Between Confidence and Fear

by Brian Walsh

Folk who visit this site know that much of what we write about here arises out of a shared worship experience called “Wine Before Breakfast.” This year the community began with allowing Romans to shape our liturgy and our imaginations, and then concluded with Mark’s telling of the story of Holy Week for Lent and Easter. That meant that we began with Romans 1 and ended with Mark 16. That juxtaposition gave rise to this meditation.

“Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ.”

Do you remember those six words? That is how we began Wine Before Breakfast last September.
“Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ.”

Paul, writing to the very heart of the empire,
identifies himself with nothing less (or more)
than a slave of Jesus Christ.

Not a citizen of the empire,
and sure as hell, not a slave of the emperor,
but a slave of Jesus Christ.

Six words into his letter to the Romans,
and he has already put them on notice.
This was “in your face stuff.”

And it didn’t stop there.

Knowing full well that imperial pronouncements were named “gospels,”
Paul goes out of his way to repeat that word
in the first few sentences of his letter.

He is set apart by the “gospel of God,”
“the gospel concerning his Son,”
he “announces this gospel,”
he “is not ashamed of this gospel.”

Gospel, gospel, gospel.

If his Roman hearer’s didn’t get it,
if they didn’t pick up the radically subversive nature
of what he was saying,
then he would rub their noses in it.

Rome proclaims a gospel,
Paul proclaims an alternative gospel.

And he will not be ashamed of this gospel.

Why not?

Because it is the power of God for salvation,
it is the only power
……that can set this terribly broken world right,
it is the only story
……that can offer redemption
……in the face of the deceitful narratives of the empire,
it is the announcement of new creation
……that a creation groaning in travail has been so longing for.

But Paul wants to make sure that his Roman audience,
understands who is the subject of this gospel.
This is the gospel of Jesus,
this is the gospel of the one who was declared to be
“the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness,
by resurrection from the dead.”

It all hangs on the resurrection, Paul insists.
Because he has risen from the dead,
……he is Lord, says Paul.
And if he is Lord,
if he is the Son of God,
if he is the one in whom true sovereignty lies,
then Caesar is effectively dethroned!
And if the risen Jesus is Lord, says Paul,
then the ministry of the gospel,
is to bring about nothing less than the obedience of the nations.

Alleluia! Christ is risen.
He is Lord of all.
Come and receive him as the healing Lord of your life.
Come and abandon your pretended autonomy,
……together with all your idolatry,
and bow the knee before the Lord of all creation.

There is an in-your-face chutzpah about all of this.
There is an audacious confidence,
an over-the-top faith,
even certainty,
about this gospel that Paul preached.

That is where we began our journey together
at Wine Before Breakfast this year.

We began with a man who didn’t care about his credentials,
who claimed to have no authority
……beyond being a slave of Jesus Christ.

That’s where we began.

And this morning we end with,
“for they were afraid.”

Faced with the news of a risen Lord,
these women were alarmed,
and afraid.

They had come to that tomb to bring a proper ending
to a story that was already over.
They had come to redeem the indignity of their Lord’s death,
with at the very least, a proper anointing.
They had come in their grief,
but also in their love.
They had not abandoned Jesus on that fateful Friday,
and they would not abandon him on this Sunday morning.

But nothing had prepared them for what they encountered.
Nothing had prepared them for the announcement
of that mysterious young man,
“Do not be alarmed;
you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.
He has been raised; he is not here.
Look, there is the place they laid him.”

Nothing had prepared them for the commission
that he then gave to them:
“Go, tell his disciples and Peter,”
……go tell his broken community,
……go and tell the one who had betrayed him,
go and tell them,
“he is going ahead of you to Galilee;
there you will see him, just as he told you.”

Nothing had prepared them for this.
A crucifixion, maybe.
……They had seen lots of them before.
But this, this was something totally different.

So they ran.
They ran and ran and ran.
But this was no run energized by hope.
This was not the run of the one who proclaims gospel.
No, this was a run animated by an amazed, terror-striken, blown away, fear.
“And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Paul proclaims a gospel with confidence.
These women say nothing to anyone.
Paul boldly confesses, “I am not ashamed of the gospel.”
These women are afraid.

It seems to me, dear sisters and brothers,
that Christian life is lived
……between that confidence and that fear,
……between that boldness of proclamation and that silence.

I don’t know where you are on that spectrum,
where you find yourself
……between confidence and fear,
……between faith and doubt,
……between witness and silence.
but here at Wine Before Breakfast
we know that Christian life is lived in those tensions;
……that Christian discipleship knows
………lament and praise,
………light and dark,
………faith and doubt,
………confidence and shame,
………moments of healing and persistant brokenness,
………deep, deep joy and debilitating sorrow.

I am not ashamed of the gospel …
for they were afraid.

What were they afraid of?
What had caused such fear?

Was it just the total strangeness of resurrection?
Was that what scared them to their very core?

I doubt it.
These women had demonstrated that very morning,
and during the tragedy of Good Friday,
that they had a love and a devotion and a discipleship
that could carry them through a fear
……that would have paralyzed most of us,
……and did, in fact, scatter all the male followers of Jesus.

No, I don’t think that it was resurrection in and of itself that left them afraid.

Was it a fear that they would not be believed?
Were they painfully aware of how ludicrous their tale would be,
especially coming from women?

Somehow, that doesn’t seem right either.
They had established themselves as disciples amongst the men,
and their very faithfulness over the last few days
would have given them a profound credibility
if they had the courage to proclaim the message entrusted to them.

No, I think that there was something much more profound going on here.
Perhaps they were afraid,
……perhaps they were gripped with a fear that rendered them silent,
because they understood the radical meaning of this event,
……if it were true.

He has risen.
He will go before you to Galilee.
Go there, follow him again to Galilee,
and you will see him there.

If he has risen,
then the story isn’t over.
If he has risen,
then the story starts over again.
If he has risen,
then you are invited to enter the story.
If he has risen,
then you are called to follow him,
to proclaim the new creation in Christ,
to live out the meaning of this new creation.
If he has risen,
then you too have been raised with him.
If he has risen,
then he has established his sovereignty over all,
even death!
If he is risen,
then you are called to “practice resurrection.”

My hunch is that these women were afraid,
precisely because they understood the meaning of resurrection.
And faced with such a radically transformative event,
faced with the dawning of the new creation,
faced with the defeat of the very principalities and powers of death,
faced with a commission to proclaim the victory of Jesus,
……they were afraid.

Of course they were afraid.
How else could you respond to such a thing?
If you are not afraid, then you don’t get it.

So embrace the risen Lord, dear friends,
in fear, but not with shame.
Embrace the risen Lord, sisters and brothers,
in amazement and in confidence,
with gratitude, humility, and with audacious faith.

Embrace the risen Lord, beloved community,
and go, follow him in the resurrection
power of discipleship.

Christ is risen! Alleluia!

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian, a retired CRC campus minister, the founder of the Wine Before Breakfast community, and farms with Sylvia Keesmaat at Russet House Farm.He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

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