April 1, 2018
Easter Day, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling
I have an announcement. When I was coming out the door, poking out of the snow, was a tiny green blade: a daffodil!
There was nothing!
I grew up feeling both excited and apprehensive about April Fools’ Day. My mom loved the day. One year, all our shoes were mixed up. And yet another year, the cereal box was filled with dry cat food. Another year, we were excited to discover green Kool-Aide on the breakfast table, only to discover that it was water with green food coloring. When you’re expecting a full cup of sugar mixed with green food coloring, water might as well be vinegar.
It felt slightly dangerous to get out of bed on April Fool’s Day. The morning might not turn out like you expected. And every year, we fell for it. Even though we knew it was April Fools’ Day, we always fell for it.
St. Mark would love that we’re telling his version of the story on April Fool’s Day. Because, when he tells is, it’s not clear who’s telling the joke. Is it the man sitting in the empty tomb? The women aren’t sure if this is a joke or not. They leave the tomb, terrified and amazed, and don’t say a word.
Or is it Mark that’s telling the joke? Because, of course, we know they did tell. We wouldn’t be sitting in this room if they hadn’t. They must have decided the news he was alive was more trustworthy than their fear that this could be a trick. In the end, they followed the messenger’s direction. They told their friends. They went home to Galilee with the expectation that he would meet him there.
All the other gospel writers tell stories of what happened after Easter morning. Mark doesn’t. I think he tells the story this way he does because he wants to place the story in our hands and asks us, “Is this a joke, or not?” Each gathered assembly has to decide what to do with this story.
Mark’s gospel always feels the most real to me. None of us are one-hundred percent sure about the power of life over death, or that love is the strongest force in the universe. It always sounds a little foolish to say it out loud.
If you think about it, the most realistic conclusion to the empty tomb would have been that yet one more terrible thing occurred. After the terror of the crucifixion, now the disappearance of the body, not even a place to go to remember what once was.
Mark doesn’t tell us what happened between the tomb and the time they reached the rest of the group. But something must have happened to them. With some strange kind of April foolishness, they announce that a new chapter has begun. The spirit of Jesus is still alive to them. Even a body couldn’t contain his spirit. His mission to speak of God’s profound love and heal the brokenhearted; his mission to feed the hungry with bread and justice was still on; his compassion, which drew everyone into the circle, was still operating.
All that Jesus stood for wasn’t locked behind the stone. April Fools! The Spirit of Jesus isn’t dead. It’s alive. And It’s rising in other bodies.
Fifty years ago this week, a bullet silenced Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis. Many believed that his death marked the end of non-violence as a strategy for change. Many believed that the movement for civil rights would die. Yet 3 days later, Coretta Scott King and her young children led 40,000 people on a march through the streets of Memphis–tens of thousands more than would have marched on the previous days. Resistance is a sign of resurrection. Even today, hundreds of thousands of high-school youth are demanding the end to violence in the schools, marching out of classrooms to capitol buildings. Even this morning, it’s rising again in Sacramento. Violence—crucifixion—execution will not rule the day.
The joke is actually on the forces that try to stop the rising of life, love, justice, forgiveness, equality, peace. Easter is the April Fool’s joke that God has imbedded resurrection into the very fabric of creation. Life will always have the last word.
Take that in. Life will always have the last word.
Most of us are like the women in Mark. We’re not sure. The power of darkness seems awfully strong. We understand the women’s fear. We understand how it is that you can’t speak in the face what you’ve just heard.
News that our time is shorter than we hoped.
News that the divorce is final
News that we failed the test or didn’t get the job.
News that all the complexities of human life are reduced to 140 characters.
News that that feels relentless: We’re not enough. We’re alone. It’s hopeless.
A good joke understands what’s real but turns it upside down. A good joke opens a door. Bad jokes demean or close down possibilities or turn on old stereotypes. Good jokes free us to laugh at ourselves and, even, laugh in the face of darkness. Good jokes can even be dangerous because we might have to rethink everything we thought we understood. A good joke, told at just the right time, can raise us from the dead, and wipe away the tears.
Love always wins. It’s foolish to say, and every year we fall for it. Don’t belive me? Watch:
Alleluia. Christ is risen!
Christ is risen, indeed. Alleluia.
See, you feel for it.