Text – John 20
Time for All Ages (aka children’s sermon)
C: who’ there?
C: Alle who
P: Alle (l)who ia. Christ is Risen!
Today is Easter. It also happens to be April Fools Day. Both are celebrations. April Fools celebrates humor. Easter Celebrates Jesus’ resurrection – new life. Both are happy fun. So, I made this poster. Isn’t this awesome, fun, joyous? Nope? So I need your help. A couple of big people who will help you fix my sign.
C: who’ there?
C: Alle who
P: Alle (l)who ia.
Hey, where’s all the laughter? OK, I admit’s not guffaw-worthy, but at least a polite chuckle? I guess it’s just not so funny the second time around right, why?
Why is a joke better the first time you hear it? I’m asking you. I’m sorry if you ate a big breakfast, but you can’t sleep through this sermon. It’s Easter.
So, it’s not funny because … you expected it; you knew what was coming. There was no surprise and that’s one of the pieces of humor—the unexpected, the surprise. As one writer asserts: comedy is a drama in which the central motif is the triumph over adversity, leading to a successful conclusion. Sounds hilarious. OK, no but the point is surprise is key.
Of course, not all surprises are fun. In John’s Easter story, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb to mourn for Jesus, she goes while the sky is still dark, go to his tomb and grieve his tragic and violent death. Her grief was so strong because his life, Jesus mattered, and those around him—the sick, the outcast, and even the women, Mary felt like they mattered to him. So on that morning when she was surprised by the stone moved from the empty tomb, it wasn’t funny to her. She wasn’t laughing as she ran to report what in the best case might have been a sad attempt by some pranksters at a practical joke, and more likely someone/they/the authorities took Jesus’ body as to yet another way to disrespect him, another way to negate his ministry—a way to erase him attempting to keep his followers from making it into some memorial to gather, to remember, to carry on. The surprise Mary felt that morning was not from joy but from fear and despair. For her it was no laughing matter as she raced back to tell the others. You can tell this is important, because Mary doesn’t just then go about her business. She returns to the tomb.
Mary on the other hand stood there at the tomb, tears streaming down her face. Her mind racing trying to figure out what had happened to her teacher, her friend. I can imagine her, in her grief, still trying to talk to him, asking, “Jesus, where are you?” And surprise, surprise he talked back, but she doesn’t listen; she can’t hear him; shstill doesn’t get it. She doesn’t get the surprise, yet. Because he’s just not supposed to be there doing that. A dead man is not supposed to be up walking around and talking to people. She mistakes her friend and teacher, a man she loved for the gardener.
Because some things are just not supposed to be there; they are a surprise.
Like Easter biscuits.
And I’m not talking about biscuits we had/might have had this morning. Which by the way, I bought and brought honey dip donuts. Mmm donuts.
But I also love biscuits. For me that’s the whole reason to go to KFC or Popeyes or Bob Evans or another place with breakfast foods. I love biscuits so much, that when I was in pick-n-save and saw that bag labeled biscuits-n-gravy, I had to try them. They were the best potato chips I ever ate. That’s right Lay’s biscuits-n-gravy potato chips. Biscuits—yum. So growing up biscuits were the only things I baked for every holiday dinner. That was until that fateful day when I add just a little too much, ok maybe a lot a lot too much baking powder to the mix. As an inexperienced baker I just thought the biscuits might taste a little different. You see, I do not always follow the directions of a recipe, and I tend to add a little extra of this, a little less of that, and maybe a creative substitute. So I plopped the dough on the cookie sheet, popped them in the oven, and when done, placed the regular nice looking biscuits in a basket on the Thanksgiving table. Imagine the surprise though when we tried to take a bite. They were rock hard. My family, always the epitome of love and support, called them hockey pucks and threw them out in the yard.
Months later after the snow melted, and the grass began to grow in the Eastern Pennsylvania spring. And before Sunday’s Easter Egg hunt my mother was out mowing the grass when suddenly the mower hit something, and that got stuck in the blades. When my mom tipped it over, there caught in the blades was one of those biscuits. It had risen from the earth at Easter, at least that’s the story my parents told for years and years, even telling a young man who hoped I would be his wife one day, for him bake him some of the biscuits I loved, well until the day he heard the story of my Easter biscuit surprise.
Jesus belonged wrapped in cloths, down in the tomb not walking around by the dawn’s early light talking to Mary. So she looked right at him, heard his voice, but mistook him for the gardener. That is until he says, “Mary”. When Jesus calls her name; it is finally the surprise of being known that opens her eyes, and allows her to see Jesus—to finally glimpse resurrection, to finally glimpse new life, to finally glimpse God’s power in love that can not be silence, buried, can not be erased.
As I get older and begin to appreciate family stories, as I get older and maybe wiser, I can imagine Mary, years later as she told this story again and again, I can imagine her. I can picture those who knew Jesus, knew her, knew them, I can picture the smile on her face, and a chuckle in her heart as she remembered and told of how she thought that Jesus, that the risen Christ was the gardener.
But all too often, the world wants to harden our hearts. The world wants to stifle the spirit. Hate, racism, despair, all the evils of this world feed on fear. It’s not impossible to be afraid and laugh, but it is really hard. But saints throughout the ages have found that laughter and joy are great antidotes to despair and fear. As abolitionist and feminist Sojourner Truth declared: “If we laugh and sing a little as we fight the good fight of freedom it makes it all go easier.” On this Easter and perhaps even on others, let us grow our faith, nurture our spirits with holy joy. Connecting our hearts, lungs, and diaphragms with deep joy and faith that connect with God’s passion—both the reality of the pain of death—and God’s passion God’s persistence and surprising penchant for love and life.
It is no wonder that some of the early church fathers (maybe a few mothers as well) used this term—risus paschalis—that’s Latin for the Easter laugh—the laugh that God echoed through the heavens when the wind/the Spirit/the Ruach of God entered into the lungs of the stone cold dead, when the power of God blew over that grave stone, and the Resurrected one peeled off and folded the cloth on his face, and then let the one that covered his body fall to the ground as he walked right out of the tomb, inhaled the sweet morning air and exhaled a Godly giggle. Help us starve fear and evil. Paul can tell us that death is swallowed up. That as lawn mower chokes on a rock hard biscuit, as God’s love rolls the stone away, as God’s love warms the stone cold heart, God’s Easter love is death’s death. Easter gives us new life because God wins—And really that shouldn’t be any big surprise. Amen.
So, knock knock.
Alle luia, Christ is Risen.
He is risen indeed. alleluia.