Once the stay-at-home Sabbath Day quarantine had lifted, the first to approach the burial place of Jesus’ corpse were disciples.
The first disciples to go to view Jesus’ tomb were women. Where were the men? In particular, where were the Eleven?
The Gospel of John tells us they were shut behind doors afraid of the Jews. That is, they were afraid of those who made Jesus dead. They were afraid the Jews were going to make them dead, too.
Fear of becoming dead is not an unnatural fear. Is there a greater understatement in the world today? Look around at the fear! It might be humorous to see it in the form of shelves of disappearing toilet paper. It is heart-wrenching to live it in the form of hearts of disappearing peace. And it all comes with no training required. We are not better off for all the people who missed the seminar on “How to panic during pandemic.” No one has to practice fearing for their life. So disciples shut behind doors hits very close to home for us shut behind doors.
But Jesus’ words that first Easter tell us there was something the 11 feared more than the Jews. “Then Jesus says to the women, ‘Stop being afraid! Go, take word to my brothers that they go away into Galilee, and there they shall see me.’” (Matthew 28:10)
Up to this time the most affectionate name Jesus had ever used in addressing the Twelve was “my friends.” And what kind of friend was Jesus? The perfect friend. He fed his disciples. He listened to them. He shepherded them. Defended them. Delivered them. Prayed for them. Forgave them. Saved them. He loved them. In body and soul.
And what kind of friends were the disciples in turn? Perfectly sinful. They absorbed themselves in bickering and quarreling. They were slow to hear Jesus’ Word. They were quick to criticize Jesus. They doubted him. They ignored him. They argued with him. They slept on him. And in Jesus’ most desperate hour they did the most unfriendly, socially-distant thing one person can do to another. For fear, they abandoned Jesus and ran for their lives. For the disciples, friendship with Jesus went only so far, certainly no further than the point where self-preservation began. They loved themselves. Obviously, for them, friendship with Jesus was a one-way street which could only run from him to them.
So think it through. Jesus knew, once it became clear to his disciples he had on the cross become a corpse, they would fear the Jews. Jesus also knew, once it became clear to them he was from the grave no longer a corpse but the living God, they would fear Jesus. Their greatest fear would no longer be people seeking to destroy them. Their fear would be the greatest fear – God seeking to destroy them. Jesus knew there would be no way of flattening their fear curve. Their fear was going to jump from fear of ending up physically dead at the hands of men to fear of ending up physically and spiritually dead at the hands of God.
So what did God do to those sinners? What did Jesus do to those men who abandoned him? What did Jesus do to such friends? He made them brothers.
Never before had Jesus called them brothers. And the first time he did was in response to their greatest sin!
For Jesus, their betrayal called for greater love. The greater the sin, the greater his love! Where the natural course flows from friend to traitor to enemy, for his disciples Jesus reversed the course of nature to flow from friend to traitor to brother. You see, for those traitors, “brothers” meant forgiveness. It had to be the second earthquake of that morning as the Holy Spirit rolled away the stone from the grave of their unbelief and resurrected their faith.
This is the Good News! That with Jesus, friendship only goes so far, up to the point where our sin calls for his greater love, where his blood pouring self-sacrifice begins, where his God destroyed him instead of us. For Jesus, friendship with Jesus can only ever be that one-way street. And, thanks be to God, it runs from him to us. Relationship not achieved, but received. From our God to our brother.
“From our God to our brother” is our absolute security in the face of our fears. We lack nothing. And what we have that really matters, cannot be taken.
In this way our God never stops reversing the course of nature for us: from sin to forgiveness; from confession to absolution; from betrayal to reconciliation; from destruction to restoration; from death to life.
Yes, coronavirus can make you dead. But your sin has already made you dead. And Jesus Christ, God’s son, crucified and risen from the dead, says “Stop being afraid! I am your brother!”
Kevin Wendt is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Destin.