Isaiah 25:6-10; Mark 16:1-8.
The story of the empty tomb. The story of grief and fear and mystery. In confidence, more than 2000 years later – with the church through the ages, we say: “Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed. Rejoice, brothers and sisters, rejoice!
The great convergence has happened: the merging of Easter Sunday and April Fools’ Day. While we know a lot about the significance and genesis of Easter, the origin and date of April Fools’ Day has no such clarity. In fact, one resource says April Fools’ Day started in the 1500s and another, 200 years later.
Miles Townes, a writer, teacher and an elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA) writes in the February 28, 2018, issue of Christian Century that this convergence “is a rare opportunity. The last time Easter fell on April Fools’ Day was in 1956. Due to the quirks involved in dating Easter against the Gregorian calendar, the two coincide only intermittently. After 2018, the next one is 2029, and then again in 2040—but after that, not again in this century.” And according to Townes, “April Fools’ Day is not significant in Christianity. . .” (Miles Townes, February 28, 2018, Christian Century)
Why is that? Is one event taken too seriously and the other event too lightly? I think the converging of these two events is timely. It’s where folly and faith meet; where life and death meet; light and dark; laughter and tears. Like life – this is a convergence of heavy heartedness and light heartedness and coming to know there is blessing and balance in both. Someone mentioned to me last week that Easter is God’s joke on the devil. Indeed! And perhaps on this day we recognize that we are all fools for Christ. And that is not such a bad thing, is it?
During Holy Week and all its varied activities, Nadia Bolz-Weber wrote on Facebook: “Clergy and church workers, here’s our yearly reminder: Jesus will rise from the dead even if you forgot to print out the right hymns, even if the lilies arrive already wilted, even if the whole choir gets food poisoning. Nothing will keep the stone from rolling away. You are loved.” Alleluia!
No matter what, we are loved. So, now when Nadia’s name comes up across the screen I like to pay attention. Nadia is a tattooed, Lutheran minister and public theologian and author. She serves as founding pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver. I’m going to go visit. She is known on her Facebook posts as sarcasticlutheran. I will quote her again a little further along in the sermon.
April Fools and Easter – do you have memories of both? Maybe another time we can talk about April Fools’ pranks, but our focus today is on Easter. Do your memories include the excitement of new clothing? For me it was that wonderful bright yellow coat I got for Easter with those big buttons. Or could it have been for you that new Easter bonnet? And guys, do you remember those dreadful tight new shoes you got to go with your too big new suit? Maybe your memories have more to do with the Easter egg hunt. Or maybe it was the Easter basket filled with fake grass but real chocolate bunnies that you remember best. Which did you bite first: the ears or the feet?
My Easter memories also include being dragged to church in our Easter finery so we could indulge in the rest of the day. Many Easter meals are also woven into the memories. My mother and her two sisters would rotate hosting. So we got ham, or homemade ravioli, or chicken and polenta depending on whose year it was. I remember great fun as nine cousins ran riot through the rest of the day.
My Easter memories scan many years now and the one constant is the changing in understanding within me over the years about what Holy Week and Easter day means. My thinking and understanding continues to be tested and reframed and challenged again and again. Is that true for you?
Think back on your own Easter memories – the good, the bad, the ugly. Perhaps, you too, recall being dragged to church on Easter. And perhaps, you too, had a hard time understanding what the Easter fuss was all about. Perhaps, you too, evolved and continue to evolve in your thinking and understanding of the Easter Event. Perhaps, you too, continue to have questions and doubts. Perhaps, you too, in spite of all these things, can give thanks for a God who loves us so much that Jesus came among us to ask us not to be perfect human beings, but to be faithful in our struggle to understand the blessings of Easter in our lives.
I think pastor and author Quinn Caldwell’s recent UCC Daily Devotion gives us a bit more clarity on understanding the long ago event and how we may be called to live it out today.
[His devotion was based on a passage from Isaiah: “When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days…The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, And he shall bear their iniquities.” – Isaiah 53:10, 11]
Caldwell wrote: “The Oceti Sakowin camp had been there for months by then, full of Water Protectors resisting proposed plans for the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross a dammed section of the Missouri River not far from the lands of the Standing Rock Sioux. Other waves of supporters had come before them: waves of clergy, waves of sympathetic activists. This was just another wave, this time of military veterans.
But then a group of them did an astonishing thing. Standing in formation before tribal leaders, they dropped to their knees. They recited a list of the atrocities that the American military has perpetuated against Native Americans throughout the years. Then they literally begged for forgiveness.
