill us with courage, in a word: to free us from all our fears.
This theme of fear and salvation runs through the readings you just heard and will continue to hear during the next seven weeks of the Easter Season. God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, which will leave him without a legitimate heir. But Abraham fears God more, so he gets ready to do God’s will. 500 years later the newly freed Hebrews find themselves trapped facing the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army in hot pursuit. In their fear they cry out to God, who miraculously gives them safe passage through the sea. 500 years after this God sends the prophet Isaiah to relieve the fears of the impoverished and beleaguered people of Israel, assuring them that God will provide them food and drink and divine protection.
And then what are the first three words spoken in every Gospel account of Jesus’ resurrection? I think you know: Do not fear! The Roman soldiers guarding Jesus’ tomb were shaken with fear upon seeing the angel of the Lord and became like dead men, but the angel told the women, "Do not fear… Jesus has risen from the dead as promised."
And then Jesus himself appeared to them, and what did he say? Once again, Do not fear! Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee and there they will see me. And finally in our Easter Vigil reading from his letter to the Romans, Paul tells us that 1) through his death and resurrection Jesus has defeated all the things we fear the most, freed us from slavery to sin and 2) through our baptism into his death and our courageous embrace of our own death, dying to ourselves and our world so as to live for God, we gain a share in Jesus’ victory…which is what we celebrate today.
So what now is there for you to fear? We are still weak and vulnerable, it is true. But Satan has been defeated and the power of sin and death has been broken. So take courage, there is no longer any insurmountable obstacle standing in the way of you living fully for God and doing his will with all your heart.
By cooperating with the power of God’s grace, you can overcome all those inner fears and insecurities that prevent you from really dying to yourself so as to live fully for God. Jesus has set us free and enabled us to face our fears and bear our own crosses courageously so as to then wear a crown, sharing fully ourselves in the fruits of Jesus’ victory.
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily at the Easter vigil Mass April 16.
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