Sunday, April 29, 2018

Easter 5 - Grace for Those Just Passing Through

Acts 8:26-40

This morning I want to go back to our first reading, and the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch and a spontaneous baptism. Because this is a weird story. It pops up out of nowhere, and it ends abruptly, and no one ever talks about it again. It’s not particularly flashy, like the tongues of fire resting on the disciples’ heads that we’ll hear about in a few weeks for Pentecost, and there’s no miraculous healing like we hear Peter doing in Acts, Chapter Three. Yes, it’s a bit unusual that Philip is directed by an angel of the Lord to go down to that wilderness road south of Jerusalem, and it’s definitely odd that he is suddenly whisked away from the scene at the end of the story, but other than that, it’s one of the tamer stories in Acts. So what are we supposed to learn from it?

In every congregation I’ve ever been a part of, either as a pastor or a regular worshipping person, the most frequent complaints I hear are about “those people” who come to church but don’t help out and “those people” who show up just to have their children baptized or confirmed and then never come back. I understand why this is a concern. It takes a lot to keep a congregation going - there’s a lot of work that happens behind the scenes, as it were, both on Sunday morning and during the rest of the week. People organize the church events that happen, people give their time and energy to planning and running Sunday School, and hosting coffee hour, and setting up for Communion and cleaning up afterwards. People are involved in preparing for a child’s baptism, and in helping with Confirmation. And especially when it comes to baptisms and confirmation, churches don’t charge for those things, and so it almost seems like some families are taking advantage of these opportunities for their children without making any kind of reciprocal commitment in return. They show up, get what they need, and disappear. They’re just passing through. And we worry that it turns the church into a kind of spectator sport. We think that if people are going to take advantage of the benefits of the Christian community, they should be a part of the community.

And along comes our reading from Acts and, in the eunuch from Ethiopia, we see that we are, to put it bluntly, wrong.

To put it quite simply, for the Christian community beginning to develop in Acts, the Ethiopian eunuch was a temporary person. He was just passing through. Just like the story itself seems to pass through the book of Acts without leaving any impact, the same is true of the Ethiopian. First, he was from Ethiopia. The kingdom of Ethiopia during the time Acts was written covered the area that we now know as modern-day Sudan and parts of Egypt and Libya. It was essentially the southernmost edge of the “known world.” It was as far from Jerusalem as one could possibly get. It is highly unlikely that the eunuch was coming to Jerusalem to worship on a regular basis. It’s possible this was a once-a-year trip, but even more likely that this was a once-in-a-lifetime journey. He definitely wasn’t coming to Jerusalem every week to worship. There is absolutely no way that he was a contributing member of either the Jewish community or the Jewish community of Christ-followers, and he certainly was never going to be. He was, geographically speaking, just passing through.
Second, he was a eunuch. He was a not-quite-male, at a time when you were either part of the male community or part of the female community. Biologically speaking, he was never going to be a contributing member of either of those communities either. While born a male, he was, again, just passing through that community.

None of which seems to concern God in the least. Rather the opposite. God directed Philip, one of Jesus’ disciples, to leave Jerusalem and walk down the road that travelled through the wilderness from Jerusalem to Gaza, about the distance from here to just past Nanton. Philip had to chase down someone travelling away from Jerusalem in a chariot. And for what? For a spur-of-the-moment baptism. And then Philip was whisked off and the Ethiopian continued on his way. And that’s it. That’s the end of the story. In a nutshell, Philip baptizes someone who has not committed to being part of the religious community, who is probably never going to come back, and who has had virtually no baptismal preparation. And God is apparently cool with this.

But isn’t that the epitome of God’s grace? That God offers us grace, as a gift, without any expectation that we do anything in return? God’s grace is a gift. It’s right there in the Bible, in the letter to the Ephesians, “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which God loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ––by grace you have been saved––and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus... For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God––not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” Baptism, which is the marker of God’s grace that makes us members of the Christian community, is a gift. There is nothing we need to do beforehand to earn it, and nothing we need to do afterward to pay it back. Baptism has no expiry date. There are no membership fees for belonging to the Christian community, no service hours, no attendance requirements. 

Which, on the one hand, is somewhat annoying for those of us who are committed to the Christian community, and spend a lot of our time and energy serving it. I can imagine some of the disciples chastising Philip for spending the better part of a day down on that road baptizing just one person, who was never going to come back to Jerusalem anyway. The Ethiopian eunuch, who never even shared his name with Philip, was definitely not going to be spending his time helping the disciples gather funds for the widows and orphans of Jerusalem, or travel around healing the sick, or sharing the good news of Christ with others in Israel. Philip had just spent his time welcoming someone into the Christian community who was never going to give back to it. It’s frustrating; these people who are just passing through take a lot from us and they don’t give back.

