Everyday Fools: An Easter Sermon
Sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Andrew Kukla at First Presbyterian Church, Boise, Idaho on Easter Sunday, April 1st, 2018. You can find the video of the sermon here.
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 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.
It doesn’t happen very often that April Fool’s Day is on Easter…. And when I saw this one coming I groaned. I told myself – we are going to see a lot of bad Good Friday into Easter jokes about “Jesus died… April fool’s: he’s alive.”
And as a pastor, I will admit I become a bit of a grumpy old man about telling the story wrong… take for instance last night. Someone shared a funny text story about Easter morning. It was a video tracking a group text conversation from the women at the tomb. Mary begins, “He’s gone.” And then the disciples say, “Who’s gone?” Mary, “Jesus.” And then all respond about how they know its hard to believe he did die. That it is real. They too want to imagine its wrong… and she has to interrupt them and say they aren’t getting what she means, his body is missing from the tomb. And I laughed at the interplay until… I saw that one of the “disciples” in the group text was Paul. And I literally stopped watching. Seriously? I mean, come on people. Paul doesn’t come into this story for another ten or fifteen years at best. He wouldn’t have been in this text chain, you can’t mess that up! Get the story right.
So, when it comes to April Fool’s and Jesus death, I would have to call foul yet again. Because… here is the thing: Jesus really did die. The only April Fool’s, as we noted last week, was Palm Sunday – when Jesus allowed them to believe for a moment that he was coming to be crowned the new King of the Jews – the next David here to kick out the Romans. That was the April Fool’s joke… but Jesus death was all too real. So real in fact that the women aren’t at all prepared to hear good news.
Jesus was dead, dead, dead… and worse yet they couldn’t even give him a full and proper burial.
In the Jewish way of reckoning a day, each day begins at sunset. Jesus dies as the night falls and the sabbath has begun… so they don’t have time to do the full rites and they basically grab a bunch of those car air fresheners – you know the little trees that dangle from your rearview mirror – and lay his body in a tomb with them to await proper burial. Our text began early in the morning on the first day of the week after the sabbath was over and they going to bury him. They are going to get their closure.
And… he’s not there.
Talk about your frustrations upon frustrations, failures building on failures, despair constantly finding you a new and even lower low than what you previously thought was the worst things can get. First y,ou imagined a coronation parade and final rise to power for the King of the Jews… and instead J,esus starts up again about dying and tearing down the temple and… then one of his best friends betrays him. He gets arrested. Another of his bff’s denies that he even knows him so that he doesn’t get swooped up in the house cleaning of this religious and political revolution… the crowds turn on Jesus too, and before anyone can wrap their heads around these multiple betrayals… Jesus is beaten, falsely tried, convicted… and killed in the most shame filled way possible.
Imagine being his mother in that moment.
Imagine asking to see the body and she cannot. “No, we have sealed him away.” Can you imagine spending a day – a day of worship even, a day of sabbath in which you can do nothing but sit in the knowledge that Jesus had died. Your child, your friend, your savior, your Lord… the one whom you had turned your entire life over to… is dead. An entire day spent worshiping the death of hope.
And now. Now that they finally get to go cry over his body and find closure and reality to all of this… the body is gone. And you know what? They cannot believe it. And its not even surprising to me that they cannot – I wouldn’t, I don’t, believe it either. Told Jesus is alive… they shut down, they run away, and they tell no one. Because. The resurrection isn’t real to them: they are unable to imagine it. So, in this resurrection story, we see and hear and experience no Jesus. The end. The story dies with their fear…
Sometimes we just aren’t ready to hear good news.
Last night I was, well cooking hotdogs if you want to know, and I was texting with my family. My family has been through a rough couple of years – not all that different than the story of the Mary’s – every time it feels like we might get some good news we find a new low, and its not just my family, I know many of you are going through similar things. And then we look around at our country and we see division, death, and death and division over how we solve the problems of death and division… and I don’t see how Easter is possible. I texted my family “I don’t feel Easter…” Maybe the Gospel of Mark in our lectionary cycle had Spirit timing for me. I feel like I need to just sit in good Friday for longer, the world feels far more Good Friday to me than Easter, so how do you get up in front of a bunch of people who came to hear “He is Risen… he is risen indeed”… when you aren’t sure its true or real, or that it is the prevailing truth of our lives. I’m not in the mood for Easter.
