Does the Resurrection Make a Difference in Our Level of Anxiety?

April 18, 2017

Thanks for the little breather there, around Easter. It was a busy weekend, including leading worship for a group of about 35 staff and patients at John Muir Hospital. It matters not if the congregation is 35 or 3500, a lot of energy goes into a service! So for all my friends resting after the Day of Resurrection, may Jesus refill your hearts and souls with his love and strength.

Picking up on the theme of anxiety from last week, the question is whether Jesus’ resurrection from the dead should make a difference in our tension/worry level. We can get an idea of its impact on the disciples by looking at the gospel accounts (especially John 20-21) and watch their reactions to the Lord’s reappearance.

In John’s account, the disciples are huddled in the Upper Room again, “afraid of the Jews” because of their friendship with the One who had been crucified. This group of eleven (minus the betrayer Judas, who earlier had hanged himself in remorse) was processing the events of the week, wondering if the crucifying spirit would extend to them by association. They were worried, plain and simple. Though Jesus had prepared them for something like this, it was beyond their imagination that a person who had suffered so could actually have risen and left the grave! And yet, Mary Magdalene herself had seen the Risen Lord that morning and told the disciples. It is important to note that Jesus had sent the message through Mary that he was Risen; she had faithfully passed it along to the disciples, and despite the notification, that evening they are still huddled in a worried wad, wondering what to do next.

But then Jesus appeared to them (all except Thomas the Twin who must have been out shopping or something), confirming the event and bringing much joy to the Upper Room. As time passes, we see the disciples begin to circulate again, getting back to work and otherwise reestablishing their routines. The gospel writers, knowing what is coming, hold us in suspense a bit, because we know eventually that the Resurrection and the preaching of the Resurrection (after Pentecost) would completely turn their worlds upside down. For now Jesus’ followers are waiting for instructions, which Jesus does give. The Spirit eventually will come upon them and empower them for dangerous, invigorating work proclaiming the gospel. [I will come back to this theme as we approach Pentecost.]

This series of events—resurrection, meeting Jesus face to face, waiting for “something,” commissioning for service, and empowering—all take place within a span of a few weeks. The resurrection is a fact, but there are still circumstances of concern to the disciples throughout this period, that is, until Pentecost. After the Spirit comes upon them in power and endows them with spiritual gifts, we see very little, if any, evidence of worry or anxiety. In fact, these Galileans become bold risk-takers with new preaching gifts putting them before huge crowds of curious neighbors, Jews and Gentiles alike.

It seems to me that this progression of events might help us understand worry and its relationship to Resurrection. You and I may have legitimate reasons to be cautious or “worried”: that is, some specific expectation that carries a threat to our wellbeing. Jesus said, “Do not worry” about all the basics of life, even some of the extraordinary circumstances of the moment, because God is merciful and will take care of us. [It has always fascinated me that Jesus did not psychologize about worry; he just said, “Don’t go there” (Matthew 6:25-33).] Maybe the Lord was so blunt in his teaching about worry, because he knew that if a person practices worry it becomes a habit that leads to a more generalized state of anxiety, which is a lot harder to control!

But getting back to the resurrection. This amazing miracle of Easter is of great import, but it does not succeed in and of itself in alleviating our anxiety! There are Christians around the world, most recently our Coptic brothers and sisters in Egypt whose churches were attacked on Palm Sunday, who know that suffering is still a hazard of following Christ. The resurrection did not put a halt to the persecution of Christians. Life goes on, and believers know that life is not easier because of the faith and sometimes think life is actually harder.

What the resurrection does, though, is help us work through our Greatest Fear, the fount from which all our other worries and anxieties flow: our aversion to death. When Jesus rose from the grave, he conquered the Great Enemy, death, and declared that New Life was found only in him because of that accomplishment. As our faith grows, we learn that death is not the worst thing to happen to us. We come to understand that it is the necessary doorway through which we must pass in order to enter the eternal rest promised to us in Christ.

But most people I talk to say, “I can accept the fact that I will die; but I just don’t want to go through the dying required to get there.” Precisely! This “secondary” fear is very strong in us, and Jesus agony and suffering prior to his death do not help us manage that worry very well. Or do they? If it is any consolation (and it has been to many saints through the ages), the fact that Jesus suffered so acutely before his death means that he has borne our grief, carried our sorrows, and by his scourging we were healed (Isaiah 53:5).

Does this claim have any direct relationship to our anxiety and worry? More on that tomorrow.

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