April Fools Day and Easter all wrapped up into one. This should be fun. Of all the April Fools Jokes, switching salt with sugar, putting a rubber band on the sprayer at the sink so when the faucet is turned on it sprays all over the person, putting whoopee cushions on chairs, frogs in your bed and pepper in your tea, I thought maybe the best one for today might be coming in and doing the service from back to front, starting us out with “Go in peace, serve the Lord!” and you all responding “Thanks be to God.” Much to my surprise, the Easter story lends itself to that joke, except it isn’t a joke, its what the story and Jesus demand that we do. Get the heck out of here, pronto. Jesus is not in the tomb, but among the living. Christ is risen!
This morning, Mary comes to the tomb with a certain amount of expectation. She goes to anoint Jesus’ body, a ritual that hasn’t been performed because he died at the Passover, on the sabbath. This is the funeral he never had, put off because of a holiday. But immediately something isn’t right. The stone is rolled away, already, and she must have peeked in, because what she sees or doesn’t see, sends her running the other direction. Mary is asking the only question she could have asked based on her experience, “Where have they laid him?” Jesus’ body isn’t there. Someone must have moved it. Where is his body? Mary asked the only question she could have asked, not realizing that everything had changed. Not realizing that Jesus wasn’t in the tomb, that love is more powerful than death, not realizing that Christ is Risen!
We, too, find the tomb empty, this morning. We come to the place we are taught to expect to find Jesus, and we don’t find him. He is not here. So we ask questions like Mary, “Where is he? Who took him? Who carried him out?” We ask those questions because we don’t realize that everything has changed and we don’t know what questions to ask. We don’t know how to open our eyes and our minds to find out where Jesus is. We stand in this sanctuary, and we find signs that Jesus has been here. Here is some bread and wine. He must have left in the middle of dinner and left everything out on the table. I can hear his voice echoing around us, speaking words of peace, words of challenge. The sound of our name still echoes from when Jesus called it at our baptism, on the stormy lake, in the garden. His linen wrappings lie there where he left them, but he is not here. I am telling you, to go in peace, serve the Lord. If you want to find Jesus, get out there and look for him out in the world.
For thousands of years the churches proclaimed that Jesus is here and only here, that you must come here to find him, and that you can’t see Jesus without the permission of priests and religious authorities, and you can’t see Jesus without rituals and special words. The truth is, the world called BS on us, on priests and churches, and said, “Like hell, I can’t!” and so churches have been abandoned in droves while people sought an accessible and loving spirit elsewhere. I confirm what you already know, we have no monopoly on Jesus or the Holy Spirit in this place. He is risen, and no walls, no church can contain him. He has gone to all who are hurting, alone, abandoned, hungry. If we want to meet him, we have to go there, too. The Spirit of Christ is free in the world.
The trouble is, the churches came with the only question we knew how to ask, “How can we become more powerful, richer, more influential?” We asked this question because we had people we were accountable to, who were measuring our ministry according to numbers of those who came into the tombs of our churches and stayed and gave of their money. To you, I confess the sin of the church, who has been greedy, used fear to scare people, and who tried to entomb our savior Jesus and dole him out in little bits and pieces according to our own judgments.
In our lives, too, we often ask the only questions we know to ask, even when the old questions we had been asking don’t fit the situation we find ourselves in, don’t comfort us. We stand on the brink of war, more divided than ever, in the midst of a mass extinction. We go to the place of death, the tomb, to carry out our rituals, to do the only thing we know to do, to anoint the body, to bid farewell to hope.
We get to the entrance to the tomb, and stop. Something is amiss. We don’t find what we were expecting. So we ask, where is the body. How can I do what I need to do? We find there others like us who have come seeking Jesus, not necessarily wanting something from him, but just there to honor him and thank him. We find some that are a little further along the process, who are starting to see the change that is taking place, know the old questions don’t work anymore, but aren’t sure what the new questions are. We find others there that are putting on a brave face, putting on a Pollyanna attitude, rushing to the answers. We find some there who are in despair. But at least we find we are not alone in our confusion of where to go from here or what questions to ask.
And I don’t have any answers for you. Beware of anyone who does. Beware of anyone who wants to shortchange the process, because what we thought we wanted, success, winning, answers, are not what give satisfaction, or life, or hope. Jesus comes not to give us those things, Jesus comes to transform us. Jesus comes to transform us from death to life, from enslaved to free, from despair to hope. Transformation is a process. It is messy. It involves making mistakes and looking stupid. It involves asking different questions than we’ve ever asked before and not having a clue about how to go about asking or answering them.
God entered our world as Jesus to transform us and our world. We didn’t like the questions he was asking. We didn’t appreciate that he wanted to change us. But I think we’re getting closer to being open to his call to transformation. Are you heartsick about the way we use and abuse this Earth—God’s good Creation and reflection of God’s own self? Are you pained at the camps of refugees, millions upon millions of people who God loves, who have fled warfare and violence? Are you ashamed at the number of kids in our own community that go hungry every day? We need to change the questions we’re asking, so that God is able transform us and this world into one that is just and peaceful and life-giving. Instead of asking the usual question, how I can get more and protect myself, we need to ask, what do I need to give up in order for God to transform me?
I was very inspired by the news of this French Police officer who offered himself in place of a hostage. Here is a man who put someone else first. Instead of asking, how can I win, he redefined winning and gave his life that someone else might live. Instead of worrying about myself, what would be the most life-giving thing to do in this situation. He put all fear aside. He was killed. His casket was paraded through the streets in France. Some would say his death means he did the wrong thing. You might ask, what good is he now that he is dead. His life is over. But it isn’t. New life goes out from him. People are transformed, inspired by his sacrifice to consider asking a new question. What does love look like?
So we proclaim this morning Christ is Risen! No tomb, no human institution, no building, no religion could contain him, because the one who is all love and compassion cannot be contained. He wasn’t a winner. He had no possessions. But he asked what does love look like, and he lived that way, and we’re still talking about him. We’re still asking what he would do.
I said today that Christ is not here. If you want to find him go out there and look. Hold someone in their heartbreak and find him alive. Walk amongst the old growth forest and find him alive. Visit someone who is lonely and find him alive. Challenge yourself to have a conversation with someone you consider an enemy and find him alive. Turn off your television, put down your phone and you will find him alive. We might even find that as messed up as churches can be, still Jesus cannot be told where to go or not to, and every once in a while he shows up in our midst, and blesses us, and offers us transformation, to live the story of his life, death, and resurrection with him until that day when he has built the Kingdom of God, every tear is dried, every stomach satisfied, all shrouds swallowed up, and we’re all rejoicing in God’s love and life.
April Fools! He is not here! Christ is among you! Get out there and look for him, and listen for him calling your name, calling you to abundant life, to new questions, to transformation. Alleluia, Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!