Sermon for Easter 2 -
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer. -
Last year I shared with you that the Sunday after Easter traditionally has been called “Holy Hilarity Sunday.” Many American churches have “resurrected” this Easter custom begun by the Greeks in the early centuries of Christianity. "Holy Humor Sunday" celebrates Jesus' resurrection with humor on the Sunday after Easter.
For centuries in Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant countries, the week following Easter Sunday, including what was called "Bright Sunday" (the Sunday after Easter), was observed by the faithful as "days of joy and laughter" with parties and picnics to celebrate Jesus' resurrection. Churchgoers and pastors played practical jokes on each other, drenched each other with water, told jokes, sang, and danced. The custom was rooted in the musings of early church theologians (like Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom) that God played a practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. "Risus paschalis - the Easter laugh," the early theologians called it.
I thought you all would not mind if we celebrated “Holy Hilarity Sunday” again this year with a few stories and some Biblical reflection.
First, a story from my first congregation:
My first call was at Holy Trinity Memorial Lutheran Church in Catasauqua, Pennsylvania, just north of Allentown. Kris and I had a wonderful seven plus years serving there.
Holy Trinity’s sanctuary was not air conditioned and, despite its stone construction, it got very hot in the summer months during worship, especially in the chancel area where there were no windows. After one particularly warm Sunday, I realized that I could take off my pants under my alb during worship. Since my alb was long and full, no one would know or see anything and I would be cooler.
So, the next Sunday, I took off my pants, folded them neatly on the table in the sacristy and put on my alb. And I was more comfortable during a very warm worship service.
And the service seemed to go exceptionally well – I noticed that everyone seemed to be smiling when they came to the communion rail for the sacrament.
Yeah, everyone was smiling. Because I had forgotten that to get to the communion rail, EVERYONE had to go through the sacristy. Everyone had seen my pants neatly folded on the sacristry table and knew my secret! Well, of course, it was no secret! No wonder everyone was smiling!
Here’s a story about preachers, and bus drivers: St. Peter was giving someone a tour of heaven and they passed by a great mansion. “Who lives there,” asked someone on the tour. “A bus driver,” said St. Peter. Next, the tour group passes a tiny shack. Again, someone on the tour asks, “Now who lives there?” “A preacher,” St. Peter responds. This does not sit well with folks on the tour, so they ask St. Peter, “How come a bus driver gets a mansion and a preacher gets a tiny little shack?” St. Peter responds, “Well, you need to understand, in life whenever this preacher preached, folks fell asleep, but whenever that bus driver drove his bus, everyone prayed!”
St. Peter was giving a tour for new arrivals in heaven. Along the way, St. Peter pointed out, “This door is where the Baptists are, this door is for the Catholics, etc.” Then, as they passed another door, St. Peter asked the group, “Please be quiet as we pass this door.” Someone in the group asked why? St. Peter replied, “that is where the Lutherans are and they think they are the only folks here!”
And, another pastor story: “A hot air balloon was floating over the Iowa countryside when suddenly the people onboard realized they were lost. Below them they saw two people walking along a road so they lowered the balloon close enough to the ground to yell out to them. “Do you know where we are?” asked the balloonist to those on the ground. One of the two folks on the ground looked up and yelled back, “You are up in a balloon, in the air!” And with that, the wind caught the balloon and they sailed back into the sky.
A little later, after getting back on track, the balloonist told the passengers, “That person on the ground, he was a Lutheran pastor.” “How do you know that?” asked the passengers.” “Well,” said the balloonist, “two reasons. First, what he said was absolutely true and, second, what he said was not helpful at all!”
During a children’s sermon, a pastor asked the kids, “What is small and furry and has a long tail?” A little girl raised her hand and said, “I know the answer is supposed to be Jesus, but it sure sounds like a squirrel to me!”
And another children’s sermon story: A pastor was asking the children if they knew what Easter was about. One child responded, “Easter, that’s when the whole family comes together for a barbeque and we shoot off fireworks and celebrate American independence.” “No,” said the pastor, “that is July 4th.” Another child piped up, “Easter, that’s when Santa comes down the chimney with presents!” “No,” said the pastor, “that’s Christmas.” Finally, another child raised her hand. The pastor was worried at what she might hear next. “Easter,” said the child,” that’s when Jesus rose from the dead and came out of the tomb.” The pastor was overjoyed, until the child added, “And then he sees his shadow and goes back into the tomb and there was six more weeks of winter!”
Finally, what happens if you cross a Lutheran with a Jehovah’s Witness? Someone who knocks on your door and doesn’t say anything! Or, someone who knocks on your door, doesn’t say anything and hands you a covered dish!
Easter – God’s joke on the devil, God’s triumph over human sin and evil. Something to celebrate and even laugh about.
Think of how incredible it all sounds – Jesus was cruelty killed. He wasn’t asleep or in a coma. He was tortured and then he died, probably by suffocation from hanging on the cross. He was dead for a couple of days. His disciples fled and went into hiding, fearing for their own lives. It certainly appeared that the devil, evil, human sinfulness, had won. But, God had other plans. God raised Jesus from the dead and, through Jesus, promised eternal life with God for all who believed.
Now, that is pretty absurd when you think about it! A dead man alive. A promise of eternal life. Absurd. Even hilarious.
Which is probably why John wrote the words we read in today’s gospel lesson, often called the “Doubting Thomas” story. Writing some years after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, John and his followers knew that some would view Jesus’ resurrection as absurd. So, John shared today’s gospel text: Jesus appeared to his disciples on Easter Sunday evening. He was there, in the flesh, so to speak. The disciples could all see Jesus, alive.
But one disciple missed this first gathering. Thomas. And Thomas had his doubts. Who wouldn’t? The disciples and the women had told him an incredible story: the empty tomb, the Jesus sightings, Jesus’ appearance with the other disciples that evening. Not buying it, said Thomas. I want to see for myself.
We often say “seeing is believing” or “show me proof.” Especially in this day of internet rumors and lies, it is easy to understand why Thomas did not just accept what the others had told him, but wanted to see for himself. Then I will believe, said Thomas.
One week later, Jesus came to the gathered disciples again. This time Thomas was present. He saw. He believed. Jesus used Thomas’ “show me the money” attitude to make a point, a point not lost of the gospel writers who are writing for those who had never seen Jesus in the flesh, “Blessed on those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
That is you and me, my friends. We, you and I, believe this incredible, hilarious even, story, that God allowed his only Son to be put to death and then raised Jesus from the dead to make a promise to all of humankind! We believe this story because we have been taught it. But, perhaps most importantly, we believe this story because we have lived it. The bottom line, so to speak, is that this story makes sense for our lives, this story makes sense of our lives. This story proves once and for all times God’s love for humankind and God’s promise of salvation.
We cannot prove Christ’s resurrection historically or scientifically. Yet, we know it to be true. Our lives provide the proof. We have the witness of the disciples, of the Gospel writers, of generations of Christians who have gone before us. Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!
Remember that old joke about how many Lutherans it takes to change a lightbulb? The quick response is “None, because Lutherans don’t change!”
That may be funny, but also untrue when it comes to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We have all been changed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Changed, if we only accept this gift and promise, changed into a people of hope and promise and love.
Easter: God has played a tremendous practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead.
Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed, alleluia!
Believe it. Live it.
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Sermon for Easter 2
Written by Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer.
April 11/12, 2015
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica, California