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Friday, May 15, 2009 

Hymns Of Terror?

My pastor pointed out something in his sermon a few weeks ago that caught me a bit off guard;

“And this is how the disciples respond to the Resurrection, to seeing Christ return in the flesh—with terror and fear. Now, I know the hymnal fairly well. There are lots of hymns for Easter about “Easter triumph, Easter joy. But I haven’t found the hymn yet on “Easter Terror, Easter Fear”.”

Huh? Never thought about that? Never sang an Easter terror hymn either, did ya? Don’t worry, neither have I and I don’t expect to any time soon.

If I’m honest here I’d have to say that I think I’ve been jumping over too quickly how terrified the disciples truly were following Good Friday. Let’s take a quick look at what Scripture says concerning the disciples fearful state:

Matthew 28:1-8
Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.” So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word.

Mark 16:1-8
Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they said among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away—for it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Luke 24:1-8
Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments. Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’”And they remembered His words.

Our Gospel reading for this past Sunday was John 20:19-23

Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

I’ve never blamed the disciples (or thought twice about it if I’m being honest here) for being afraid as that guy that they had been following around for three years, who claimed that He was actually God in human flesh, had just been crucified, died, and was placed in a tomb. At the end of the day they were justified in being afraid because as Jesus’ disciples they had just as big a bull’s-eye on their backs as their Lord and Master.

The caveat here is that Jesus not only claimed that he was God; He proved that He was God by raising Himself from the dead!

After the resurrection Jesus appears to His disciples not as a ghost or phantom but rather physically with a body that still bears the evidence of His crucifixion. His body can be touched and can even eat broiled fish on a beach. Go ahead and tell me that you wouldn’t be a little apprehensive if you were in the disciples sandals, I dare ya. I double dog dare ya!

But our Lord declares that they will, by His Word, have peace and need not worry or fear about those who might do them harm. If Jesus says you have peace, then you have that peace which passes all understanding.

Getting back to my pastor’s point in the sermon, I think he’s right and there are no hymns that sing, or at least start off singing about the real terror that the disciples experienced until Jesus appears and puts them at ease.

I’ve always said that hymnody should reflect the pericope of the day but in lieu of a new hymnal supplement I guess we’ll continue singing our Easter joy hymns. And at the end of the day, I’m really ok with that…


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  • I'm Frank Gillespie
  • From The Haut South
  • Confessional Lutheran
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