April 1, 2018 – Easter Year B
1When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint [Jesus’ body]. 2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
I saw a shirt that I seriously almost got for today that said, “Happy Easter Fools Day!” I thought the idea eggsellent. You might now carrot all, but I’m really glad you’re hare today. Despite that, I’ll try to keep my yokes at a minimum today. Okay? Let’s hop to it.
At first, I wasn’t sure how I thought about sharing such a high holy day with April Fool’s Day. It is pretty rare – the last time it happened was 1956 and it won’t happen again until 2029. But it seems to me that the resurrection is maybe the best joke God could play on anyone. The thing about a joke is that it has to upend your expectations, it has to surprise you. If it doesn’t, it’s not funny. For instance: Knock knock (who’s there?) Little old lady. (Little old lady who?) I didn’t know you could yodel! A joke cannot bring joy, it cannot make you laugh, unless you are surprised by it.
And that sense of surprise is one the core pieces of Easter that we often miss. It’s one of the core pieces about Jesus that we miss. This is surprising and it keeps being surprising. Many of us have heard the basic story of Easter more than once. Many of us knew that coming to church today would mean something different was happening. We’d declare that Christ is risen (He is risen indeed!). We’d say “Alleluia” in church again for the first time since Ash Wednesday. We’d hear the story of an empty tomb and a resurrected Christ.
And it’s all been there, hasn’t it? Maybe this service hasn’t surprised you yet. It can be hard to be surprised when you’ve heard the same story over and over. Yet, this is exactly the moment when we can be surprised again. Take, for instance, our gospel of Mark, where it tells us that, instead of shouting with joy from the rooftops, finding the disciples and watching them run to the tomb, the women who encounter the empty tomb leave silent and afraid. Instead of a Christ risen in glory, we see an empty hole in the rock. That’s a little surprising, isn’t it?
I have to believe that the author of Mark knew what he was doing. I have to believe that this ending is there for a reason, especially when the other gospels all contain so much more information (go home and read them today and you’ll see just how different they are). With this short passage, within these 8 verses, God has turned the tables on pretty much everyone, including us. Nobody sees what they are expecting to see.
The women come to the tomb, expecting that everything they had learned about death was true. They were expecting to encounter a corpse. They had watched him die. They had seen how the chief priests had hated him, how they had incited the crowd to call for his crucifixion, how he was paraded through the streets like a sideshow, and how the Roman guards nailed him to the cross and left him there. They watched him die. And dead men generally stay that way. But instead, the tomb is empty, the angel has told them that he has risen, and this surprise leaves them shocked.
And this is the point in the story when the joke is on us. Because we think we know the story. Yet, the original ending in Mark simply tells us that the women were terrified and told no one. Perhaps that is our job; to tell everyone that Jesus is alive, even still today. Perhaps this ending is supposed to make us reread the gospel of Mark again, looking for the Good News and finding Jesus in new places. Perhaps we’re just supposed to understand that a new life, a life of faith, is not without its terrors and fears. I don’t know. Maybe it’s all three of those things.
Regardless, God continues to play the Divine Joke on us, because it is precisely in the moments of doubt and fear, it is exactly in the times when we think we’ve got everything figured out, that we begin to see God doing something new. Easter is not so much a day, but a process – a process of new life springing from death, decay, fear, and sin. God is surprising us, each and every day, and this day is no different. We are surprised that the women were frightened and told no one. We are surprised that the disciples don’t get the resolution we so often imagine. Or maybe you’re just surprised that the preacher cracked an egg of confetti over a kid’s head. But, regardless, Easter is always surprising if we’re paying attention.
It pops up in moments when we least expect and it takes different forms and shapes. The new life of Easter, the empty tomb, the risen Christ comes back to us in moments and people we don’t expect. It looks like the first buds of spring that have been hiding in the snow and ice. It looks like people of different faiths, languages, political ideologies, and races gathering together to work for the good of humanity and creation. It looks like the moment in which we realize that our worth and value is not found in how much money you make, how many friends or followers you have online, how athletic or smart you are, or how popular and powerful you are. We see new life right here and right now when we see God’s grace and love at work.
This love and this power of God are poured out for you, each and every day. Your baptism still washes you and reminds you that you are claimed as a daughter and son of God. The bread and wine of Holy Communion still unites us to the Eternal and the gathering of forgiven saints of God. Easter is still happening and it is still for you. The love of God is the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. The power of God is seen in the resurrection’s victory over sin and death. And, like a punchline that we consistently forget, it surprises us each and every day. Because God’s love and power looks like death and resurrection, not material and advancement, it always surprises us.
When we think we’ve got God figured out, when we think we know this Jesus, when the Spirit seems to be predictable, God will surprise us. Each and every time. God is working for, and surprising, us. Easter is today, and tomorrow, and every moment of every day for the rest of eternity. New life is rising from the grave of our memory, our intention, our sin, and our misplaced trust. God is telling us something today, something unexpected, and I hope you’re ready for the punchline. Because every time we hear it, every time we see it, is brings such joy. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Amen.