CCC Blog

The Significance of “Not being Afraid”

“Do not be afraid!” Are there any more comforting words in all of scripture?  Throughout the New Testament the voice of God speaks these four words repeatedly through the mouth of Jesus – or through those of angels when speaking about Jesus. More often than not, they are spoken when big news is about to be delivered. When the angel Gabriel came to Mary to inform her that she was to give birth to the Son of God, he began by saying, “Do not be afraid.”  When Jesus gave his final address to his disciples, the night before his crucifixion, he said, you need not be “afraid,” for I have overcome the world.


Furthermore the gospel of Matthew is book-ended by two such utterances of the phrase. In Matthew 1, Joseph is preparing to dismiss his fiancée Mary. Already engaged but not yet having consummated their marriage, she is found to be with child. This doesn’t sit well with Joseph, and he plans to end the relationship; but in that moment an angel comes to him in a dream and tells him, “Do not be afraid” to take Mary as your wife; and in Matthew 28, as we heard this past Sunday, an angel greets Mary and Mary Magdalene at the tomb of the resurrection with the words “Do not be afraid.”  From the beginning to the end – from Christmas through Easter – “Do not be afraid” gives us a framework within which the story of salvation is told.


It is noteworthy that in Matthew 1 and 28, the people encountered only had part of the picture in view. Joseph knew Mary was with child, but that’s where his vision stopped. Similarly, Mary and Mary Magdalene arrived at the tomb assuming Jesus was gone because bodies put in tombs stay in tombs. In both cases, because of their limited vision, they were prepared to follow their own plans for the future.  Joseph prepared for a life without Mary. Mary and Mary Magdalene were content continuing in their sadness and grief. In neither case would we blame any of them for the feelings they might have been experiencing. Had Joseph felt betrayed and angry, and had the two Marys felt depressed and downtrodden, we would understand. Yet in both cases, the words “Do not be afraid” signify a reality greater than that constructed by feelings.


The words “Do not be afraid” indicate that everything we see from our perspective is not all there is to see; and that the full picture of what we see at any given time is not the full reality of what God sees. “Do not be afraid” is God’s way of saying that regardless of our feelings in any given moment, God’s plans transcend even the deepest of our emotions. St. Ignatius said that the way things seem to be in any given situation in life is not necessarily the way they really are. That is what I hear when I read the words “Do not be afraid.” Even if we don’t have the full picture of the future in view, it is okay, because God does, and not only does God have that full picture in view, God sees a role for us – a vital one – in the unfolding of that future. After all, Joseph was needed to provide protection and provision for Jesus as he grew, and Mary and Mary Magdalene were needed to proclaim the resurrection to the rest of the disciples. 

“Do not be afraid.”  These are not just  words to invoke comfort, but the power, presence, and providence of God – and our participation in the work of God.  From the beginning of our lives.  To the end of them.  And beyond…  

Blessings… Michael

Posted by Michael Karunas with

A joyful heart is good medicine…

A joyful heart is good medicine…

Proverbs 17:22

The effects of the virus in our world can be difficult to endure. I hope this bring a smile to your face and reminds you to welcome laughter in your homes.

Do you remember the last time you laughed? I’m not referring to a half-hearted smile or a light chuckle. I’m thinking of those big, loud, deep belly laughs that make your stomach hurt and leave you   breathless. Think about it. When was the last time you laughed hard?

Laughter is a byproduct of a joyful heart and it turns out laughter is good medicine! I found the following information on Organic Facts website:

  • By seeking out humorous situations or participating in activities that will stimulate laughter, you are giving your body a chance to exercise the diaphragm, as well as facial, leg, back, and abdominal muscles.  Cortisol and adrenaline levels in the body, which are considered stress hormones, can be reduced through laughter, thereby adding to overall health. Also, the increase in respiration aids in the oxygenation of blood flowing to the brain and the rest of the body.
  • The number of Gamma-interferon and T-cells, which are the disease and tumor hunters of the body, are increased through regular amounts of laughter, and other sicknesses like respiratory infections and the common cold can be inhibited and decreased if laughter is a regular part of a person’s life.
  • In a very general sense, laughter is a painkiller and reduces the stress and anxiety of physical ailments.

