16 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they could go and anoint Jesus’ dead body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they came to the tomb.3 They were saying to each other, “Who’s going to roll the stone away from the entrance for us?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away. (And it was a very large stone!) 5 Going into the tomb, they saw a young man in a white robe seated on the right side; and they were startled. 6 But he said to them, “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He isn’t here. Look, here’s the place where they laid him. 7 Go, tell his disciples, especially Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.” 8 Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
[[9 After Jesus rose up early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10 She went and reported to the ones who had been with him, who were mourning and weeping.11 But even after they heard the news, they didn’t believe that Jesus was alive and that Mary had seen him.
12 After that he appeared in a different form to two of them who were walking along in the countryside. 13 When they returned, they reported it to the others, but they didn’t believe them. 14 Finally he appeared to the eleven while they were eating. Jesus criticized their unbelief and stubbornness because they didn’t believe those who saw him after he was raised up. 15 He said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the good news to every creature.
Thoughts on the passage:
Easter falls on April Fool’s Day about once every twenty-five years. With the rarity of this odd juxtaposition of holidays, it seemed fitting to maybe start my sermon today with a joke about the resurrection. A search of the Internet however yielded no jokes about empty tombs or the risen Christ, it was all about bunnies and eggs. Perhaps this is for the best, my preaching professor once warned me never to start a sermon with a joke as it implied that everything you had to say after would be equally trivial. The reality is that the resurrection is no laughing matter and it is no April Fool’s joke.
Or isn’t it? If there is a joke to be found in all of this, it is one that God has been trying to clue people in on from the beginning. After all, Jesus told his disciples he would die and be raised again. He also was clear with Pilate that he was in fact the son of God. How could Pilate honestly expect to kill a god. And so even as they crucified him and took his body and laid it in the tomb and rolled a stone in front of it, the ultimate joke was really on them. Guards, stones, tombs, and even death cannot stop Christ.
Maybe it is fitting that Easter falls on April Fool’s Day. The origin of April Fool’s Day is connected to a tradition called the Feast of Fools. It was a day that was originally celebrated to highlight some of the more “foolish” passages in scripture, such as when Paul writes in Corinthians about being a fool for Christ. It also accented the teachings of Jesus about the first being last and the last being first. Sub-deacons and other low ranking clergy would take on the roles of their superiors in a seeming reversely of the natural order.
Is that sort of social rebellion at the heart of the Easter story? After all, Jesus suffers humiliation and is crucified like a common criminal. On Good Friday, it seems to be a story about how the powerful will squash those who are weak and crush those who oppose them with their strength. On Easter morning however, the tomb is found to be empty and death has been undone. The strength of the authorities is found to be lacking. The criminal is found to be the risen Savior and sinners become saints. Once again, the joke is on us.
I say that the joke is on us, because we are really no different than anyone else in this story. Given the choice, we all would bet against Christ. Pilate did it, believing that if he killed Christ he would not have anything to fear. Caiaphas and the other priests did it, believing that if they had Jesus arrested they would put an end to his challenging teachings. Even the disciples did it, scattering in fear and denying their allegiance to him. Even the women did it, for they went to the tomb not to worship a risen Savior, but to care for his remains. Even when confronted with evidence of a risen Jesus, the women are afraid. Even when told by others that Christ is alive, the disciples are not ready to believe. Are we any different?
Do we live our lives like the resurrection is real or a joke? Do we believe in a God who can overcome death? If we believe in an empty tomb and a risen Christ, how do we live our lives like it is true? What does it look like for us to embrace the risen Christ, not to flee in fear or turn away in doubt?
All of these are good and challenging questions to ask ourselves at Easter. After all, believing in the resurrection is an act of faith. Unlike the woman or the disciples, we cannot see, hear, or touch the risen Christ. Instead, we have to believe in the stories that have been faithfully recorded and passed down through the years. We also have to believe our hearts, when they tell us about the power of resurrection. I suspect that many of us here have experienced resurrection in our own lives. We were blind, or lost, or sinners or drunks, and then we met Christ. Then we experience his love, a love that overcomes humiliation, pain and death, to offer us new life. We have felt that resurrection in our lives to. We have met the risen Christ.
April Fool’s Day is a once a year event, where we behave a little outside the norm. We push the envelope a little and maybe challenge the status quo of our society. Easter is not meant to be a one day a year event. Every Sunday is meant to be a mini-Easter. Praise song writers Avery and March once penned the words “every morning is Easter morning from now on.” We are not meant to celebrate Easter as a one-time event. It is an everyday event, an ongoing event. Our lives are different because we believe in God’s resurrecting power. Our lives are different because we follow a risen Christ. We have been changed because the tomb is empty, we need to live like, and we need to tell others about it.
Questions to Ponder:
What does it mean to you to believe in the resurrection?
Why do you think the women were afraid and what caused them to overcome that fear?
What does it mean to be an “Easter people”?
What are the ways that you are challenged in your life by your faith?
God, as we gather to celebrate the joy of your resurrected Son, help us to embrace the hope that is offered. Give us the courage to overcome our fears when we encounter an empty tomb where we expected to find his remains. Give us the courage to tell others what we have seen that they might also know of your love. Grant us your grace, that even when we fall short, your love will remain steadfast. Amen