I'd like to tell an irreverent Easter joke. I've only told it once
in church before, so I wanted to warn you. It's not off color, but it
is not orthodox in its depiction of the afterlife. May I tell it?
Well, it begins with three people standing before St. Peter at the
gates of heaven, where they have to answer one question. If they fail,
they go to the other place for eternity. And the first question to the
first person is basic: St. Peter asks, "What happens at
Christmas?" And the one who answers says that Christmas is a
holiday where a man in a red suit gives presents to children and flies
on a sled from the North Pole. And Peter looked upon him and said,
"I'm sorry, you have left out the birth of Jesus," and he
pulled on a great lever, and the cloud opened with a chute to neverafter,
and heat rose from the chute as this person dropped away and was gone.
The second person was asked, "What happens on Maundy
Thursday," and this person said, "On Maundy Thursday folks
gather for a great supper -- of turkey and sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie
and they watch football and shop for Christmas." The Saint reached
for the lever and said, "You've got your Thursdays confused, and
you've forgotten Jesus," and he pulled, and number two was gone.
The third person stepped forward and was asked, "Can you tell
me about Easter?" And she replied, "Easter is the holiday
that remembers a righteous man." And St. Peter said yes.
"This man traveled far and wide and taught and healed amidst a
group of supporters and friends." And the Saint smiled and nodded.
"But this man was scorned and executed and thrown in a cave, yet
on the third day the cave was opened." And Peter said, yes, yes.
And the woman continued: "And the man came out into the light, and
if he sees his shadow there are six more weeks of winter."
The truth is that Easter can be hard to explain and delightful to
encounter. It is beyond simple description but the core of sincere
devotion. And among its thousands of truths are these three: it is
always and everywhere about something God did through Jesus; it is
always and everywhere both understandable in love and beyond
intellectual logic; and at its core it is what Harvey Cox calls
"God's last laugh."
What did God do through Jesus? Among other things, God said,
Have you seen those ads for Verizon cell phones? The guy with the
glasses is getting on my nerves, but I like their pitch. If you buy
their phone, you can talk to anyone else with one of their phones
because you're "in." Verizon says this. But Horizon did it
first: God's Easter horizon. That's what the Book of Acts and the
Apostle Paul say today. Acts says that people in every nation, every
nation can be part of this. If they meet two requirements: fear God and
do what is right. Can you memorize those? Fear God and do what is
right. One is an attitude and one is an action. And they're not simple,
but we can remember them, all of us from any nation. Paul says
something similar. We all know death. In Christ, he says, we shall all
be made alive. He doesn't say just the Caucasians or just the upper
middle class or just the straight ones. He uses that famous phrase
elsewhere that says, Jesus did this "once for all." We could
argue about how Paul and Acts didn't mean this or how it does come with
requirements or how they said other things other places. We could spend
hours or months or volumes putting limits on this message of love in
Jesus that comes at Easter. Or we could go simple and direct. God says
we're in. Fear God, and do what is right.
The reason we could discuss this forever is that this message is
both understandable and beyond logic. And it has been so since the
That first Easter, women went to the tomb with stuff that
they had purchased on Friday to finalize the burial of the very dead.
But they ran into messengers who said, Jesus is risen. And Luke reports
that the women told all this to the men, who called it "an idle
tale." An idle tale, told by some women, full of boundless
absurdity and signifying nothing. But thank God the women didn't agree
with the men. Because God was doing something with them, too. God was
making outsiders into insiders. The first witnesses, culturally
powerless, became the prime insiders, and let those of us who hear that
story to this day take heed. Could this be a message for us yet? Are
there any outsiders that God still graces with insights regarding love
beyond logic? Judges and opinion fixators beware. We can understand the
message of Easter in part. New life. Resurrection. The power of God
next to the powerlessness of any nation. The wonder of love next to the
whimper of hate. We can understand this on one level. But it comes to
our hearts and souls better than our intellects. It touches our needs
deeper than our agendas. It graces our broken places quicker than our
working systems. Which is pretty good news, good beyond logic.
You know for millions of families this is a pretty tough Easter.
There is war and the injuries of war in more than one country. There is
hunger, joblessness, and lack of medical insurance or care in more than
one land. There is anxiety in an era of terror, with captives beyond a
single culture; there is discrimination, and even in the place where
Jesus once walked, peace and assurance are most often figments of the
imagination. We need a powerful message, a cosmic message, to
counteract what could be seen as the strengths of argument or logic or
godlessness that affect our day. We need a reminder that long ago God
saw a culture of destruction and gave it a message of creation. That
those ensnared in a culture of death were graced with a cross of new
life. We need the strength and hope begun on a hill where once a sealed
tomb became the stairway to heaven. We need all that, and all that is
what God entreats, what Jesus hopes, and what we yearn to share in every
parish of His Church. It's what we do here, too, every week.
We do something else at Easter, too. We take all the sorrow of life,
all the sorrow of Holy Week just past, and we open our ears to the
interpretation of Harvey Cox who calls this wonderful day "God's last
Consider this. At the end of the trial and crucifixion, Pilate
thought he had won. But God laughed. At the end of Peter's denial, the
devil thought he had won. But God laughed. At the end of any of our
conclusions of pessimistic satisfaction -- the final truth of death and
taxes, the Hindu cycle of Samsara, the myth of Sisyphus rolling a rock
up a hill just to see it roll down again -- after all of our
formulations of fear, negativity, and nihilism wishing the last word,
God laughs. Not at us but to get us loosened up. To get us free. To get
us living. God laughs at the idea that death could get the last word,
the idea that divine creation called good in the beginning could be
made bad by some pretender power in the end. God laughs and looks at
the creative wonder of our diversity and says, this makes me smile. And
God's smile draws spring's flowers from the frozen grounds of winter
and melts ice into waters that sculpt the shores of summer. God's smile
draws children to stare at each other unashamedly and point in joy
while wearing colors adults would never dare, and it draws music from
wood and wire and brass and flesh, and it draws us here, now, today
because Easter, in the end, is a great joy to God, and God loves to
share the laugh.
Doesn't it make you smile? The promise that you're in? The
simplicity and splendor of fearing God and doing what is right? The
absurdity of resurrection? Doesn't it make you smile that whether or
not Jesus sees his shadow, those of us who live in it are free from any
more weeks of separating cold? There may be storms ahead, there may be
violence and sorrow, but we can face all of it knowing that no frozen
conclusion gets the last word. Along with God we get the last laugh.
Along with Jesus. What a riot. Amen.
Copyright © 2004 Kenneth F. Baily. Used by
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