Sermon for Easter Sunday -
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer. -
This morning, I want to invite you to travel with me back in time, to the time of the Roman Empire to a land called Palestine to a gruesome incident of capital punishment, one which may have seemed inconsequential at the time.
The Roman Empire has just executed a peasant with an attitude, a peasant who refused to pledge allegiance to the Empire, refused to regard Caesar as a god.
From Rome's perspective, this peasant's death was inconsequential and matter of fact. It was routine. There are really no historical records to speak of. Other than the hand-me down stories told by his little band of followers, there is no record that in killing Jesus of Nazareth Rome had wrestled down a mighty insurrection.
The Jesus movement, it wasn't mighty. It wasn't large - it was tiny. Nor by any stretch of the imagination, was it an insurrection, an uprising, insurgency or rebellion. It was nothing like that.
Jesus and his tiny band of followers, these were no armed terrorists plotting a takeover. They planned no kidnappings, no taking of hostages, no assassination of heads of state.
They carried no weapons. They laid out no strategy. They had no plot to overthrow the powers that were. What's more, they had no manifesto. Well, except maybe this: to love one another.
No, from the perspective of the Roman Empire, the death of Jesus was inconsequential. A small cog in the vast and mighty machinery of the Roman Empire executed a peasant who had a weakness for love. But as far as Rome goes, the execution was not worth recording or reporting.
The Rev. Dr. Nancy Taylor suggests that this is the set up, so to speak, for Easter, and for Easter as comedy, a joke, the supreme joke in all the world and the last and best laugh ever.
And, here is the joke...in fact, here's the first of two Easter jokes:
The first Easter joke is on death. Death, far mightier even than the mighty Roman Empire; death, which always gets the last word and the last laugh. Death is made a laughing stock by Easter. In the Easter story it is Life that gets the last word and the last laugh. In the Easter story the joke is on Death and Death is silenced. Death is rendered impotent. In Jesus, Death meets its match and then some.
So that's the first joke, the joke on Death.
And here's the second joke. Dr. Taylor suggests that perhaps the best way to illustrate this second joke is to note what did not happen on Friday, what failed to occur this past Friday. Good Friday. What fails to happen every Good Friday.
On Good Friday the vast and mighty machinery of the New York Stock Exchange failed to rally itself into business. On Good Friday the stock market, the “engine,” so to speak, of US and global capitalism, was closed. It was closed in deference to a Palestinian peasant, an itinerant preacher who lived over 2000 years ago, among whose most memorable teachings is this: Do not store up treasures here on earth where moths eat them and rust destroys them and where thieves break in and steal … but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.
This is a pretty big deal. Not much closes down the New York Stock Exchange. It was closed briefly after the 9/11 attacks and has closed for huge snow storms. Not much else. But, on this Easter Sunday morning The New York Stock Exchange is frozen, suspended in time, exactly as it was 4 p.m. last Thursday.
This extraordinary annual three-day closure of the mighty and massive machinery of the stock market is in deference to Jesus of Nazareth.
With this in mind, Dr. Taylor has some fun imagining what happens up in heaven on every single Good Friday.
Taylor imagines that on the morning of Good Friday, Jesus' family and friends all gather together...Mary and Joseph, James and John, Peter and Paul, Lazarus and Martha and Mary, and Bartimaeus and Nicodemus, and Zacchaeus--all of them. Taylor imagines they're all together in heaven on the morning of Good Friday; and at 9:29 a.m. precisely, Eastern Standard Time, New York time, they grow silent. All the saints in heaven grow silent. Heads cocked, ears straining to hear, they listen for the opening bell. And when the clock reaches 9:31 a.m. and the opening bell hasn't sounded, Taylor imagines the friends and followers of Jesus and all the saints in heaven erupting into peals of uncontrollable laughter...bent over, stomach-aching, rolling-in-the-cloud laughter. A laughter of absolute and utter incredulity at the power and reach of Jesus and his teachings.
Laughter: Eugene O'Neill, great American playwright and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, wrote a play called Lazarus Laughed. The play tells the story of Lazarus after Jesus brought him back from death. As Lazarus is the first person to return from the realm of the dead, people want to hear from him, to hear his story. They want to know, "What was it like, Lazarus?"
In his post-death life, Lazarus does have things to say. Among them, he tells people there is no death. But more than what he says, it is what he does that convinces people. Lazarus laughs. He laughs at everything, even death. And the more Lazarus laughs, the younger and stronger he becomes.
In the book of Ecclesiastes the author writes:
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build up,
a time to weep and a time to laugh.
My friends, Easter Sunday is a time to laugh. It is a time to laugh at Death, a time to laugh at earthly power. Because in the end, here's the thing. In the end, the joke's on them. In the end, God wins. In the end, no matter what, no matter what happens, no matter what you are facing, in the end, my friends, death is dead, and God's got your back.
Christ is Risen!
Christ is Risen Indeed!
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Easter – the Best Joke Ever
Sermon for Easter Sunday
Written by Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer.
March 27, 2016
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica, California