And then, standing over my grill last night it occurs to me… that is exactly when Easter gets proclaimed.
We don’t need Easter if everything is going well.
We don’t’ need Easter if Jesus doesn’t die.
We don’t need Easter if Rome isn’t a problem.
We don’t need Easter if there aren’t hungry people on the street.
We don’t need Easter if there aren’t people who can’t get housing.
We don’t need Easter if we already are living together in peace and harmony.
We don’t proclaim Easter if everything is ok.
Easter is Easter, Resurrection is Resurrection, because what we expect when we walk into the tomb is that everything we care about is dead or dying.
In First Corinthians, the Apostle Paul… (this is real pick me up sermon isn’t it? If you are a Christmas and Easter person who chose to come here today you came the wrong Easter) “For the message about the cross,” Paul writes, “is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ … God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation (of Mary and Mary and Salome’s proclamation…), to save those who believe…. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
This is no April Fool’s joke. It is an everyday fools’ joke. For we are those called to follow in the way of the one who is mocked as a king on a cross… and three days later became a king in a way we can’t even believe. We are called to be people of a proclamation that is so unbelievable that the people who are in the best position to believe it went home and told no-one… because they were afraid.
What a fool, God, to trust us with such a story.
What a fool, us, to trust and imagine that God has really done it.
And yet, both are true.
Somewhere between their frozen fear and doubt. Those women did tell the story. How do I know? Because I know. I mean, you know the story, I know the story, we didn’t need to read the story. We already knew the story because they DID tell the story. Just not at that moment. If they had persisted in telling no one then we wouldn’t know the story today, the great story, the great mystery of faith: that Christ has died, Christ rose, Christ will come again. They did tell that story. They just had to marinate in the death and doubt and fear a little longer… because, like me, they just weren’t ready for Easter. Like us, they couldn’t imagine that God’s weakness could be that world changing powerful.
The corollary to “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again” is this:
We couldn’t believe, we came to believe anyway, and that belief can change the world.
We are called to be God’s everyday fools.
In the mid-60s of the common era, A.D. for those of you who went to high school before the ‘90s., in the 60’s there was a Jewish uprising against Rome. The very one people hoped Jesus was starting on Palm Sunday. They rose up to use violence, tools of war, and nationalistic pride to throw down Rome and become a sovereign nation again… do you know that story? I imagine you do not. Its left to folk like me, historians of forgotten times and places to know such stories. And what happened? Rome did not fall. Rome returned in all its terrible power of death and destruction. They put them to the sword, tore down the Temple, and dashed their dreams.
You cannot defeat empires using their weapons.
You cannot defeat death by dealing out death faster than the next person.
But long after Rome was only a dream… we are still telling this Easter story. This story that was so unbelievable so impossible and so.. foolish. This foolish story that empowered the few remaining followers of Jesus to change the world. A story that for nigh on to 2,000 years people have lived out so that others who are experiencing oppression have had people come alongside them and witness that life is stronger than death and the empires of this world will come and go but God’s kingdom will stand true.
Christians went into plague towns and tended the ill – and they lost their lives for it – but they had found something worth dying over: life and love. And the story traveled, here are a people who are willing to die alongside you because they are so foolishly in love with abundant life they KNOW it transcends death.
When the Roman Empire was decaying and falling apart Christianity was one of the things Rome turned to in order to try to re-bind their people together. The very empire that tried to destroy it, now tried to use it to save its life.
When the Church is true to its calling it is God’s sign to the world of what God’s kingdom is called to be and we reject violence as an answer to promote life, we seek justice as the sum of our being, and we trust that love can turn around any heart – no matter how hardened.
And when we do that we proclaim that he is risen, he is risen indeed. We proclaim resurrection – that life can come up from places of death. We reject making the world a tomb and make it a testament to life.
For this he died. For this he rose. For this he will come again:
that life is a better way of life than death. And love makes the world turn.
For this he died. For this he rose. For this he will come again:
To proclaim that he is risen. He is risen indeed. And we will too.
This is the word of our Lord, thanks be to God.