Maybe it is time to laugh again?!


Tina Miller

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Togetherness… Without Buildings and Crowds

Easter without crowds and people???  Not celebrated in our beloved buildings???  Say it ain’t so!  Doesn’t the pandemic realize this is the biggest day of the church year?  That we never have crowds like we do at Easter?  That if it weren’t for Easter, the sanctuary wouldn’t be crammed to capacity?  That we couldn’t inflate our yearly attendance averages without the numbers on Easter?  Doesn’t it care that Easter is essentially about crowds coming together?  Children traveling home to celebrate with parents, and grandparents relishing in precious time spent with grandchildren?  And that taking place within the church’s walls?  Doesn’t it know that we have so many traditions around Easter that involve congregating together?  Rubbing shoulders and bumping into each other as we hunt for eggs?  Crowding around a table and sitting elbow to elbow as we are sated by our favorite Easter meal?  Does it not understand how much effort we put into making our building beautiful on Easter?  That at no other time of the year – save possibly for Christmas – are we as proud of our sanctuary’s glory, decorated from “head to toe” with lilies and palm fronds?  C’mon Corona!  How can we have Easter without buildings and people???


Yet this Easter it will be so.  But there are two essential aspects of the Easter story as recorded in Matthew (28:1-10) that should give us hope.  First, there is no community that encounters the risen Jesus.  Whereas there were crowds of people who experienced his entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the resurrection is much more of a private affair.  Only Mary and Mary Magdalene witness Jesus raised on that first Easter.  Even the disciples are presented with the risen Christ later, in another location and separate from these women.  In fact, it is the same in the other gospels as well.  Over and over Jesus appears to individuals, pairs or – at most – small groups of people.  Not once does he appear raised from the tomb in front of anything resembling a crowd or multitude. 


Moreover, when Mary and Mary Magdalene encounter the resurrected Christ, their first impulse is to grab hold of him.  To which Jesus unequivocally states, “Do not hold on to me.”  As if it underscore that his resurrection – and the Easter celebration itself – is about something more than physical things.  Sure, we associate many of our mountaintop moments with the bricks and mortar of our sacred buildings.  And because tradition requires sameness, we tell ourselves that if Easter is meaningful, it is because we celebrate it the same way, with the same people, in the same place.  But in not allowing Mary and Mary Magdalene to hold on to him, Jesus gives the freedom to see the truth of the resurrection independent from our traditions – beloved though they may be. 


So while we will do our best to broadcast an online worship service that offers images of our sanctuary decorated with lilies, and offer ways to communicate with one other as a faith community online, our real task and obligation is something greater.  It is to point one another back to the ancient story of that first Easter.  To find in it the hope that there was no tradition to uphold when Jesus rose from the tomb.  His resurrection was anything but traditional.  There was not a single precedent for it.  Just as there is no precedent in anyone’s memory for celebrating Easter the way we will be forced to this year. 


And yet??? Jesus rose.  He rose without a crowd to celebrate it.  He rose without a building to house it.  And he will rise this week as well.  He will rise above the constraints and complications of our earthly existence.  And he will want to carry us with him - as he rises – so that we might see the possibilities for hope and redemption that he sees.  Sure, it would be nice to be able to give witness to that truth, and celebrate it, collectively.  But in that we, each of us, will bear witness to it at all, we will be doing so together.  And that togetherness was never meant to be contained in any one building or by any one crowd.  Thanks be to God!    

