Trinitarian Congregational Church Easter Sunday
Anthony S. Kill April 1, 2018
Texts: Isaiah 25:6-9; Luke 24:1-12
I can hear the gossip spreading now: “Did you hear what Pastor Tony titled his Easter sermon? “Foolishness!” He called the resurrection Foolishness! Let me assure you: It wasn’t me! It was Luke. The Bible made me do it. The women’s report of an empty tomb and the angel’s message of a risen Christ seemed pure foolishness to the apostles, and they didn’t believe them. Our translation says the disciples thought the women’s report of the resurrection to be “an idle tale” – but another translation for that Greek word is “Nonsense” or “Foolishness” That seems appropriate for April Fools day, doesn’t it?
In fact, it’s most appropriate that Easter falls on April Fools Day this year. There is an ancient tradition, especially in Eastern Christianity, of celebrating the whole week of Easter by telling funny stories and playing practical jokes on each other. This tradition even had a name: Risus Paschalis, Easter Laughter.
Pastors would deliberately include amusing stories and jokes in their sermons to make the faithful laugh.
In the 4th century, John Chrysostom, one of the great Bishops and theologians of the early church said of Easter, “God played a practical joke on the Devil by raising Jesus from the dead. The resurrection was God’s supreme joke, defeating sin and death.”
Thus was born the tradition of Easter Laughter Risus Paschalis – it was kind of an extended April Fools WEEK. So if anyone ever tells you that they think Easter is a joke, tell them that it is indeed!
A joke is something that turns the tables, or reveals the unexpected, or takes us by surprise.
Like this one: The Red Sox are in the playoffs at the end of the season, and Fenway Park is sold out. But a guy in the bleachers realizes that there’s a prime box seat sitting still empty in the 4th inning. So he decided that by hook or by crook, he’s gonna sneak into that seat. And he manages to sneak into the box seat section, and slides into that seat. There’s a elderly woman sitting alone next to him, and his curiosity gets the better of him. He can’t help but ask, “Excuse me, Lady, but is who holds the ticket for this seat?” She said, “Oh, my dear husband and I have had these seats together for the past 50 years. We never ever missed a home game in all that time. But then he died recently.” The man said, “Oh, I’m terribly sorry – but couldn’t you find anyone else to invite to come with you – one of your children, or a relative, or even a neighbor?” The lady sighed and said, “Well, I tried. I asked several of them to come today. But they all wanted to go to his funeral.”
A joke is something that turns the tables, or reveals the unexpected, and takes us by surprise.
The Bible is chock full of great surprises, of how God’s favor, grace and promise turn the ways of the world upside-down. Think of Abraham and Sarah, having 3 strangers walk up to their tent and announce that they’re going to become parents at 90 and 100 years old Surprise! They both burst out laughing when they heard God’s joke. And when that baby came, they named him “Laughter” — ‘Isaac’ in Hebrew.
Think of Moses walking with his people into – and through — the Red Sea. It opens before them, then closes behind them and washes their enemies away. Surprise!
Think of David up against Goliath.
Think of a child born of obscure parents in a backwoods province, becoming the most unforgettable character ever to walk onto the stage of history. Surprise!
This man is tried and condemned as an anarchist rebel, and executed on an instrument of cruel torture to scare off his followers But that very torture device becomes the symbol of his victory, – the cross displayed today in millions and billions of homes and houses of worship all around the world to honor the hope and freedom he brought us. Surprise!
His closest followers are nondescript, lower-class workers in smelly, back-breaking jobs, yet they rise up as teachers and healers, carry the Good News to the ends of the known world, and turn that world upside down. Surprise!
There has never been a more joyous revelation of unexpected grace than the resurrection experience that ‘Jesus lives!’ It’s the biggest April Fools joke of all. Death could not halt him or hold him. Easter leaps into the world each spring like the laughter of the earth after a long, dark, cold winter.
There is this element of surprise in all the resurrection appearances: The women coming in grief to the tomb, and finding the stone rolled away before them. Surprise!
Mary waiting at the empty tomb, and suddenly recognizing that the supposed gardener was no gardener. Surprise!
The disciples scoffing at the women in disbelief and derision for their foolish gullibility, then that very same night finding Jesus standing among them unannounced. Surprise!
Two men pouring out their grief and disappointment to a stranger on the road, then suddenly recognizing him in Emmaus through the breaking of bread. Surprise!
Our God seems to delight in being the God of lost causes, a God of hopeless situations, a God of unimaginable surprises. Do we believe those surprises can still happen? Do we let them still happen to us?
At a meal, walking down a street, standing at a sickbed, or in some dark time of seeming defeat or despair? Our God is the one who can call forth life out of the very doom of death. Not instead of death, mind you, not as a promise to avoid all pain or grief or struggle, but as a promise that whatever happens will be blessed by God, and redeemed by God. God, not the power of darkness, has the last word, and the last laugh. So we can accept the little deaths that this life deals to us, because we know we are also partakers of the resurrection hope that God promises.
The good news we proclaim today is that there is no such thing as a lost cause, or a hopeless situation, for those who stand in the power of the resurrection. Nothing can ever take away the saving power of Christ, or the loving laughter of God.
So on Easter morning, we stand on the knowledge that Christ is alive, walking among us, awaiting us on the road ahead of us,whatever else that road may hold. For us, for Christians, the presence of the living Christ is the key that unlocks the door of hope and makes every kind of change possible. Having this resurrection faith, and believing that all things are possible with God, may indeed seem like foolishness in today’s world. We stand on the faith of those who have believed the news before us, and have lived by its promise, and acted on its challenge.
Because of their faith, because of their conviction and their witness, we can stand here and say that it is not foolishness to believe that we too can be healed of our hurts and fears, our sins and failures.
It is not foolishness to believe that there is a future of peace and possibility for our children, even our most troubled and errant children.
It is not foolishness to believe that we can muster the will to better care for our environment, and preserve the future of God’s good creation on this planet.
It is not foolishness to believe that our nation can have a sound and sane gun control policy that allows responsible ownership and use of firearms, but curbs the rampant gun violence in our streets.
It is not foolishness to believe that we, one of the wealthiest nations on earth, can provide quality health care, housing, and nutrition to each and every resident of this country, and still allow the wealthiest to live in the luxury they choose to enjoy.
It is not foolishness to believe that peace can come to our bloodied and battered world, and there will one day be better mutual trust and mutual understanding between the world’s great cultures and great religions. With this resurrection hope, we can sow seeds and create visions and dream dreams of love and justice. And with this hope we can find the faith and the courage to tell the world of the possibilities we see for God’s children, for all of God’s children.
People didn’t tell jokes at Easter to trivialize what has happened, or to make light of its significance, but to give voice to the joy and delight of God’s great victory over the somber powers of sin and death.
So Joseph of Arimathea ran into his friends, and they said, “Joe, what’s this we hear about you giving away your new tomb for that rebel friend of yours, Jesus?
That was such a beautiful, expensive new tomb, and you had it specially carved out for yourself in that hillside, with the big fitted stone and everything. Why on earth would you give it away to someone else?” And Joseph said, “Enough already! Lighten up! I didn’t give my tomb away. He only needed to borrow it for the weekend.”
We can be God’s jokesters, God’s jesters, at Eastertime, because the world needs to know that life can break through, and joy can break through, and laughter can break through, even such an awful death as this one. Surprise! Easter is our best reminder that God has the last word — and the last laugh.
“Soar we now where Christ has led, following our exalted head. Made like him, like him we rise. Ours the cross, the grave, the skies. Alleluia!”