To put your mind at ease, there are no practical jokes woven through this sermon.
There are no special Easter eggs today–
those are hidden surprises
That video game designers or movie directors
sneak into their final masterpieces.
When I was a kid, I could take my controller on my Nintendo video game system
Up up down down left right left right B A Start
And it would start me on level 20, instead of at the beginning.
Or I’d get five extra lives. Something like that.
Or on the Legend of Zelda, that’s a videogame popular when I was 13 or so
you’d look for a secret passage that led to a lavish treasure chest.
These were the Easter Eggs I liked to hunt, hidden surprises
Something only you would know.
These aren’t just for video games.
A few weeks ago, our family traveled to Los Angeles for the first time.
It was Spring Break
We were off to see where they made some
great TV shows and blockbuster movies.
I took a picture at the same desk where President Josiah Bartlet sat
on The West Wing,
now resting properly at the Warner Brothers Studio Prop Room.
We saw how they made Harry Potter fly on his broom
We held a real Oscar.
But the first thing I did when we got there
Was I took our daughters to a gastronomical icon in that part of the country
We went to In-N-Out Burger.
I wonder if any of you have been there.
There’s not a lot special about that place, at first glance.
Your average hamburger, fries, milkshake establishment.
But it’s the secret menu that draws people in, by the THOUSANDS.
If you go there, and you don’t know about the secret menu
The offerings seem tame.
One patty or two. Cheese or no. take your pick.
What size fries can we get you?.
But if you know the secret menu….
Well, that’s the special code that unlocks everything:
–You can get your fries “Animal Style”
And they’ll smother them with grilled onions and extra special sauce.
–You can order the 4×4 burger,
And they’ll stack four patties and four cheese slices in there,
With or without onions, take your pick.
–There’s a secret grilled cheese sandwich, not on the regular menu
If all that saturated fat seems to be a bit too much for you.
–Or maybe you’re cutting carbs:
Order your burger “Protein Style”
and they will wrap it in lettuce instead of the bun.
These surprises are meant to keep you on your toes
To make something feel a little special, if you’re in the know.
I’ve always found it amusing that they call these things Easter Eggs
Those little surprises. They’re particularly apt for a sermon on a day like today.
The last time that Easter Sunday fell on April Fools Day was sixty-two years ago
way back in 1956.
And I wonder if there was a temptation back then
to have a guy in a bunny suit
Jump out at just the right time during the anthem.
Landon promised me he won’t do any of that.
Not this Sunday, anyway.
The way the Gospel of John tells the story, though
There’s no room for any of that.
John wants us the reader to know, from the very beginning
What is going on.
Even if the main characters in this dramatic morning don’t have any clue.
There’s Mary Magdalene, who got up early
Gathered her spices, put on her cloak
And walked, heavy in her grief, to the tomb
where her friend and Lord Jesus had been laid.
She saw him breathe his last.
She was near his cross, watching, those terrible hours
Huddled with his mother Mary
And Mary, the wife of Clopas
And one of the disciples, one particularly beloved by Jesus.
It happened on Friday.
It was late when he was finally untied from where he hung
And so it was hastily wrapped according to custom
And placed in a brand new tomb.
Saturday was Sabbath. Nothing happens on the Sabbath.
But it was now Sunday. Jesus’ body could be washed now
Could be tended and cared for
Properly prepared for his final rest.
It was still dark.
Maybe she didn’t see anyone, the city still asleep, on her walk that Easter morning.
But when she got to the tomb, what’s this?
The stone had been removed, and it was open!
So she ran, back to tell the others. What was going on?
Could they come help too?
John starts to tell us about them…
Her story will pick back up in a minute.
But first, there’s Simon Peter, and that beloved disciple.
They hear Mary’s report
“They have taken the Lord out of the tomb,
who knows where they have laid him…?”
and they set out at once
Running, frantically, frenetically, to check it out.
They go, they look, they see him gone.
Mary’s right. Tomb open. Tomb empty. Just as she said.
They go back home.
But Mary, who was trailing and just got back there
Was inconsolable. And she stayed there, weeping.
It was too much. Grief upon grief.
John paints the picture so vividly,
that you’d be excused for missing all the little details he leaves for us
Not little Easter Eggs—facets of the story that are hidden,
meant to be a surprise
But the opposite of that: details that are meant to clue you in
to exactly what’s going on here.
