The Feast of the Resurrection
In our household, we love funny movies and TV sketches. But even more than watching them, we love retelling them. We retell them over and over again, over dinner, enacting them for each other until someone gets up and searches YouTube for the clip so we can all watch it yet again. A really funny part never gets old. Every time you see it, you laugh all over again. ‘I need more cowbell.’ ‘Mawaige…is what bwings us togethew today.’ ‘Are you Jeff Vader, head of catering?’ It gets so all we have to say are those few words, the punchline – or not even the punchline, just a word, and we can all bust up laughing. I pity the visitor at our table who wonders just what’s going on with this family. Maybe you’re all wondering too. But don’t worry – we’ll get up and grab the computer to show you the clip too when you’re over.
My friends, in our faith, we have these funny clips too. Christ is risen! It’s like our family punchline. He is risen indeed! you all respond, chortling. Just those words, and you know the whole joke. Ok, it’s not a belly laugh kind of funny. But it’s comedy after all the tragedy. It’s the punchline after the long buildup of the Jesus story, and the long hard darkness of Holy Week and Christ’s Passion. The good news of today is we finally get to laugh. It’s the ‘risus paschalis,’ the Easter laugh – the supreme joke of the resurrection. The early church called it this and ever since, the church has continued a tradition of levity and joyful humor at Easter, because on this day, all that serious dark doom stuff is tossed out the window, and we are invited to relish and delight. Today is a day of feasting and merriment – eggs and chocolate and sparkling drinks. So live it up!
It feels good to be here in person together saying Happy Easter, doesn’t it? But maybe that comes a little hard to you right now. Maybe it’s all feeling still too soon to laugh.
You might have heard of Gilbert Gottfried, one of the most offensive comedians of our time, who recently passed away – you’d recognize his awful voice if you heard him, and no, I’m not showing you a clip, totally inappropriate for church. He got in big trouble repeatedly for cracking jokes about tragedy, including one mere weeks after 9/11, when no one was ready to laugh. But as he said, ‘The saying goes that tragedy plus time equals comedy. But I always say, why wait?’
That seems to be God’s theory too. Good Friday was just the day before yesterday, but here we are at Easter. Good Friday is a dark day on the church calendar, a day of tragedy, of weeping and lamentation. It’s the only day where we take away all the light from the church, every last candle blown out, as bleak as it feels – Jesus on the cross, all hope vanished. For some of us, Good Friday feels like how we’ve been living for two years, or more. It might be how we’re still feeling today. And yet God seems to want to interrupt that tragedy with comedy – to drop the punchline of the resurrection on the third day, before we really feel ready for it. And if we don’t get the joke, God’s ready to call us out by name, even to shake us a little to get us to see. Why wait to laugh? Don’t you see?
Well, we might all have different answers for why it’s hard to laugh. But let’s enter into this story we just heard for a moment. One of the ways to read scripture is to imagine yourself into it, to imagine what it’s like to be one of the characters there in the story. John’s version we heard today gives us a few characters to identify with.
We might be like Mary at the beginning of the story, in the dark, alone, searching for Jesus and weeping. That might describe us to a T right now. This is a dark time for us, still. The news is relentless. Death and fear continue in Ukraine and around the world, and right here in our own city too. After all this COVID isolation and uncertainty, some of us have been in a spiritual dark night for so long we’ve forgotten how even to search for God, or have given up expecting ever to find him. But we came today anyway, just in case. Something told us not to give up quite yet. And so we’re here.
Or we might be like Peter and the beloved disciple, coming to the tomb and finding it empty except for the burial wrappings. We’re puzzled at what we see. We know that something is up; maybe something in us remembers words we heard as a child and hears echoes of that in what we see before us. We’re with others we love, but maybe they’re puzzled too. Something brought us here – someone told us to come – but we’re not quite sure what to make of this all.
And of course we might just be here along for the ride, part of the crowd that’s always out there on the edge of every gospel story. They’re not mentioned in the account today, but they always seem to be around. I heard there was free food? An egg hunt? That’s ok – Jesus got a lot of people interested by giving out free food. Free healings, too. We’ve got those today as well.
But just maybe, we might all be like Mary a bit later in the story, after the guys have left to go back home. She’s still weeping, still confused. It is apparently still dark outside, since the storyteller doesn’t say otherwise – and by the way, that’s a difference between John’s version and the stories in the other three gospels, that in this version, it’s dark, not daybreak yet. For John, that symbol matters a lot – the darkness of blindness, of not seeing the light God is trying to show us. Mary is blinded by her tears, trying to see in the dark, and even after running to get her friends to join her, nothing has cleared up for her. And they’ve gone off and left her now, standing there alone in the cemetery (so very helpful of them). But then she sees the angels – and she turns around and sees Jesus but doesn’t recognize him. And through her confusion, Jesus speaks her name. And in that moment, she knows him – and she knows herself to be fully known and loved.
I think this might be us. Our eyes have gotten pretty clouded over these last few years. Wave after wave of bad news and suffering, and it can be hard to see signs of hope – let alone keep looking for it. Tears and gloom seem ready to return again at any moment. But here we are again, back in church on another Easter Sunday. We keep coming back. We keep waiting to hear God’s good news. We might be weeping still. We might be very much in the dark. But instead of wandering off distracted, or giving up in despair, we show up. We linger. Because we want there to be more to the story. We’re waiting for the punchline.
And here’s the good news of what Jesus shows us: You don’t have to have your sadness and cobwebs all shined away to be welcome. You can bring your weeping, and be honest, and just as sad as you might feel inside. You’re a hot mess? come on in. And you don’t have to understand it all, what we’re doing in church today or what every word or action means, or what you think or believe about God. You can stumble through the darkness, wander around uncertain. You don’t have to even know for sure what you’re looking for. You just have to show up, which good for you, you’ve already done.
And when you show up, you should be ready – ready to hear your name spoken, in love, in delight. Your name, in a voice you’d recognize anywhere, even though it may be coming from an unexpected place. Because God is here too, looking for you. Full of life and love, just for you. God is delighting with you – ready to laugh and celebrate that you’re here. Here today – but here also in a place in your life that just might be ready for God’s voice to speak, and be heard.
My friends, we have all weathered a lot in these last few years. And we will weather still more – life isn’t easy, all the time for everyone, ever. God never promised it would be. But we keep coming to the table, leaving our hearts just a little bit open; we keep going through the rituals, waiting to be surprised; we keep singing the songs, allowing them to draw out our tears. We keep showing up. We keep coming back, as the 12-step slogan says, because it works. We come to church; we gather with community; we keep persevering and looking for hope; we put ourselves in a time and a space where God might just be waiting for us. Before we’re ready for it, when we’re not expecting it, maybe sometimes long past the point when we thought we’d hear it, the punchline drops. Comedy at the end of our tragedy. And it’s the best line ever: Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Go tell everyone else, Jesus says. Go share this laugh, this good news. Go spread the joy of this with others. Because they’re all in darkness too. The world, people you know, people you love, are weeping and lost and confused and not sure how much longer they can bear it. Why wait? Call them by name – reach out to meet them where they are – tell them what you’ve seen, and bring them God’s light. Let the laughter of new life spread even in our tragedy. Because Christ is risen. And when we share that news, we make it so, over and over again. Happy Easter, everyone. And may God bless us all with joy today.