Forming Faith Blog

Fear, Joy, Worship, Doubt (April 28, 2019)

Even when we fear, we are called by Jesus to go throughout the world.

Hallelujah, Christ is risen! Through the lectionary readings, we have heard and experienced the emotions from the past two weeks: the excitement of Palm Sunday and the confusion, sorrow, and joy of the Three Days. This is the story of God’s greatest promise, the gift of a Messiah for us and for all people. Now, for the Sunday after Easter, we move to our response to God’s promise.

Fear

Starting from the beginning of Matthew 28, there are several different, and seemingly opposite, emotions, thoughts and actions presented in the story. Though not directly stated, we know from human experience that the two Marys who have come to the tomb are likely overcome with sorrow for the loss of their teacher and friend. This is their emotional state as they approach the tomb.

However, this changes quickly as they experience an earthquake and an angel appearing before them. The Roman guards are so afraid that they “shook and became like dead men” (v. 4). The angel, in typical angelic fashion, first announces to the women “Do not be afraid!” But, however much we are told not to fear, fear is sometimes an unavoidable reaction. As someone who has experienced earthquakes, I know that such fear is natural. I can only imagine my reaction to the sudden and dramatic appearance of a heavenly being. Not only would these two events be frightening, but even the good news that the angel announces is a bit frightening. Death has been reversed. That is so outside of our experience that it would spark a bit of fear itself.

Joy

As the women run away (technically “left quickly”), we are told that they are experiencing two overwhelming feelings: fear and great joy. We have already looked at the fear. The great joy the women are experiencing is also not a mystery. The angel did, in fact, give the women the best news in the world. Their teacher and friend, who had suffered and died so recently (and, by all appearances, failed in his mission) is now very much alive! We might be tempted to think of fear and joy as being opposites, and in a way they are. But, feeling fear and great joy at the same time is not a paradox, but a possibility. Emotions are complex.

Worship

While “worship” is an action, not an emotion, it can be (and is here) a response to an overwhelming emotion. Or set of emotions. I imagine that the women (v. 9), and the other disciples (v. 17) are overwhelmed with joy, amazement, awe, and maybe even fear. Their worship may be a conscious, deliberate choice, or perhaps an outpouring of these emotions. Likely a combination of the two. In the presence of the risen Christ, his followers responded with worship.

Doubt

Verse 17 is interesting: “When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” As far as I understand from others (and my Greek grammatical knowledge is indeed lacking here), this can be interpreted as speaking of two different parties: “[some disciples] worshiped him; but some [disciples] doubted.” Or, it could be: “they [all] worshiped him; but some [of them] doubted.” Beyond the grammatical question and original intention of the author (critical as those two might be), we need to ask ourselves, are worship and doubt opposites, or can they coexist? Related is the connection between faith and doubt. I would argue that while faith and doubt are in tension, they are also necessarily linked.

“The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.”

Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith
Action

The important thing to note in these episodes is that no matter what the disciples (female and male) felt, they still acted in faith and obedience. The Marys were frightened, but they still obeyed the commands of both the angel (v. 7) and the risen Christ (v. 10). No matter what they thought of the story the women told them, the eleven listened and obeyed, going to the mountain in Galilee, even those who doubted. The true act of faith is not to obey when we are calm, level-headed, and certain, but to follow Jesus when we are upset, confused, and in doubt. It is in those times of turmoil that being a disciple counts most, and when we embrace that, we can connect best with the people we meet and teach them to follow Jesus as well.

In Their Heads

For all of us, but especially the youngest among us, it is important to be able to put ourselves in the place of the biblical characters. That’s the purpose behind our free “Biblical Improv” activity this week. Here, volunteers can decide how to act out these stories as a narrator reads them, and then reflect on what might be going through their character’s minds. This activity comes from our Living the Word: Cross+Gen Education and can easily be used in most settings and with most age groups.

Note

You may notice that I am covering the reading for Easter Sunday twice. This mirrors several of our products. Two products (Living the Word: Cross+Gen Worship and Contexts & Connections) have resources for every Narrative Lectionary reading. Most of the rest of our products only cover the Sunday readings, and even then, we do not produce a specific lesson for Easter Sunday. This is because many churches do not have education time on Easter Sunday. Since the Easter story is the most important story of our faith, and since some churches do have education time on Easter, we produce an “extended” lesson dated April 28, 2019 (Easter 2) that covers both that reading (The Great Commission) and the Easter reading (The Empty Tomb). The extended lessons are long enough to be split between two sessions, or a congregation can use the lesson once to cover both important stories.

In Christ,

-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

The season of Easter is here! However, it’s not too late to order Spring Living the Word faith formation resources (covering Lent through Pentecost Sunday)! As soon as your payment is processed, you can download the materials and start using them!

Year 2 (2019-2020) products have launched! Check out the announcement blog post for more details! All products are ready to order, and you can see which product quarters are available for immediate download on our Release Dates web page.

For more great ideas on how to engage participants of all ages in the story of God’s love, check out our complete Living the Word series for elementary students, youth, adults, and intergenerational settings!

Be sure to download our free Narrative Lectionary 2019-2020 Planning Tool, NL Readings Overview, and Scope & Sequence. The 2018-2019 Planning Tool and Scope & Sequence are still available to download, too!