Of course we don’t know the name and history of every single person there that day, but it’s probably safe to assume that most of them did not actually personally commit any of the injustices they mentioned. And yet, there they were apologizing for them. They chose to bear the iniquities of their ancestors as a way of making things right in the present.”
Caldwell notes that: “Neither was Jesus the creator of any of the systems that destroyed him on this day so long ago: the forces of empire, the greed of client kings, the cowardice of leaders, the fickleness of crowds, the betrayal of friends, the tyranny of the powerful over the weak. And yet, he chose to bear them in his own body to try and make things right in his present and in the future. Jesus, who didn’t have to, climbed a cross with the weight of others’ sins on his back. The vets at Standing Rock, who didn’t have to either, bowed low under the same weight. And in each of those moments, something like salvation entered the world.” (Caldwell, UCC Daily Devotion, March 30, 2018)
Forgiving and asking for forgiveness. Saying “I’m sorry” and really meaning it. Working to regain a trust and right a wrong. That’s when salvation enters the world. Every day when we include small and random acts of kindness, salvation enters the world. Even something as simple as a smile can brighten a day for someone who is lonely or feels invisible. Remember that the next time you are impatiently waiting in the grocery line and the elderly widow is taking a long time to check out that’s when salvation enters the world: when compassion overtakes impatience. And through these simple, but sometimes challenging actions, salvation enters the world as we act out what it means to be followers of Christ.
On Easter we also recognize that resurrection can enter our world as well. Through the season of Lent and the difficulties of Holy Week we come to understand those Lenten places in our own lives. We have, at various times in our lives, faced the difficulties of Holy Week in one way or another – where we are both the betrayed and the betrayer, the one sinned against and the sinner. The denied and the denier. The abandoned and the abandoner. Yet through prayer, hard work, insights, and confrontations we come from those dark and hopeless places to those restored and resurrected places and give thanks.
We hear again from Nadia Bolz-Weber: “The Christian faith, while wildly misrepresented in so much of American culture, is really about death and resurrection. It’s about how God continues to reach into the graves we dig for ourselves and pull us out, giving us new life, in ways both dramatic and small.” (Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix)
Each year during Lent we come once again, face to face with new challenges to become all who God calls us to be. Lent is the time of becoming awake and aware of where we need salvation and resurrection, and really know the reality that God continues to try to break in on our lives.
On Thursday evening during the Maundy Thursday service we heard the wonderful music of drummers infiltrating our worship experience. Rather than feel this as an intrusion, I kept sensing that God was breaking through into the midst of us, letting us experience something new and holy on Maundy Thursday other than the sadness of the story of the journey to Golgotha. Patrick also shared that his sense was that even in the midst of loss and grief is the reality that life does go on around us. That we choose life, even in our dying, is what it means to be a Resurrection people. Faith, hope, love, peace and joy – Advent words that reflect Easter living.
I leave you with this story by Steve Molin in the hopes that, we too, will model for others what it means to be living into the Easter story.
A first year student in a Catholic seminary was told by the dean that he should plan to preach the sermon in chapel the following day. He had never preached a sermon before, he was nervous and afraid, and he stayed up all night, but in the morning, he didn’t have a sermon. He stood in the pulpit, looked out at his classmates and said ‘Do you know what I am going to say?’ All of them shook their heads ‘no’ and he said ‘Neither do I. The service has ended. Go in peace.’
The dean was not happy. ‘I’ll give you another chance tomorrow, and you had better have a sermon.’ Again he stayed up all night; and again he couldn’t come up with a sermon. Next morning, he stood in the pulpit and asked ‘Do you know what I am going to say?’ The students all nodded their heads ‘yes.’ ‘Then there is no reason to tell you’ he said. ‘The service has ended. Go in peace.’
Now the dean was angry. ‘I’ll give you one more chance; if you don’t have a sermon tomorrow, you will be asked to leave the seminary.’ Again, no sermon came. He stood in the pulpit the next day and asked ‘Do you know what I am going to say?’ Half of the students nodded ‘yes’ and the other half shook their heads ‘no.’ The student preacher then announced ‘Those who know, tell those who don’t know. The service has ended. Go in peace.’
The seminary dean walked over to the student, put his arm over the student’s shoulders, and said ‘Those who know, tell those who don’t know. Today, the gospel has been proclaimed.’ (Steven Molin, Four Truths and a Lie. Sermons.com)
So simple. “Those who know, tell those who don’t know.”
Rejoice, sisters and brothers. Rejoice! Go and share the good news. Christ is Risen! Alleluia and amen.