On the other hand, though, as someone who has been also been on the taking-and-not-giving end of belonging to a Christian community, I am immensely grateful for all of that grace. My children were baptized in congregations where I was not a member. We came on a Sunday and then we left again. When we were living in California, and my kids were very little, and I was studying full-time, I was one of those people who made it to church once or twice a month, took advantage of Sunday School, stayed for coffee after, but never joined a committee, never served on Council, never helped out with extra events. We were there for about two years, just passing through. And of course I felt guilty about it, but I simply couldn’t be there more. But every time we showed up, the people there were sincere in their hellos, they welcomed my kids without reservation, they never once made me feel bad that I couldn’t be more committed or more involved in their community. They cherished us because we were just passing through. They embodied the grace of God as a gift. 

The story of Philip and the nameless Ethiopian eunuch invites us to remember that God’s welcome of us is truly a gift. The Holy Spirit sought you out and brought you into this community, on this morning, as a pure unmerited and undeserved gift to you, so that you might be filled with new life and go out rejoicing. You didn’t need to prepare in any way to be here, and you don’t owe anything when you leave.

The Christian community, whether that means denominations, or congregations, or small groups, and its emphasis on grace is unique. To be welcomed and included and served without any obligation is not the way our world typically works. In every other organization, we are expected to pay for the privilege of belonging, whether with money or with service or even with our regular attendance. We are expected to give back. But baptism, and the community that it gives us, and especially the new life that it brings us, is pure gift. It’s almost as if God means it to be for people who are just passing through, for people who, for whatever reason, can’t make any commitments or help out in the community in any way, for people who can never pay back what they have been given, for people whose names we might never know.

God invites the church to be this embodiment of grace, to welcome the stranger, to share the good news with all, without any expectations. But first God invites you to receive that grace, to know that you are welcome in God’s eyes just as you are, that you are granted forgiveness and healing for as long as you need, because you, too, are just passing through. And so, like the Ethiopian eunuch, rejoice––all of this is Christ’s gift to you. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Easter 4 - God has a Dad's Heart

Acts 4:5-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18

I admit to some confusion over Jesus’ words this morning. “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” I’m not entirely clear on what he means. Who are these other sheep? How can they listen to his voice but not already belong to this fold? This passage makes me think of another one in John, where Jesus says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” (John 14:2). And earlier, where he says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32) All of these passages together seem to say that Jesus is looking beyond the circle of Jews in Israel, and possibly even beyond the community of Christians for whom the Gospel of John was written. These passages together seem to say that God intends to bring all people, including non-Christian-believers, into God’s presence. Universal salvation.

Except... except that in the same Gospel, Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” And in the verses right before our reading for today, Jesus says that he is the gate to the sheepfold and that “anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.” (John 10:7,1) And in Acts, we just heard Peter say, filled with the Holy Spirit, “There is salvation in no one else [but Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given by mortals by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) All of these passages together seem to say the opposite, that Jesus is concerned only with Christian believers, and that those who do not profess Jesus as their Saviour are judged and condemned and either cast out or left behind when the time comes. Not-so-universal salvation.

Now, for a long time in the church, the contradiction didn’t really bother too many people. Before globalization was a word, in places where everyone was Christian except for a small minority that everybody ignored anyway, people didn’t give much thought to “heathens,” as they called them. A few good-hearted people worried about the souls of those in faraway countries but, by-and-large, Christians could live their entire lives without meeting anyone of a different religion. Martin Luther, for instance, never met a Muslim (or Turk, as he called them), even though he had quite a number of opinions about them. He certainly wasn’t in any distress about the possibility that God might not welcome them into God’s presence when they die.

This is not the case anymore. At least not for us, who live in Calgary. The reality is that many of us care deeply about people who are not Christian: family members, dear friends, good neighbours, co-workers. We love people who may have once been Christian but no longer consider themselves such, or are avowed atheists, or practicing agnostics, or active members of other faiths. These people who do not belong to our fold, or to any fold at all, are people we hold close in our hearts, and so it can cause deep distress to think that when they die, God will keep them out. In fact, just on Thursday, I saw a newsclip on CNN of a little six-year-old named Emanuele who had a chance to ask Pope Francis a question, and Emanuele’s father was an atheist and had just recently died, and Emanuele, with deep concern, asked the Pope if his father was in heaven with God. 