The stone that was at the entrance to the tomb:
It “had been removed.” John says. It was gone, someone else had done it.
When Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple looked in
They saw the stuff that Jesus had been wrapped in
But it was folded, smartly, over there in a separate place
not something a tomb raider would take time to do.
And Mary, when she encounters not one, not two, but three people
She does not know who they are,
Assuming even that the last one to be the gardener
The caretaker of that gravesite
The one, surely, who must have taken the Lord away
“Sir, tell me where you have laid him,
and I will take him away, please sir…”
John won’t let you suspend imagination even there.
No, he TELLS us that this is Jesus himself
And before him, those other two were angels, you know,
in white clothes
The standard uniform of heavenly messengers, apparently.
John wants no surprises for us, as we read his story about the life and the death
And the amazing new world of the risen Jesus.
No: we see it from the very start:
Christ is Risen! The tomb of death cannot hold him.
There’s no foolin going on, not here, not for John.
Christ is Risen! Wow.
Its real. All of it. He calls her by name.
She sees him for what he really is.
And just like that: all is well.
The story continues.
You have to come back next week to get more of it
And its worth it. They’re so worth it
The stories of the resurrected Jesus
Hanging out with the disciples
Showing them his hands, his side
Feeding them fish for breakfast
Maybe “animal style,” who knows.
But for now, we have the first encounter, with Mary
And her response to this mind-boggling reality that is standing right in front of her
Her grief and her sadness a distant memory now, all in the past,
For now: nothing but Joy, nothing but happiness, nothing but love.
Its that transformation that John wants you to see:
What happens in you when you see what God is really doing right before your eyes?
When what is obvious to God becomes obvious to you
That love is truly more powerful than death
That hope can survive even the longest of dreary weekends
That the future can be full of promise again
Even after it feels so bleak sometimes.
That transformation is the new life that happens on Easter Morning.
Mary felt it. She’ll never be the same.
And she runs back to tell the others: I have seen the Lord!
Now: before you learn the rest of the story
Take a moment to put yourself right there, listening to it for the first time.
So, Mary, slow down. Tell me again, you got up early, you took the spices,
There was no stone, you told some of the guys
And they came to check it out, but they saw no body
But you, you saw some people
And who, exactly now, did you see?
Tell me: what do you think?
Did she sound like a fool?
To some of the others who tell this story, she sure does.
The Gospel of Luke says that they heard her story, and dismissed it as an Idle Tale.
(Luke’s version is at Luke 24)
Note well: John knows she isn’t. WE know she isn’t.
They should have listened to her, those men, those disciples.
But they didn’t.
Mary, you’re talking nonsense.
Come now, settle down.
Just sit over here near the fire and let us continue on with our day…
It would take Jesus himself coming to visit them to show them what’s what.
Dear reader, John is trying to say, don’t you be like them.
Watch, and see.
Pay attention to the signs and the wonders that are right there.
The risen Christ is all around you.
Blessed are you who have not seen, and yet believe!
This may be April Fools Day,
A day of tricks and jokes and short sheeting a bed or two
(please don’t go do that and tell your victim
that the pastor put the notion in your head)
But there’s something truly foolish about this day, Easter Morning.
Who would believe it?
Christ is risen! Really? A dead person alive again?
God’s very self, killed?
What nonsense is all of that?
Well, in our other reading for the morning, Paul talks a bit about that.
In the world of his day, there were pretty much two kinds of people he ran into
who were part of his orbit
There were other Jews, like Paul himself, people of the covenant promise
Those who turned to the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob
And followed the law of God that Moses gave them.
There were Jews, and then there were other people
Those non-Jews who were seeped in Roman Culture and Greek thought
Who studied the Stoics and Plato, Ovid and Socrates
Who bought their meat from the temples of the Greco-Roman Gods
And sought wisdom from their oracles.
The Jews, and the Greeks. That’s everyone.
Paul would call this whole notion “foolishness” to most of
the non-Jewish people who heard it. Those Greeks.
Their Gods would never become human. Zeus. Apollo. Athena.
Why would a God want to do that?
They certainly wouldn’t put down the sword, and let other humans kill them,
like Jesus did.
God’s don’t do that. Please. Everyone knows that.