Posted by Michael Karunas with

“At Least” is not an Option

In my late 20s, my father died.  Suddenly.  Of a heart-attack.  On a Thursday.  I had spoken to him four days earlier, and we discussed my planned visit home the following weekend and the things we were going to do together.  Then, in an instant, he was gone.  In the aftermath, many well-meaning friends said “at least” a lot.  At least he didn’t suffer, as if those magical words somehow softened the blow.  Through that experience, and my many years dealing with grief as a pastor, I acknowledge that all losses are difficult and painful.  There is no merit in trying to rank them.  There is only difference and distinction, which does not require value judgment.  The biggest distinction is timing.  With prolonged suffering before the loss, there is much pain in the process but also a chance to say good-bye and have some semblance of closure.  With a sudden loss, there is no preceding pain process, but also no closure nor chance for “last words.”  In both cases, however, there is nothing good comes from saying “at least.”  “At least you had the chance to say good-bye” rings as hollow as “At least they didn’t suffer.”

So it is noteworthy, and not surprising, what Jesus does – and doesn’t – do when Lazarus died.  Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus’ hometown, 4 days after Lazarus’ death.  The entire town was gathered around the cemetery, so well-loved was Lazarus in his community.  When Jesus arrived, he was greeted by people in the throes of grief.  What Jesus didn’t do was say “at least.”  He didn’t say “At least you had some good years with Lazarus,” or “At least his death is bringing you all together,” or “At least there are many other love-able people in this town.”  Instead, he wept.  That’s right, he sat down with the crying people and cried with them.  John 11:35 is the shortest verse in the entire bible and it simply reads: Jesus wept. 


Consider the power of that gesture.  Jesus knew he was going to raise Lazarus.  He knew this wasn’t the end, but before he did anything, he acknowledged the pain and hurt of a people broken by grief.  He didn’t try and rush them through it.  Nor did he try to put their loss in some kind of perspective.  He just honored the reality of their present moment – which was all they could see at that moment. 


What the Corona pandemic has wrought upon us has been a thousand “sudden” losses.  In the blink of an eye, preschoolers were uprooted from their teachers; college students were forced to abandon their friends and return home.  Sports seasons were instantly halted, with coaches and players unable to prepare for the separation.  Seniors, in both high school and college, are facing the reality of not having in-person graduation which is something the mind simply cannot compute.  Graduation is one of the few classic moments in American culture – a coming-of-age event that we all hold in our vault of important memories.  Not one student, teacher, athlete, coach, director or performer was thinking “This might be the last chance we’re going to play together (or sing together; or perform together; or study together).”  And that is a big deal. 


Today, we begin week 2 of our governor’s order to “shelter in place.”  In my own household, all three of our children are deeply grieving the loss of their physical connections to friends – even though they don’t always articulate it.  My wife and I find ourselves trying to convince them that when things get back “to normal” there will be opportunities to have closure on the significant transitions that have transpired.  And I also find myself using the words “at least.”  To my eldest son I heard myself say, “If your show choir season ends now, at least your last performance was the best of the year.”  Even as I hear these words coming from my mouth, I know they are really meant to make me feel better, just as those who said to me all those years ago, “At least your dad didn’t suffer,” were their attempts to make themselves feel better. 


Which brings us back to Jesus and the community around Lazarus.  Sometimes we just need to cry.  Even though we may pride ourselves on being stoic in our behavior, there is something innate in being human that simply needs to grieve the loss of something valuable.  And we crave, and long for, the space in which to do that even if we are not always conscious of that reality.  St. Ignatius of Loyola said there are 3 reasons why we cry.  First, we cry because we are sad for the sufferings of Christ.  Second, we cry when we are confronted with the reality of our own sin.  And third… we cry when we experience suffering in the world.  That last one seems especially applicable today.  We grieve the weight of a thousand losses inflicted upon us because of this virus.  We grieve them without placing blame.  And we grieve them without saying “at least.”  We simply grieve them.


Which is entirely okay, or else scripture wouldn’t have devoted an entire verse to just two simple words – Jesus wept. 

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