This question of what happens to non-Christians can no longer be dismissed as irrelevant. It is something we as Christians must struggle with, because the struggle tells us not only who we are as a human family, but also who this God is whom we worship. It forces us to examine what we really believe about this God whom we say is love and this Christ whom we say brings life. It pushes us to ask ourselves if we really do trust this God in whose name we gather.

The church-at-large. around the world and through history, has three different responses to this question. I cant tell you which one is “right.” It is not given to us to know in this lifetime anything for certain––as Paul says, we see through a glass darkly. But as we look at these three responses, I encourage you to ask yourselves, “Which one makes me feel closer to God? Which one makes me trust God more? Which one makes me feel God’s love for me more?” These are the questions that always guide us, because they direct us to the heart of faith.

So, the first response, which has been the church’s historical response, is that all people must accept Jesus Christ as Lord in order to receive life. Essentially, only the baptized get to be with God after they die. This understanding is at the heart of missionary efforts, as Christians go out into the world to introduce Jesus to non-Christians. And I don’t want to be cynical about missionaries, even though in the past, they have too often worked hand-in-hand with governments to support colonialism. I believe that missionaries are truly motivated by concern and love for non-Christians. They do really want these “sheep that do not belong to this fold,” to be found and restored to the one flock under Jesus Christ. In the end, though, they firmly believe that only Christians are saved. If you love someone who is not Christian, you need to work at converting them, otherwise you will be separated forever when you die.

The second response, much more common today, is the extreme opposite, and it is that God saves everyone, without question. God made everyone, God loves everyone, and so God saves everyone. And I like this––I like that it emphasizes God’s love for the world. I want this to be true, except it’s not. At least it’s not for Christians. Our Christian belief states, without doubt or compromise, that God loves us through Jesus Christ. Christ is essential to God’s love for us. Christ’s death and resurrection are an indispensable part of God’s relationship with us. If not, if God is able to save us all without Christ, then everything about us as Christians is pointless. It’s great for those we love who aren’t Christians––not so good for us.

The third response is not particularly new, it’s just not particularly wide-spread. And that is that God saves everyone through Christ––that Christ is indeed the way, the truth, and the life––but that each individual’s acceptance, or even awareness, of that truth is irrelevant. Essentially, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, fully divine and fully human, was a once-and-for-all cosmic event that affected all of time from the Big Bang to whatever happens at the end, and redeems all of existence from every single person on our tiny earth to whatever alien life might be present on the very borders of our universe. And that this salvation that God has accomplished through Christ is so final and so ultimate that not even our ignorance of it or doubts about it or refusal to believe in it or our belief in something else entirely can change the reality that it has happened. Out of deepest love for all of Creation, God has saved us through Christ, and those we love who aren’t Christian. It’s done. Nothing can change what God has already done through Christ.

So how do we know which of these three understanding is the “right” one? As I said earlier, which is the one that leads you to trust God more? This is not a rhetorical question––the right one is whichever one draws you closer in love and trust to God. Which is the one that allows you to entrust those you love to God’s care? That reassures you of God’s love for you through Christ? We know that God’s basic orientation towards all of Creation is one of goodness and love and abiding care. Scripture tells us this over and over again. God wishes us all to be saved. God wishes us all to be cared for by a shepherd who would lay down his life for us. God wishes us all to have light and life in the midst of darkness and death. God delivers us all from evil. All of these truths can be asserted without doubt. And so all we can do is trust in God’s love for us, and in God’s love for those we love. And this is the truest act of faith and the worship of Christ––to trust completely in the God who sent him, the God who saves through him, and to commend those we love to God’s care.

So, Emanuele, the little six-year-old who asked Pope Francis if his father, an atheist, was in heaven now? When Pope Francis heard his question, he called him forward and hugged him close, and then said to everyone there, “Do you think that God could leave him far from him? Do you think this?” And then he said, “God has a dad’s heart.” God has a dad’s heart. We know that our hearts are full of love for those in our lives who aren’t Christian; God’s heart even more so. God loves the ones we love even more than we do, for God made them, and Christ died for them. And so we can trust Jesus when he says, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold” and when Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, says, “There is salvation in no other name but Jesus.”  Both can be true, through the grace and love of God through Christ that passes all understanding. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Easter 3 - Shame and Peace

Acts 3:12-19; Luke 24:36b-48

So here we are, in the middle of the Easter season, which, by the way, is seven Sundays long, so that it is a full week of Easter. And Jesus comes to the disciples and says, “Peace be with you.” But to be honest, after hearing our reading from Acts, I’m not feeling very peaceful.