And, generally, people don’t come back to life, either.
When you die, you die. Down to Hades with you.
So this story of Christ Crucified, alive in the tomb: foolish talk.
And to a lot of the Jewish people who heard it, it was just too much
A stumbling-block, this idea that God would allow the messiah,
the son of God
to die in such a horrible way,
much less to leap back from the clutches of death.
There’s a passage in the Hebrew Scriptures
That suggests that those who die hanging from a tree are accursed.
Many faithful Jewish people just couldn’t get their heads around the idea
of their messiah dying like that.
The bible talks a lot about the way that most people,
those first few years of the early church
Had trouble believing it. Rejected the whole thing as folly, or as just too much.
But, as Paul said: if they only knew!
If they could only see what is there, in plain sight,
It could change their lives. It could transform their hopes
It could give them hope that could make all the difference
in the world.
“It is foolishness to the Greeks, and a stumbling block to the Jews
But to us,” Paul would say, “whether Jews, or Greeks,
“it is the wisdom of God and the Power of God.”
“God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom
and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”
We’ve been at that very point ever since.
What do you think?
Is the whole thing foolish?
Could it possibly be true?
The point isn’t to ridicule doubt.
I have my doubts.
I don’t trust those who don’t, every so often, wonder about the whole thing.
But living your life in the reality of the resurrection
Letting yourself see what God is doing all around us
Living the Easter Life,
That’s a wholly new thing.
Its not really about doubts.
Its about letting ourselves get caught up in this story of God’s love for the world
A love that God wants us to get swept away with
So much so that it moves us to become part of it.
I can’t help but remember a time when I heard
theologian and gadfly Peter Rollins speak.
I knew that he was challenging and edgy and maybe even dangerous.
He said something about all this that blew me away:
Last time I was in Grand Rapids,
I was speaking at Calvin College, Said Rollins…
and after about a five hour session,
near the end someone said to me,
“You know Pete, all of this theology,
you don’t say much about this Resurrection.
Do you DENY the Resurrection.
And I said, Ok, this is time to fess up.
Yes, I do. Of course I do.
Everyone who knows me knows I deny the resurrection.
I do deny the resurrection…
every time I do not serve my neighbor
[I deny the resurrection….]
every time I walk away from people who are poor
I deny the resurrection…
every time I participate in an unjust system.
AND I affirm the resurrection, every now and again,
when I stand up for those who are on their knees.
I affirm the resurrection
when I cry out for those people
who have had their tongues torn out,
when I weep for those people
who have no more tears to shed….
So. Its Easter. What do you think? Is it true? Is it foolish?
Are you willing to live the sort of foolish life
That OTHER people don’t quite get?
Here’s what I think:
Yes, it is true, every time we encounter the risen Lord among us,
it is true.
Every time we are INSPIRED by Jesus
and stand up for the blessed,
stand with the meek,
those who hunger and thirst, the poor.
those who society rejects or doubts or marginalizes.
Right THERE: the resurrection is TRUE.
It may look foolish. But it is true.
There are so many opportunities for us to LIVE it.
Today. To love wantonly. To serve selflessly.
To stand up for justice fearlessly.
Where is your chance to SEE Easter?
Where might you look to see the Risen Lord in our midst?
Are you listening for Christ to call your name,
and to know, in your heart, that you, YOU are loved
in ways you never fully understood?
And so, my friends, this Easter Sunday,
my prayer is that we might hear Jesus calling our name
and KNOWING that Christ loves us, knows us, frees us,
may we be set free to tell the world that
WE HAVE SEEN THE LORD
and, doing so, let us AFFIRM
that “Death is not the last word.
Violence is not the last word.
Hate is not the last word.
Money is not the last word.
Intimidation is not the last word.
Political Power is not the last word.
Condemnation is not the last word.
Betrayal and failure are not the last word.
No: each of them are left like rags in a tomb,
and from that tomb,
The foolish life. The best life.
Let it be so. Amen.
[i] From a prayer of Brian McClaren, http://brianmclaren.net/a-prayer-for-pastors-on-easter/
Image Credit: Mosaic of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, The National Cathedral in Washington D.C., in the Resurrection Chapel. Image found at https://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g28970-d143751-i259737889-Washington_National_Cathedral-Washington_DC_District_of_Columbia.html