April 1, 2018 A Day for Fools
GOSPEL Mark 16:1-7, NET
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought aromatic spices so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, at sunrise, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled back. 5 Then as they went into the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has been raised! He is not here. Look, there is the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples, even Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.”
Christ is risen!
Christ is risen, indeed!
*PSALTER (from Psalm 118)
Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good!
God's faithful love endures forever.
Let all everyone repeat:
“God's faithful love endures forever.”
The Lord is my strength and my song;
he has given me victory.
I will not die; instead, I will live
to tell what the Lord has done.
The stone that the builders rejected
has now become the cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing,
and it is wonderful to see.
This is the day the Lord has made.
We will rejoice and be glad in it.
1 Corinthians 1:18-24, NLT
18 The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. 19 As the Scriptures say,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise
and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.”
20 So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. 21 Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. 22 It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. 23 So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.
24 But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Leader: The Word of the Lord
People: Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE A Day for Fools
I've been intrigued with this year's calendar, that Ash Wednesday started Lent on Valentine's Day and ends as Easter falls on April Fools Day. Lent focussed on the forgiveness we need from God, and that forgiveness is poured out of God's abundant self-giving love. Jesus was God's valentine sent to our world, to show us how much God loves us. It's a gift even better than roses or chocolate! Jesus is the gift of love straight from the heart of God.
Now here we are celebrating Easter on April Fool's Day. I find it appropriate, since Jesus' resurrection took many people by surprise. I find myself wanting to say to those who sent Jesus to the cross, to Caiphas and his cronies, to Herod and to Pilate, Ha! You thought you killed him, well think again! God is much, much stronger than death!
Now, hear me well. I totally believe that the cross accomplished what Jesus' enemies intended, that Jesus was indeed dead to this world. I believe that it was the sinfulness of humankind that sent him to that death. It wasn't just Caiphais' jealousy or Herod's arrogance or Pilate's complicity that sent Jesus to the cross. It was my own pride and laziness, my own indulgence and my own squandering of resources, my own fears and frustrations, my own words and actions that Jesus took to the cross, as well as the sins of the whole world, every human of every culture of every time. We are the reason Jesus went to his death on that cross.
But better than any April Fool's joke ever, the great blessed surprise of Easter is that death doesn't win. Sin doesn't win! Jesus took our sin to the cross, forgave us from the cross, and then after letting us wrestle with those consequences and that loss, when we go to the tomb with the women in our Gospel lesson, Jesus isn't there! No one stole the body; it was well sealed and guarded. No, God came and reclaimed his Son. Jesus lives! That's the great good news of Easter.
Even the sin of all humanity could not hold Jesus in a grave. Jesus lives again to fulfill the promises he made to his disciples at the last supper, to go and prepare a place for us to live with him in eternity, to send the Holy Spirit to empower and guide us while we yet live on earth. Easter is filled with promise for this life and the next!
As Paul wrote, the cross seems foolish to those who do not believe. From that perspective many ask why we call that Friday Good. They wonder why we wear a cross or display them everywhere. I mean people don't decorate with other forms of capital punishment. To those who don't believe, that's all the cross is, the cruelest method ever devised to execute someone sentenced to death. It seems foolish then that we are so fond of that particular shape, the cross. But perhaps those who don't understand don't look at the whole story.
For those who believe that Jesus is the Christ, that Jesus was indeed God come to earth, we see the cross not only in the form of a crucifix with Jesus' body hanging there to die. We also see the cross empty, representing the tomb that was empty. We see not only the death. We see the resurrection, life beyond death. This is something that cannot be seen by the logic of human wisdom, it is only recognized through the eyes of faith, when we surrender our human ways of thinking and choose to trust God.
As we reflect on the foolishness of the cross and what God calls us to do and be with that gift of life, let me borrow from an article I read in Ministry Matters this week by Rev. Kira Schlesinger, an Episcopal priest. As we celebrate Easter on April Fool's Day, she looks at the role of a fool in another era, the jester.