As you’ve seen, I get pretty uncomfortable with texts in our New Testament that bash “the Jews,” seeing as how Jesus was one of them, along with Paul and Peter and all the first disciples and founders of the church. We heard a number of them in the Gospel of John during Lent and Holy Week, leading up to Easter, and now we have another one in Acts, which particularly troubles me: We have the apostle Peter, seemingly out of nowhere, launching into an aggressive accusation against those who are at the Temple the same day as he: “But you [meaning the Jews standing there] rejected the Holy and Righteous One, ... and you killed the Author of life.” And it’s not the first time he says this. Just one chapter earlier, he says to the Jews, talking about Jesus, “this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law.” Peter lashes out at them, accusing them not just of killing Jesus, but of using Roman hands––unclean hands––to get away with it. He accuses them not just of murder, but of being complete hypocrites as they do so.

Now this is all bad enough, particularly because it oversimplifies what happened, and because it has led to Christian pogroms against the Jews throughout history. But what really bothers me about it is that this is Peter making these accusations. Peter, Jesus’ lead disciple, who took out a sword and cut off a soldier’s ear in the Garden of Gethsemane, who denied Jesus three times after Jesus was arrested in order to save his own skin, who didn’t believe that Jesus was risen when the women told him that they had seen the risen Christ. Peter was no saint, so to speak. He was violently impulsive, he abandoned his leader in a crisis, and he was so full of himself that he wouldn’t take anyone else’s word until he saw it himself. (Hey, isn’t there another disciple like that?) If there’s anyone who should be judged for the way they acted towards Jesus, it really ought to be Peter. It’s one thing to act that way towards your enemy, but towards your friend? And this after Jesus tells them to love their neighbour as themselves.

But maybe that’s what’s going on here. Maybe Peter doesn’t love himself. Maybe Peter is quite aware of what he’s done. Maybe Peter lies awake at night agonizing over his abandonment of Jesus, replaying in his mind that whole evening and the next day, imagining that if he had it to do all over again how he would have declared his loyalty to Jesus over Rome and been up there on that cross instead of Jesus. Maybe Peter is so consumed with his own guilt and hypocrisy that he is unable to forgive himself and so he lashes out at others for theirs.

It’s not that I want to psychologize Peter, it’s just that it’s a fairly common experience in life that we tend to accuse people of what we ourselves feel guilt or shame over. This is especially true for things we’ve done that we’re ashamed of––the whole nature of shame is that it affects us so deeply that we can’t even directly explore the things that cause us to feel shame. Guilt is feeling bad about what we’ve done, while shame is feeling bad about who we are. Internalized guilt becomes shame, and that’s when we stop being able to think about it. We become unable to think about the terrible things we’ve done because they seem to us proof of the terrible person we are. But shame persists, and it surfaces in our criticisms of others. We deal with our shame by focusing it on someone else. We judge others the way we are secretly judging ourselves. We handle our disappointment and judgment and hatred of ourselves by moving it to a disappointment with and judgement and hatred of others. 

Which I think is what Peter is doing. His deeds of denial and abandonment were awful and he seems to have felt that deeply. We know that after the resurrection, Jesus had to tell Peter three times to take care of Jesus’ sheep, because Peter seemed unable to believe that Jesus would want him to do such a thing. And so this, combined with Peter’s lashing out in our readings from Acts, makes me wonder if Peter was unable to forgive himself for his denial and betrayal of Jesus, if he felt a deep and abiding sense of shame over his behaviour. And it makes sense to me that if he was unable to forgive himself, and was ashamed of betraying Jesus, that he would externalize that and be unable to forgive anyone else, either. That he would transfer his own shame to other Jews around him, and accuse them of rejecting the Holy and Righteous One and killing the Author of life when indeed, it was he himself he was really accusing. In one context or another, we all do this.

But Jesus offers us an alternative to this interplay of shame of one’s self and accusation of another. In place of the spiritual and emotional and psychological death that feeling shame brings to us, Jesus offers us new life that is rooted not in ourselves, or in our actions or inactions, but in Christ. Specifically, in Christ’s death and resurrection for our sake. Because of Christ, we are forgiven and healed. Because of Christ, guilt and shame no longer determine who we are. Instead, the righteousness and holiness and goodness of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, determine who we are, and determine that we are children of God.

