Sermon preached on Easter Dat at the Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene: Isaiah 25:6-9, John 20:1-18
Martin Luther is said to have always begun his Easter sermon with a joke, so here goes:
A pastor was telling the story of the resurrection to the second grade Sunday School class. He thought he’d done quite well when one of the boys asked a question. “What did Jesus say when he came out of the tomb?” “We don’t know what he said,” the pastor replied. A little girl’s hand shot up. “I bet I know what he said,” and she leapt to her feet. “Ta-da!”
If she hadn’t been a child, the pastor might have been put off that she was making fun of the resurrection, trivializing it. But isn’t, after all, the resurrection fun? It is, in many ways, God’s having fun with us.
It had all gotten so serious, deadly serious, and the last few days have been for us as well. We take Good Friday very seriously, as well we should. Not only did Jesus die a gruesome death, but we are implicated in it. We know that a part of us would have betrayed him, would have been in the crowd yelling “crucify.” This is serious and sobering.
Then just when we have done our worse, God undoes it, defies death and makes of all our seriousness a kind of joke. You couldn’t kill me and keep me dead. So Easter morning comes and our seriousness is turned into joy. Where there were tears there is now laughter. Good Friday was no laughing matter, but the resurrection may be the greatest joke ever pulled on humanity.
Mary Magdalene came to the tomb in all seriousness. With no doubt a heavy heart, she wanted to do for Jesus’ body what had not been done in the rush to get him buried. It had all turned out so wrong, but she could at least do this one last right thing before she picked up the pieces and got on with her life.
Then it got worse. The stone had been moved and the body was gone. She runs to tell the others and two of them run to see. They see an empty tomb but are nothing but perplexed and go back home, leaving Mary weeping.
Mary looks into the tomb again, hoping against hope. She sees two angels. She is so distraught that this sight does not seem to phase her! “Why are you weeping?” they ask, but she just turns to leave. There is a man outside, maybe he knows something. “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” She is so beside herself she doesn’t even think to herself, “How am I going to do that?”
Then comes the magic word that changes everything, “Mary!” It is Jesus and he says her name, and in that she recognizes him. And everything changes.
Life is very serious, these days more serious than others. The economy remains in the tank, more and more people out of work, and now a rash of violence seemingly fueled by the growing despair. It is a very serious, ugly time as we gather to celebrate Easter this year. What does the future hold? We do not know. It is hard to be anything but anxious about it.
And God comes into our seriousness, taking it seriously himself, but unable to contain himself in it. The tomb of our seriousness cannot hold him. And so we celebrate today as if we have been given the best news that there is. We celebrate in spite of what’s going on around us. For God has pulled a fast one on us and the magic word is our name.
Our name! God knows our name! Just when we thought we had been forgotten and all was pretty much lost. God comes through with our name. God remembers who we are. And doesn’t it make all the difference when somebody remembers who we are? It is just about the greatest sign of caring that there is.
It makes me think of Carl. Carl stops by here most days when the church is open. He gets a cup of coffee. That seems to be why he comes. He’s not easy to like. He doesn’t take care of himself. He doesn’t smell very good, most days. I’ll tell you what I think about Carl. I suppose it’s true that he comes here for a cup of coffee and to get warm. But I think he comes here because we know him and call him by name.
Carl’s been at the weekday Service a couple of times when I’ve been there but he’s never made it through. He leaves after a while, either to get that cup of coffee or just to go.
This past Wednesday, however, Carl stayed. He was still there at the Peace, and I said to him, “Peace be with you, Carl” and shook his hand. He smiled. It wasn’t a very pretty smile because his teeth are in pretty bad shape, but he smiled, and I don’t think he gets many of those.
He hung back when people came up around the Altar for the Communion part of the Service. I expected him to stay there and perhaps finally drift off. Yet when I started to hand out Communion, he strode forward, his head up, smiling again and he received Communion looking like I was giving him the greatest gift in the world.
And, of course, I was.
And there was resurrection.
Now I don’t want to deny that Carl remains in a pretty horrible way, and the gulf between us—between the have and the have-not—is huge. And it’s our responsibility to try to do something to make his life better.
But we have already had a glimpse of the resurrection together and that alone is a lot. It is, in fact, itself huge.
Carl’s life is no laughing matter. It is, in fact, about as bad as life can get. Yet even there God can do a new thing, with his name as the magic word. And a smile can come out of horror, and God makes a joke of our seriousness, and with a “Ta-da!” shows us again that life cannot stay dead. It will spring to life, like a plant that grows in the crack of a sidewalk or in the cleft of a rock on the side of a hill.
My sisters and brothers, today we celebrate the trump of our seriousness. Life wins in the end, life will win in the end. Death always loses. Even when all seems lost, nothing is. God loses nothing.
And we can be people of the resurrection, agents of the divine laughter, sayers of the magic word to one another, “You are Carl, child of God, and I will treat you like that even if every fiber of my being just wants you to go away.” I will treat you this way because God has promised that we can find resurrection together, and the smile will wipe away the tears.
Can there be any better news than this? No, my friends, there cannot be. We have done our worst and God has made a joke of it. Let us smile, if even through our tears, and join the song of Alleluia.
Let us spread the news of the divine “Ta-da!”