"As the lowliest member of the court, the jester could make political observations and judgments that would land a higher nobleman in jail. In the Middle Ages, Death was often portrayed in jester’s garb as one who has the last laugh and who humbles everyone regardless of standing, just as the jesters made fun of everyone.
In our celebration of Easter, in our encounter with the empty tomb, in our experience of the Risen Christ, we know that Death does not get the last laugh. If anyone plays the fool or the jester, it is Jesus. By his silence in front of Pontius Pilate, he reveals the kangaroo court for the sham that it is. By his submission to violence, torture, and death on a cross, he reveals these things as ultimately powerless. In spite of his lowly social standing, Jesus calls to account the religious and political authorities of his day." (Ministry Matters, online article)
As we remember Jesus death and resurrection each year, we are reminded of these promises that death doesn't get that last laugh, but Rev. Schlesinger's commentary also reminds me that before we get to enjoy that promise, all of Jesus' teachings during his life hold me accountable for how God wants me to live my life.
One of the concepts I appreciated out of a book I read recently by Sharon Baker was the strong reminder not to look at just the cross or just the resurrection. There was much more to Jesus' life and mission than Good Friday and Easter, though they are indeed significant. It is important to see and reflect on Jesus' life, death and resurrection in one piece as one whole story.
As we consider the cross and the empty tomb, we need to remember all that Jesus taught during his life and ministry. We need to recall what Jesus said about justice and love, about serving and mercy, about caring for those in need, about the proper place of law and ritual, about what it means to live as a citizen of God's kingdom, about the importance of faith. Go back and read through one of the Gospels this year and learn again how Jesus wants us to live. Look at the people Jesus befriended, the sinners, the despised, those others wanted to avoid. Look at the people Jesus healed, those with infirmities and diseases who had the faith to dare to reach out to him or those whose friends or family believed enough to seek Jesus' help. Look at Jesus' patience and kindness and goodness, and ask Jesus every day to help you live like that.
As you look again at the cross, today clothed in white, remember what it looked like with the purple cloth of repentance through Lent or the crown of thorns on Good Friday. Reflect on the cruelty and injustice that sent Jesus there, the sinful nature of human kind that nailed an innocent man to an instrument of death, and hear Jesus say to them and to us, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing." Hearing that from there, how can we not choose to do our best with Jesus' help to walk away from sin and live better lives. As Baker writes in her book,
The cross symbolizes divine love, the revelation of God's love for us and for all creation. The extravagant depth of divine love led Jesus to the cross as a willing sacrifice of love. In fact, the cross enables us to understand the extent of God's love and inspires us to love God in return.
Jesus did not die in order to win God's love for us, but to win us over with God's love. God's love went to the limit for us, dove into the depths of the human condition, suffered the consequences of our sin by dying a terrible death as an innocent man. And in the midst of that suffering love, Jesus revealed the greatest love [of] all--forgiving his enemies and praying to God to do the same. (Sharon Baker, Executing God: Rethinking Everything You've Been Taught about Salvation and the Cross, p. 147)
As you consider again the empty tomb. know that our invitation to live forever with God has been opened up to us through the cross, through forgiveness, through love. In this life and the next, our covenant God promises to be with us. This is the precious gift of God's love. This is why we sing "Alleluia!" This is why we celebrate Eastertide.
Every year, nature repeats the message to us. Dead trees form buds that will blossom and bear fruit. The grass will green and grow. Bulbs will yield flowers. Hatchlings will chirp as they break forth from their eggs. Butterflies will stretch their wings formed in cocoons. They remind us that death need only be a period of dormancy. God has promised and proven that new life can come after death. This is the hope, the promise which makes a believer smile even as we face the worst life or death can deal us. This is why we can start each day afresh to live for God with Jesus as our example and the Holy Spirit to guide and sustain us. This is the life God offers to us!
(Many of today's ideas come from Total Forgiveness by R. T. Kendall.
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