And this disrupts shame and accusation because once we accept that we ourselves are forgiven, we can forgive others. Once we consider ourselves loved and accepted, instead of guilty and shameful, we can then move onto to loving and accepting others, even with all their guilt. When Jesus says that we are to love our neighbours as ourselves, it is very clear that this is rooted in loving ourselves. This is not a call to become selfish, but rather a call to accept what God in Christ has done for us. To believe, actually, in Easter. To build our entire lives and our entire self-image and all of our relationships on the central claim of our faith, that through Jesus’ death and resurrection, God forgives us all our sins and redeems us and that there is nothing we can do that is stronger than that forgiveness and redemption. To refuse to forgive ourselves, to be ashamed of ourselves, to fail to love ourselves becomes, then, a denial of what Christ as accomplished in Easter. It is putting the power of our sinfulness above the power of God. 

  But God’s power, shown to us in Easter, is the true power. And God’s power removes our guilt and our shame and forgives us and makes us God’s beloved children. And this is the peace that Jesus brings. This is why Jesus appears to the disciples in our Gospel reading, which, remember, is still taking place on the same day that the tomb was discovered empty. This is less than three days after the disciples of Jesus all fled and left him to die, and the shame of their actions would no doubt have been incredibly high. And Jesus appears amongst them and the first thing he says is, “Peace be with you.” Be at peace. The disciples are not to be troubled by what they have done or left undone. They are not to be troubled, or feel ashamed, by who they have been up to this point. Be at peace.
Jesus says the same thing to you. “Peace be with you.” Jesus wishes you to be at peace, to experience the peace of being forgiven and of believing that, because of the cross, you truly no longer have anything to be ashamed of. Jesus Christ is not ashamed of you. He does not wish you to live in the anxiety and trouble of guilt and shame. He wishes you to live in peace, believing that he has forgiven you and died for you.

Now Matthew 5:24 tells us that before we “leave [our] gift at the altar,” we need to first be reconciled with our brothers and sisters. It leaves us with the impression that we must forgive and be forgiven by those around us, to be at peace with them, before we can come forward and receive God’s forgiveness. This Bible Verse is the reason we share the peace of Christ with one another before the offering. (See, all of our liturgy is actually rooted in Scripture.)

But there’s an important thing that happens right before you all share the peace with one another. And that’s that I share Christ’s peace with you. I tell you first, in person, that Christ has come to you and forgives you and wishes peace for you, so that you can then do the same for your neighbour. You are reminded that you are forgiven, and in the peace of that forgiveness can then extend forgiveness and peace to one another. You are freed from self-accusation so that you can be freed from accusing others. You are reconciled with God through Christ first, and then to one another. 

I wonder what the church’s relationship with others would have been like if Peter had truly forgiven himself for what he had done. If he had been able to offer compassion and forgiveness to others instead of accusations. But more than that, I wonder what our relationship with others might be like if we truly forgive ourselves for what we have done in our own lives. If we accept that Christ really means for us to be at peace with ourselves and if, out of that, we then extend that peace to others. I suspect it would be Easter resurrection for the entire world. And so my prayer for you, today and always, is that you truly feel that, through Christ, you are forgiven, and that the peace of Christ be with you, always. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Easter April Fools - God's Delight

Mark 16:1-8

So this Gospel ends a little surprisingly, eh? There’s no resurrection appearance, just a “young man,” telling the women Jesus isn’t here. There’s no celebration by the women––they flee from the tomb in terror. And there’s no sharing of the Good News! The young man told Mary Magdalene and Mary the of James and Salome to tell Jesus’ disciples that he was risen, but, as the Gospel ends, “they said nothing to anyone.” While every good story has some kind of a surprise, it’s not usually like this. This is not a good way to end any story, never mind the Gospel story. It’s almost as if the writer of Mark is playing an April Fool’s trick on us.

Then again, the whole premise of today, of Easter Sunday, is basically that of a surprise ending. We would expect that when someone dies, and their body is laid in a tomb, that, on the third day, they would still be dead. That is the way it works in the world. That death is the end of the story. Even the biographies of the great heroes of the world all end this way. But, actually, that’s not what happened. Last night, a friend of mine asked her two-year-old, “And what happened when Jesus came out of the tomb?” And her two-year-old said, “He said, SURPRISE!”

