What a day! We gather on what is inarguably the greatest day of the Christian year. Our world gets all hot and bothered about Christmas. But for the Christian, Easter is the day that matters. Our opening hymn this morning trumpeted the Easyer message from the empty tomb:
Jesus Christ is ris’n today, Alleluia! Our triumphant holy day, Alleluia! Who did once upon the cross, Alleluia! Suffer to redeem our loss. Alleluia!
And in the midst of this day, as we smile, and sing and rejoice over the miracle of the empty tomb, God speaks a very familiar word to us … two words, actually … April Fools’!
Yup … on the day when we stand with the women at the empty tomb, just itching to hear the glorious word of new leave cross their lips and invade our ears, we hear this instead…. So they (the women) went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. You were expecting an Easter proclamation of joy, maybe? April Fools’ indeed.
Now before you giggle at the preacher’s silly sermon illustration and wait for the real message to follow, let me make myself perfectly clear. This … is … the … message. That God laugh’s his butt off at us, because we think we can comprehend this Easter proclamation from the empty tomb. We write books about the resurrection …make movies … sings songs … and plaster our refrigerators and license plates with it. We think we have it all figured out. Then God confronts us with the power and potency of it, and we run away scared.April Fools’ on us, too.
And before you go blaming the women as having been ill prepared to receive this message that was intended for the disciples, remember that the disciples didn’t do so well themselves. Next Sunday we will hear the doubting Thomas story from St. John’s Gospel. But before Thomas even enters into the narrative, we read these words: When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced. They probably would have run too, just like the women, if they hadn’t been more scared of the Jewish leaders who were hunting them down, than they were of Jesus. April Fool’s boys! I’m back! And now you’re going to have to go out there into that hostile world and tell everyone you meet that I’m still alive … and even better than before I died.
Admittedly this great April Fools’ joke should not be a surprise for us, right? St. Paul referenced it a couple of times in his ongoing correspondence with the Christian church in Corinth. My favorite one is the passage from 1 Corinthians 4 where Paul tells us … We are fools for the sake of Christ.The greatest apostle and evangelist the Church has ever known … recognized the utter foolishness of this message that confronts us from the empty tomb. And Jesus loved to describe discipleship in terms of reversal, also … the last will be first and the first last … the leader must first be a servant. We’ve heard it all before … so we should get this if anyone does. But it still rubs us the wrong way, a bit, doesn’t it? And you really didn’t show up on Easter Sunday service to be beat up by the preacher, did you? But my suggestion to you this morning is that this isn’t bad news at all. It is not God’s word beating you up for what you do wrong. It is good news that gives you a second chance … and a third chance … and a tenth chance … and …well, you get the picture. It is good news that offers you some options for living out your life in a world that doesn’t think very fondly of foolishness.
So … if you are that person who prides yourself on having this all figured out and wrapped up in a nice and tidy package of religious observance ….…. then maybe consider the fact that God isn’t all that impressed with pride and surety, but would sure love to have your heart and your soul and all its sloppy and illogical and foolish adoration. If you are that person here today with questions that have tormented you for years … or maybe decades …. …. then know that questions tend to keep our spirits a little more flexible and fluid … and maybe that flexibility opens us up to God’s surprising grace at work in the places we least expect. If you are here because you grieve the loss of children in school shootings … or struggle to help the walking wounded in the land of opioids or alcohol … or fear the political terror that some in our world use to express their narrow minded agendas …. …. know that while God may not promise to solve every problem and every evil that we create on earth …. God does promise to walk with us in our loss and pain, and God reminds us that this trauma we may face in our world is not the only chapter in the book of life. If you are here today just to keep your spouse or your kids happy, because you find the Christian message to be utterly foolishness and built on thin ice …. …. well … you’re in luck! … because God certainly understood the foolishness of this proclamation. … and instead of smiting those who were his closest followers for their foolishness, he just kept coming back to them, and coming back to them over and over again, with a quiet smirk on his face … sort of the way you and I might have patiently stay connected to a son or grand-daughter who is trying to figure out why their self-destructive behaviors are so foolish. If God is anything, God is patient with us. If you are here because you’re just not sure this message is for you …. Then you have plenty of company … cause the person four seats down from you probably isn’t too sure, either … and the saints and apostles of every age specialized in wondering whether they could dare believe what they thought had been revealed to them.
Yup, if you think you have the barn door locked and secured around this message … well … April Fools’ my friendS!! Because the truths ain’t what you think they are … and the love offered to you is deeper than you can imagine … and the grace God showers upon you when you mess up is always stronger than the punishment we bring upon ourselves. Just think for a minute about what is the best part of April Fools’ Day. It is a day that allows us to laugh at ourselves and others. I would suggest that Easter serves the same purpose. Easter allows us to laugh at the sin that poisons us … and the mistakes that cripple us … and yes, the death that claims to destroy us. For we stand at the empty tomb, and even though we run away in fear from everything it suggests to us, God chases us down, and reminds us that he has never left our side. So let go of the reins … and admit that you cannot possibly be in control of every aspect of your life … and let that one who loves you more than anyone else can … laugh you out of your pride … and love you into a relationship … which will transform every other experience you have in this world … until that day when we are reunited with all the saints in a world where there is nothing but laughter. Yes, happy April Fool’s Day, to all of you who are fools for Christ. Amen.