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?
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.