Easter Sunday 2018
Mtr. Jen Fulton
St. John of the Cross, Bristol
Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
My brothers and sisters: Happy April Fool’s Day!
Yes, this is a wacky liturgical year. First we had Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day on the same day, and today we celebrate both Easter and April Fool’s Day. Easter is a movable feast, it’s date dependent on the spring equinox and the lunar cycle, and is calculated using two things called the Golden Number (with a capital G and a capital N) and the Sunday Letter (with a capital S, which you would expect, and a capital L, which you wouldn’t). And if that sounds like something I made up for April Fool’s Day, alas, it isn’t. If you want to learn more, you can read pages 880-881 in the Book of Common Prayer—after the end of this service, of course. Naturally, you want to hear every word I’m going to say. But spring equinoxes and the lunar cycle and Golden Numbers and Sunday Letters are all a bit too confusing for me. So instead of going through all of the work of understanding it, I looked up the last time Easter and April Fool’s Day fell on the same day, and the internet tells me it was 1956. The next one will be in 2029, and then again in 2040, and then not again in this century.
So this is quite a day!
A member of this parish told me the other day that non-believers have been having a field day with this—the idea being that Christians around the world—and that includes us—are gullible fools who have fallen for one of the biggest hoaxes of all time. And I suppose that could be true—if I’m to be perfectly honest, I need to admit that it is always possible that all of this could be wrong, a joke, that I have fallen for—that we have fallen for. After all, we walk by faith, not by sight. A part of being people of faith is learning to live without proof.
Actually, at various times and in various places, the Church has embraced the idea of Easter being a joke, but not the way the non-believers might think. In fact, one of the precursors of April Fool’s Day is a day called risus paschalis, or Easter laughter. Celebrated in southern Germany in the 15th – 17th centuries, priests would urge their congregations to laugh out loud on Easter, telling jokes inside the church.
Why? Because early Christians believed that in the resurrection of Jesus, God played the ultimate joke on the forces of evil. On Good Friday, it looked like evil had won! God’s own Son had been killed. The good and the holy had been driven to its knees; it had been beaten and tortured and stripped and humiliated and nailed to a cross and died. The early Church would have said that on Good Friday, Satan and his army howled in victory.
But the joke was on them. Because with the resurrection of Jesus, God pulled off the ultimate prank. What more could Jesus have done to mock evil and the world that killed him than to rise from the dead? And in so doing, to have taken captivity captive, to have forced sin to its knees, and to have killed death?
Welcome to April Fool’s Day, folks. The resurrection is the divine joke that saves us.
That’s worth repeating: The resurrection is the divine joke that saves us.
And you know what that means for us, for those of us who follow Christ, don’t you? It means that we a people of the resurrection, and THAT means that we are a people of laughter!
Not all the time, of course. We still experience pain and suffering and death in this world, and so sorrow and grief and anger and mourning are all perfectly appropriate. And there are times when we are called to do the hard and difficult work of the Kingdom. But we aren’t meant to stay there—in the sorrow and grief and anger and mourning and hardness and difficulty. We’re not meant to make our homes there. We are called, my friends, to be a people who live in hope. In joy. In love. In life. In laughter. Because THAT is what the resurrection promises us!
Being a woman priest is still uncommon enough that if I’m wearing my collar out in public, I often get stopped and asked questions. Once, in a Starbucks, after talking with someone for some time about my vocation and the nature of faith and such, I was told that I didn’t seem like a priest—that I smile and laugh too much.
I smile and laugh too much to be a priest??? Is that really what the world thinks of Christians?
It seems it is. There’s this thing that I do from time to time, and I did it again yesterday. I sat down at my computer and brought up the Yahoo search engine, plugged in the words “Why are Christians so,” and then let it do it’s predictive search thing…In other words, Yahoo tried to complete the sentence “Why are Christians so” by giving me the top searches using those words. Usually I just look at the 10 top predictive search results. But yesterday, I tried something new. I typed in “Why are Christians so” and then the letter “a,” and looked at all the “a” words that people use to fill that search. And then I moved on to the letter “b,” and so on and so forth. Here’s a small sampling of what I found.
Why are Christians so…
That’s just a sampling. I looked at 78 predictive search results yesterday, and only 5 of them were positive.
What have we done? And what are we called to do?
Here’s a start: We need to live our lives and to act in ways that defy those descriptions! We need to replace those words that people think describe us! We need to be people who dance! We need to be people of love! We need to be people of hope! We need to be people of laughter! We need to live into Psalm 126:
“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
Then were we like those who dream.
Then was our mouth filled with laughter,
And our tongue with shouts of joy.
Then they said among the nations,
‘The Lord has done great things for them.’
The Lord has done great things for us,
And we are glad indeed.”
Then was our mouth filled with laughter . . . laughter at the divine joke that saves us.
This past week has not been an easy one for this parish or her people. We have worked hard. We’ve gone to one funeral. We’ve had another funeral here. On Maundy Thursday we remembered the Last Supper. We walked the Way of the Cross. We confessed our sins. We remembered and mourned Jesus’ death on Good Friday.
But here’s the thing, my friends. Good Friday is not the culmination of the church year. Good Friday does not get the final word. Sin does not get the final word. Suffering and grief do not get the final word. Death does not get the final word.
Because at the end of the day, at the End of Days, God wins. Love wins. Dancing wins. Hope wins. Fun wins. Joy wins. Resurrection wins. Jesus wins.
And what a joke that is, hey? What a wonderful, joyful, fun-filled joke that is. The greatest joke of all time. The divine joke that saves us.
And so let’s proclaim it together, with mouths filled with laughter, and tongues with shouts of joy:
Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!