This delightful surprise of new life is a deeply-embedded part of our Easter celebration. Do you know why we paint eggs for Easter? Eggs are a sign of new birth, from the celebration of Nowruz, the Persian New Year that begins on the Spring equinox and has been celebrated for more than three thousand years, and the joyful colours and the Easter symbols on the eggs were used by Christians to reclaim this symbol as a sign of new life in Christ. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the hard shell of the egg represents the tomb in which Christ was laid, sealed in by the stone, and when you crack the shell, it’s like Christ being resurrected and leaving the tomb. The hard-boiled egg looks like a stone, but surprise, it’s something to eat!

Easter is about the surprise of new life, a surprise that God oversees and delights in. I love that today is April Fool’s Day because Easter really is the biggest April Fool’s trick that could ever be played. Jesus of Nazareth, reputed to be the Son of God and the Messiah who would end Israel’s slavery under Rome, ended up on a cross, nailed up there like a common criminal. He didn’t deliver himself by the power of angels, or cause Pilate to fall to his knees, or escape in a flash of light and a clap of thunder. Instead, he died, proving just how human he was. His disciples fled, afraid, and, I suspect, disillusioned. At face value, Jesus’ story ends ironically, with this promised Saviour dead. Rome, the empire of Death, is still in power, and nothing has changed.

But then, at the lowest point of the story, as Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome go to the tomb to prepare Jesus’ body, “SURPRISE! APRIL FOOLS!”

But really, could anything have been more surprising? Could God have arranged anything more unbelievable? Death has actually been overpowered, by the very life it thought it had itself defeated. You can kill Jesus, but that isn’t the end of him! God made it so that even death lost its hold on the world––there was nothing anymore that could frighten people into obeying the cult of death and fear, no threat that could stop them from proclaiming God’s love. After all, what’s worse than death? And now Christ had emerged from the tomb, living proof that God had destroyed even the power of death. Christ is God’s trick on the world: in the moment of most dire weakness, the overwhelming power of God-given life sprang forth. Surprise! It would appear that God delights in a good punch-line.
I wonder, actually, if the ending of the Gospel of Mark is actually the Gospel writer playing a joke. The Gospel ends with the women running away from the tomb in fear, and of course, we can laugh at them a bit because if they knew what we know, they wouldn’t be running away and keeping silent. 

But I wonder if the joke is actually that the women didn’t realize that Christ was alive in them, and in the disciples, and that there is actually no running away from Christ. Maybe the abrupt ending of Mark is meant for those who already know the surprise ending, for us, to shake us up with a new surprise––Jesus Christ, the risen Lord, is not only ahead of you, Jesus Christ is alive in you! That’s how some biblical scholars interpret the ending of the Gospel of Mark: when the young man sends those who wish to see the risen Christ back to Galilee, the Gospel writer is sending the reader to see the risen Christ in all the things that Jesus did there––healing the sick, feeding the hungry, forgiving sins. Mark is telling the Christian community––you want to see the risen Jesus? It’s easy! Heal the sick, feed the hungry, forgive sins, and there you will see the the new life of Christ, there in front of you! Surprise!

It does seem like God loves a good joke, and delights in our laughter. Martin Luther used to say that his strongest weapon against the devil was to laugh at him. When he felt that the devil was trying to crush him, by confronting him with all his sins and reminding him what a wretched soul he was, Luther would laugh and say, “Aha, No, for I have been baptized!” Luther, like some of us, had a tendency to take himself too seriously, and think that his wrongdoings and failures really were enough to condemn him to eternal death. But to think that way would have been to deny the power of the resurrection, the very power of Easter! And so Luther would laugh, at himself and at the devil, for thinking that one so insignificant as he could thwart God’s resurrection power.

It’s the same with us. In baptism, God rewrites the stories of our lives so that they end, not with death, but with the punchline of resurrection. In the face of new life, even death itself becomes a joke, something we no longer need to take seriously or give any power to. Whatever is going on in your life right now that has you running away in terror, whatever it is that seems deadly serious to you, let God hold on to it for the next hour. Let God remind you that “the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth.” Let God share with you the cosmic surprise that this life is not all there is; that the one who suffered and died was raised from the dead and given new life, and that you are part of that glorious, delightful punchline. Let God bring a smile to your face, and joyous laughter into your heart.

Our reading from Isaiah this morning ends with, “This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” Let us be glad and rejoice. God delights in our delight, especially today, and God rejoices to give us new life.

Now, do you really want to know why we paint Easter eggs? 

Because it’s too hard to wallpaper them.

Do you know where the Easter bunny gets her Easter eggs?

From eggplants.

This is the last one:

What is the Easter bunny’s favourite kind of dancing?


On this Easter Day, may you delight in the joy of this day and in the risen Christ as much as God delights in you. Thanks be to God. Amen.