April 20, 2014
28: 1“After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:1-11, NRSV)[i]
Let us pray: Holy and immortal God, from earliest times you have named us
and called us into discipleship. Teach us to follow the One who conquered death and opened the gates of life everlasting. In the power of the Holy Spirit, raise us with Christ that we, too, may proclaim healing and peace to the nations. Amen
Christ is risen, he is risen indeed!
Easter is a magnificent day to bear witness to the glory of God. It is the moment of God’s glory. Glory… in the Old Testament there are twenty-five different Hebrew words that can be translated to mean our one word Glory. In Hebrew the word glory, means weighty, heavy, significance, important and essential while in the New Testament the word Doxai, meaning glory is not used very often except for the Gospel of John where it is a big word. Jesus speaks of his glory, the hour of his glory and when he is to be glorified. Perhaps the most famous glory statement in the New Testament is in John 12; “the hour has come for him to be glorified.”[ii]
The Season of Lent is a journey from Ash Wednesday to this very day, it is a journey of emotions from the cradle to the cross and we reached the cross on Friday, the day that Jesus was put to death. That was three days ago, today he is risen, no longer dead – but alive, we call it Easter, it is his hour, his moment of Glory, his time to fulfill the Promise of the Old Testament Prophets who told of God’s plan. So here we are to celebrate in Christ’s glory!
Easter is a day of tradition, families gather together for church, children come home from far away, spring clothes, Easter dresses, hats even. Sunrise services, egg hunts, flowered crosses, glorious music, reading of the familiar story of the empty tomb. Most every branch of the Christian faith celebrates this most holy of days with these same traditions. Familiar, recognizable, well known, time honored, tradition, Easter worship.
Now there are some traditions in the Christian faith that are a bit different concerning Easter worship and celebrations. One such tradition comes from the Eastern Orthodox Church. It is an ancient one that tomorrow the day after Easter, is set aside as a day of humor and laughter. The Eastern Orthodox Church is bound by tradition but tomorrow the people will gather in their sanctuaries for worship, and to hear the priest tell jokes – not just religious jokes but all kinds of jokes all to let the congregation laugh. Why jokes you may ask? – Because of the joke that God played on Satan on Easter morning. I’ve never been to such a service but it sounds fun.
One of my favorite preachers is Fred Craddock and he tells of a time that he served a small congregation in the mountains of rural East Tennessee. On Easter Sunday the day began with a sunrise service, then a breakfast, followed by Sunday school and worship and afterward the congregation went home. Later that evening they came back to the small sanctuary and moved the pews up against the walls. Then they threw corn down on the floor and they had a square dance. Yes, dancing, in the church, on Easter no-less. Can you imagine, Bow to your partner, Bow to your corner, Circle left, Swing your partner, doe-see-doe, circle heel to toe, round and round we go, Promenade. Dr. Craddock asked why they did this and they told him that Easter was a celebration and they were dancing on the devils grave because Jesus defeated him, sin, and death when he rose from the grave.
Now, I am not suggesting that we adopt these traditions but it got me thinking about the message they send of laughter, dancing, celebrations! Easter if it is nothing else is a celebration. It is a surprise, a reversal of the world’s expectations. God changed everything on Easter morning. God reversed the order of things. God’s reversal of fortune is a biblical theme as well.[iii]
As we have focused on this Lenten Season and our journey to the cross God reverses things, God surprises people, and God changes the world. Remember from the beginning, Adam and Eve in the garden God surprises them, by continuing to love them in spite of their sin. God reverses expectations when he establishes a covenant with Sarah and Abram, and tells them that they will be the parents of a new people who will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. This was a huge surprise because they couldn’t get pregnant. When their baby boy was born, they named the child Isaac, which means, “He laughs.” Our God, a God of surprises, is always taking our expectations and upending them. And nowhere is that more true than in the life of Jesus. God became one of us, a human is surprising enough but think about the human life he chose – a boy raised by a poor carpenter and his virgin wife, who grew up and had no home – God changed the world through him!
