A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Yr B ~ Easter Sunday ~ Mark 16:1-8
It only happens 3 or 4 times in a century. The last time it happened was in 1956. The next time it’s going to happen is just 11 years from now in 2029, and then 11 years after that in 2040. And I won’t but some of the kids here today will likely see it after that in 2108. It’s too bad that it doesn’t happen more often because the tie-in is so perfect! And the sermon practically writes itself. Surely you’ve figured out what I’m talking about – Easter Sunday falling on April Fool’s Day.
Now, I know you’re expecting me to preach about the resurrection of Jesus today but because this is such a serious and significant topic, and because the calendar unfortunately happened to have Easter Sunday fall on April 1st, there was a decision made by the church to honour the sanctity and solemnity of the day and cancel preaching about the resurrection this year.
No one knows exactly when it started, but over time April 1st emerged as a day for playing practical jokes on people and for spreading hoaxes. There have been some really funny ones over the years, like the harvesting of spaghetti trees in 1957, the invention of smell-o-vision in 1965, the discovery of flying penguins in 2008, and one of my favourites, in 2014 Kings College, Cambridge (famous for its boys choirs) put out a video detailing their decision to discontinue the use of boy sopranos and instead use grown men who have inhaled helium gas!
The spirit of the day is to play these harmless and fun (never hurtful or mean) pranks on people and when they fall for the joke you shout out “April Fool!” Maybe you had some experience with that this morning before you got here! Someone gets surprised and everyone has a great laugh.
Here’s another one. The bulletin says my sermon title is Surprise Symphony. I was going to use Haydn’s Symphony No.94 which features in the slow and quiet second movement a super-loud full orchestra chord that crashes through out of nowhere and then it immediately goes back to quiet. [play clip]. Then I was going to talk about how the gospels are like a symphony – which literally means harmonious sound – that tell a beautiful story and move us. But then I decided it would be more fun to do April Fool’s jokes so I changed the title. Surprise!!!
So I’m thinking about the reason we’re here this morning.
It’s Easter Sunday – and no matter what the church says I’m gonna preach about the resurrection – kinda!
Mark’s gospel tells the story this way: (Mark 16:1-8)
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “April Fools!”
Ok, obviously he didn’t – but he may as well have! Jesus risen is like the ultimate April Fools prank.
What’s missing from the text is the part about the disciple who got to the tomb even earlier than the women and climbed up to the top of the rock that was covering the tomb…and very carefully placed on its edge a big bucket of cold water – so just in case Jesus really did rise from the dead when he came out he’d get soaked!
Hilarious! (Ok, just in case, I just made that up!)
No, the mysterious young man in the tomb – maybe an angel, who knows – didn’t say April Fools – he said:
“Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 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.
[laughing] Isn’t that great?! It’s another April Fool’s joke!
Did you catch it?
That’s the end of Mark’s gospel.
That’s it. Nothing more.
If your bible has verses beyond Mark 16:8 it should also have a footnote saying that those verses were added many, many years later. Folks didn’t like Mark’s ending so they tried to change it! Mark’s gospel ends exactly like I just said it does. The messenger says Jesus has been raised and isn’t here – instead he’s going back to Galilee, and so should you.
And that’s it.
So did you catch the April Fool’s joke Mark has played on us?
Jesus isn’t there.
The women don’t see Jesus, they just hear that he’s risen. And then it says they fled the tomb and didn’t say anything.
And that’s the end of the story.
No one sees or experiences the risen Christ at the end of Mark’s gospel.
We’re expecting a holy visitation.
We’re expecting Jesus to appear with angelic choirs floating overhead.
We’re expecting for him to comfort the women.
We’re expecting to hear about how he appears to the disciples and inspires them to carry on.
April Fool! There’s none of that in Mark.
Instead, Mark tells you if you want to see Jesus you have to go back to Galilee.
That means going back to the beginning – as in back to the beginning of the gospel – and read it again!
Because, my friends, that’s how you see Jesus – he’s revealed in the telling of the story.
He’s been hiding in plain sight the whole time.
He is risen indeed!
He’s here right now! See?
Mark 16:8 says the women hurriedly left the tomb because “terror and amazement had seized them”. Terror and amazement sound like a bad thing – but the actual Greek words are tromos and ekstasis – that means trembling and ecstasy.
Trembling and ecstasy!
Because they thought Jesus was dead and gone, but now they know he’s still with them!
Because once they were blind, but now they could see!
Even though they couldn’t see Jesus they could “see” Jesus – see?
He’s not dead and buried.
He’s alive. He’s present.
And if you can’t see him then go back to Galilee – go back to the beginning of the story – and read it all again and again until you can see!
I love that Mark’s gospel ends this way.
It just stops.
It totally leaves us hanging. Waiting. Wondering.
It’s like an unfinished symphony! (See how I was going to tie that whole symphony thing together?!)
Mark doesn’t give us answers – he sends us on a journey – a journey that we have to make on our own.
You can’t have faith handed to you. You can’t just show up at church and receive all the answers and go on your merry way. Instead, you get an invitation to join the journey and encouragement to keep travelling.
Easter comes at the end of each gospel but isn’t the end of the story – it’s the beginning!
It’s the beginning of everything.
It’s the beginning of a journey of rebirth, of new life.
Whatever may be going on in your life the promise of Easter is that a new season of abundant life awaits.
It doesn’t mean a magic wand is going to pop out and make your troubles disappear – but it does promise that darkness is not the final word – light and love are.
Death doesn’t have the final say – life does.
And when it seems like Jesus isn’t around, like maybe he’s trapped behind some giant rock somewhere, we remember that he didn’t stay there.
He was raised up.
Just like we can be raised up from our tombs.
Right here, right now. That’s the promise of Easter!
Another reason I love Mark’s unfinished symphony is that it leaves us with more questions than answers.
And frankly, that’s refreshing compared to what often happens at Easter with people getting into arguments about this detail or that in the resurrection story, and whether it was a literal event or a metaphorical one, and whether Jesus’ physical body was raised or his spiritual body, and whether there are 4267 angels on the head of a pin or 4268.
Mark avoids all that by leaving us guessing.
Go back to the start and see for yourself! He is risen – but you still have to learn to see him.
April Fool’s Day is a day for practical jokes and hoaxes. Interesting!
Was the resurrection of Jesus an elaborate hoax?
Did the disciples just make up the story?
Is Easter a scam?
And I don’t say that because I have some incontrovertible proof about the resurrection – all I have is logic.
And logic says that if you’re going to create an elaborate hoax that you wouldn’t formulate it in such a way that you and your fellow hoaxers would be persecuted, beaten, jailed, and killed for championing it.
You make a hoax that turns you into a millionaire, not a martyr.
That those confused and bewildered duh-sciples were transformed into passionate evangelizers who started a movement that eventually overtook the Roman Empire is all the proof I need that the resurrection really happened!
And nowadays, in today’s culture of cynicism and scepticism, society doesn’t think that Easter is a hoax, but they do think we’re fools for trusting in the Jesus story and trying to live the Jesus way – and since Easter usually happens in April I guess we’re all April fools.
I’m ok with that.
I get it. It must seem entirely foolish to them.
I can’t deny that I have given my life to something that cannot be scientifically proven,
that I’m moved to trembling and ecstasy by a Presence that I can’t put into words,
and that I pray to someone
that only those who can ‘see’ can see. Of course they can’t see.
They haven’t made the journey back to Galilee yet.
There you will see him, just as he told you!