I know I haven’t posted in some time. My life has been too full lately. I’m finally finding some balance.
This is the sermon I preached today for Easter based upon Mark 16:1-8.
The period from Maundy Thursday, which was last Thursday, to today, Easter Sunday is the most significant and sacred time in the entire Christian calendar. Known as Triduum, they are the holiest days for all Christians. It is so important that the Vatican proclaimed today, April Fool’s Day, postponed until next week. The pope issued a proclamation which said in part, “the importance of Easter should not be overshadowed by jokes and frivolity. The Easter message is of grave importance to all humankind. We should not give rise to jokes and puns on Easter.” April Fool
Seriously, the pope did not postpone April Fool’s Day. And today is not the first time April Fool’s Day and Easter came together. The last time was in 1956 and the next time will be in 2029.
I admit that many of my colleagues have been joking about this coincidental collision of dates for weeks. Theologically, we agree that Easter is the ultimate joke on the devil. Death had no hold on Jesus.
The Roman and religious authorities crucified Jesus. It was an exceptionally cruel form of execution reserved for people who were deemed a threat to the Roman Empire. The authorities saw Jesus as a threat because they used fear to keep the peace, which they enforced with weapons of war and destruction. They feared Jesus’ message of love. He taught that the route to true peace came through breaking bread with people, which overturned the assumptions upon which the Empire protected and projected its authority. Jesus was their enemy. Jesus was an enemy of the state.
Their fear made them more likely to succumb to sin. The authorities thought that by executing Jesus, they would silence him forever. Thus, they put him on a cross. They believed and placed too much faith and trust in the ways of the Empire rather than in the ways of God. The ways of the Empire, however, were not life-giving. They emphasized scarcity over abundance. They promoted greed over generosity. They pursued self-interest over community. They destroyed their enemies. This did not foster true peace. The ways of the Empire were the ways rooted in sin.
Resurrection was an emphatic no to sin. Resurrection rejected sin. Life, not death, was the final word. Life, not death, is the final word today as well. As I said before, Easter is the ultimate joke on the devil.
Despite the joke, we might wonder if we’re good enough to enjoy eternal life at the end of our mortal days. While we’ve heard for years that heaven is for the righteous not the sinner, as Christians we also understand ourselves to be sinners. Paul acknowledged this in his letter to the Roman church in which he wrote that all of us sin and fall short of the glory of God. Yet, in the next line he wrote that we are justified by grace as a gift through the redemption of Christ Jesus. He also wrote in his letter to the Ephesians (2:8), “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Or as Mark Twain wrote, “Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.”
Jesus’ death and resurrection didn’t save us from sin as much as it was to remind the world that sin cannot triumph over righteousness and that fear cannot prevail against love. Easter is our reminder that life not death is the victory. Furthermore, the peace that we believe is ours in eternal life can be ours in this life when we live according to Jesus’ teachings. We don’t need to wait until we die to experience true peace because the kingdom of heaven can be here and now if we place our faith and trust in the upside down, overturned ways of the gospel.
That, though, is a frightening prospect. Describing the women who came to the tomb, Mark wrote, “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” They feared because in that moment they faced God’s power. What Jesus taught and said was true.
On one hand that brought great joy because all that he said and did in his ministry brought hope to people who had very little, whether it was money or power or basic human dignity. It was a sign that the kingdom of heaven on earth would be made real and that God’s power, power rooted in and nourished by love, would prevail over the Empire’s power, power rooted in and nourished by fear. They had hope because resurrection made clear that a world organized and built upon sin was weak and unsustainable and would ultimately fail.
However, when we think about all of that very deeply, we can’t help but to be frightened as well. The kingdom of heaven on earth changes everything. True for people who are at the bottom of the economic ladder, life certainly looks bright. But it also means changing our relationships with people, especially with those whom we feel have harmed us in some way. It means giving up habits, especially unhealthy habits which we have used to cope with the world. It can change our relative positions in society’s pecking order. It’s no wonder that the authorities saw Jesus as a threat; they risked losing all that they knew and loved.
Certainly, Easter is joyful because we affirm life over death. Easter is hope that though we may be entombed in our own despair, God will remove us from our tomb, lift us up and restore us. Easter reminds us that when sin is the foundation of the world, it cannot stand and it is not sustainable. Easter is our reminder that God did not demonstrate true power by coming down from the cross, but by humiliating himself even unto death to show the world then and through every age even to today that we must embrace life-giving ways even when they frighten us. Easter demonstrates that love is the greatest power to transform the world; that perfect love casts out fear, and that when we embrace love as the foundation for the world, the world will be strong and sustainable because love never ends. Love is inexhaustible.
In one sense, when we embrace the gospel fully and live very closely to the ways and teachings of Jesus, we are fools. As Paul wrote, “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’” (1 Cor.1:18-19)
The reality, though, is we are fools for not embracing Jesus and the cross. We are fools when we believe our wisdom and ways are superior to Jesus’. We are fools when we fail to see resurrection as clear evidence that the ways of this world are what are truly foolish.