When Jesus recruited his disciples, he didn’t get the best and the brightest. Instead, he brought together a rag-tag group, each one was chosen not because of their skills but instead for their willingness to follow him. The disciples were not royalty, military leaders, rich or powerful, yet God choose them, these normal men to spread the good news of his love unto all the world.
The people in power in that time of the world, the folks who didn’t want things to change because they liked how things were, they were determined to stop Jesus. When they couldn’t find any other way to stop him, they killed him on a cross. Only God was not through reversing expectations, upending the order of things. Easter is the ultimate surprise, the ultimate punch line, the reversal of our history it is God’s story, God’s glory, God’s love, the greatest transformation of all.[iv]
I can just hear the conversation at brunch in a little while: “Did you hear the preacher today he talked about telling jokes and dancing in church on Easter.” But hear me out. If our story ended with Good Friday, it would be a tragedy. But Friday is not the end because God’s story has a surprising ending.[v]
So we celebrate this day, in response to God’s surprise on Easter, but we also celebrate God’s triumph over sin, death and Satan.[vi]
Over the last several days we have had solemn worship services. There has been no celebration. There was no place for it. It would have been a sacrilege. There was no celebration at the Maundy Thursday meal and communion service, as we took our place at Jesus’ Last Supper and remembered the ways he was betrayed by his disciples. There was no celebration at the Good Friday service, and remembered Jesus’ agony and death. There was no celebration at any of those services. It would not have been appropriate. It would have been out of place. It’s not proper to celebrate in the face of tragedy.[vii]
But today is different. One of the reasons that celebrating and laughing are considered appropriate in Eastern Orthodox Church or why they will dance later this evening in the rural Mountains of East Tennessee is because of the reversal God pulled off in the Resurrection. Sin didn’t win after all. Neither did Satan. And Death thought it had won, but it celebrated to soon, because God reversed everything, God transformed the world, God claimed victory and raise life from the grave.
So as you gather around a table for Easter brunch, may I suggest that it is appropriate to offer prayers of thanks and praise, but I also encourage you to share a joke or two, maybe dance a jig – but for sure celebrate because God has changed the world. And let your celebration, remind you of the triumph of the God we worship here, through the Resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
They came to the tomb expecting a corpse, to their surprise, God isn’t finished yet. God reverses their expectations. They didn’t expect a Risen Lord. God changed everything.
Empty Cross. Empty Tomb. Risen Lord. Alleluia!
Christ is risen, he is risen indeed. Glory be to God. Amen.
[i]Matthew 28:1-11, Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Revised Common Lectionary © 1992 the Consultation on Common Texts. Used by permission.
[ii] Reverend Dr. Will Willimon, Reflecting Christ’s Glory, podcast found at his website.
[iii] The Reverend Dr. Martin B. Copenhaver, a sermon entitled, “Laughter at Easter” based on Matthew 28:1-10 preached at Wellesley Congregational Church, Wellesley, Massachusetts on Easter Sunday 2007, found in the Journal for Preachers, Easter 2007, pages 15-18.
[iv] The Reverend Dr. Martin B. Copenhaver, a sermon entitled, “Laughter at Easter” based on Matthew 28:1-10 preached at Wellesley Congregational Church, Wellesley, Massachusetts on Easter Sunday 2007, found in the Journal for Preachers, Easter 2007, pages 15-18.
[v] The Reverend Dr. Martin B. Copenhaver, a sermon entitled, “Laughter at Easter” based on Matthew 28:1-10 preached at Wellesley Congregational Church, Wellesley, Massachusetts on Easter Sunday 2007, found in the Journal for Preachers, Easter 2007, pages 15-18.
[vi] The Reverend Dr. Martin B. Copenhaver, a sermon entitled, “Laughter at Easter” based on Matthew 28:1-10 preached at Wellesley Congregational Church, Wellesley, Massachusetts on Easter Sunday 2007, found in the Journal for Preachers, Easter 2007, pages 15-18.
[vii] The Reverend Dr. Martin B. Copenhaver, a sermon entitled, “Laughter at Easter” based on Matthew 28:1-10 preached at Wellesley Congregational Church, Wellesley, Massachusetts on Easter Sunday 2007, found in the Journal for Preachers, Easter 2007, pages 15-18.