The Greatest Joke of All
Based on Psalm 118:14-24, 1Corinthians 15:1-11, Mark 16:1-8
Easter Sunday has come once again – Alleluia! This Easter Sunday is different from all that I have lived for two reasons. The first is that it is my first as a Pastor and the second is that it is also April Fool’s Day. A lot of rhetoric has flown over the pastoral internet channels about the interesting start and finish of this year’s Lent. You’ll recall that Lent began on Ash Wednesday as usual – but unusually, Ash Wednesday was also Valentine’s Day this year. Now, that was not all that difficult to integrate, for Valentine’s Day is all about love, and understanding that from elemental dust we begin our life – breathed into by the loving breath of God, and then lovingly returned to that same God when our time here on Earth is finished. What about the April Fool’s Day/Easter combination, however? How could a day set aside every year for pranksters to play tricks on unsuspecting “fools” to get a laugh at their expense and the resurrection of our Savior have anything in common? For heaven’s sake, how could any preacher worth their salt possibly make a link between the resurrection of Jesus the Christ and a day dedicated to tom foolery? Why would I even try? I will try because I think there is a very real expose here…the theological link between these two seemingly incongruous events – but first I will ask for God to lead us all during this time. Please join me in prayer…
Satan had been working towards Good Friday since he had been shown up during Jesus’ 40-day temptation in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry. Satan had tried and tried to get Jesus to make a mistake or utter a falsehood to no avail. Finally, Satan found a way to turn one of Jesus’ Disciples – one of the twelve. At last, Satan thought, I’ll be able to mock up a trial and get rid of this meddling force here on Earth. At last I’ll be truly free of God, and God will leave the Earth as my realm because I have actually beaten God at God’s own game. Sure enough, Thursday’s false accusations led inexorably to Friday’s sentencing by Pilate to death by crucifixion. Jesus died relatively quickly and was laid in a tomb which was then sealed by a large rock and guarded. Jesus was dead and there was no denying it. The Disciples had scattered and it was really just a matter of time before they would be rounded up and imprisoned. In fact, they were so frightened that they might never have the nerve to act out again, anyway. Satan had won and God had lost big – the people in Jerusalem that fateful Passover had said a resounding “NO” to Emmanuel.
All was quiet Friday evening and through Saturday. No one came by the grave on the Jewish Sabbath during the Passover celebration. Yet, there was an uprising occurring in Hades, if one believes the stories from our Orthodox brothers and sisters. This is called the “anastasis” – literally translated as “up/rising”. You will recall that Jesus not only died, but according to the Apostle’s Creed (one of the oldest affirmations of faith in Christianity) “he descended to the dead – or into hell” depending on the translation you read. What was a sinless person, fully divine and fully human doing in hell? Our Eastern Orthodox heritage brings us an answer, Jesus was bringing up all those who had died before him. In fact, most of the icon paintings of this event show Jesus holding onto Adam or Adam and Eve’s hands and rising up out of Hades. Thus, the resurrection creates a wholeness, God’s shalom, where there was fracture from what Augustine called “original sin”.
Then Sunday dawned – and on that third day Jesus’ body was found to be missing at the tomb. It matters not what Gospel version you read, all of them agree that the body that had been laid and prepared on Friday was no longer there. Fear, confusion, anxiety, wonder, consternation, amazement, renewed grief, all coursed through the person or people who gathered that morning at the tomb. Where was the body of Jesus? Why wasn’t it here? Where could it have gone? The answer was that God played the most wonderful trick of all through God’s great love for us. God tricked all the worldly powers, all the pompous pride of the great Roman Empire and her leaders, down to the lowest of scribes who mocked Jesus and gave their false testimony. God tricked Satan and all his plans for taking over the world. For you see, God’s creative love is more powerful than any force known in our material world.
Death was a human reality, but Jesus was not just human he was also divine. Therefore, God could set up Satan and all is plans and let Satan go all in on the death of Jesus, because God still had the winning hand to play. God had not shown, until this moment, how love and non-violence will once and forever conquer evil and the violent. The creative love of God through the resurrection of Jesus broke forever the reality of death. The communal nature of the anastasis brings to reality the fact that there will be a communal uprising at the end of times when Jesus returns in glory. All will be made whole and will be returned to the blessed community of Eden. This is the great April Fool’s joke that God played on Death and on human wisdom – and Satan and death continue to have no answer to this today.
God has made foolish the wise, says Paul in one of his letters, death has been overcome through the resurrection. Our next hymn sums it up well, “Fear of death can no more stop us from our pressing here below. For our Lord empowered us to triumph over every foe. Alleluia, Alleluia, On to victory now we go.” (UMH #304, 2nd verse) Easter people, it is time to raise your voices to celebrate the greatest April Fool’s joke of all time – the resurrection which defeated death and sin. And all God’s people shouted, AMEN!!