Easter Puts Christ in Plain View

a sermon based on Mark 16:1-8
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on April 5, 2015
by Rev. Scott Elliott

The season of Lent officially ends on Easter Sunday. Since Lent was six weeks long I have decided to tell six Easter jokes for kids and those of us who are still kids at heart.

Why do we paint Easter eggs? Because it’s easier than trying to wallpaper them! (I did not say they were good jokes)

What kind of bunny can’t hop? A chocolate one!

Why did the Easter egg hide? He was a little chicken!

What do you call a rabbit with fleas? Bugs Bunny!

What do you get if you pour boiling water down a rabbit hole? A hot cross bunny.

This last one is actually for some of the older folks: What do you call ten rabbits marching backwards? A receding hareline.

Why would a pastor start an Easter sermon off with jokes? Well . . . ask around . . . I start almost every sermon with humor.  See I agree with the Jewish mystic, Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, who I once heard claim: “Religion without humor is blasphemy.”

Humor is a gift and a blessing from God.  And, I am convinced humor is not only a huge part of our Bible, but it is there (and in the world) as a means by which we can mediate the Divine, help us enter into a Sacred space. Humor can be a Holy tool.

With that in mind, not only do I often put humor in sermons, but today I want to point out that actually the Easter stories in the Bible can be heard to have a layer of intentional humor to them. We do not tend to hear it, but if we listen anew we can find it there.

For instance in the Gospel of John’s famous Easter story the very first Apostle, Mary, shows up outside the tomb and as Jesus talks to her she mistakes her very dear friend and Rabbi – Christ the Lord of all Creation – for a lowly gardener. That’s supposed to be heard as a bit funny at the same time signaling Christ’s presence in others.

Similarly in the Gospel of Luke on Easter two unsuspecting disciples unknowingly chit-chat with Jesus as they stroll with him along the road to Emmaus and even as they sit and begin to eat with him. Then when he breaks bread they recognize him. Christ is surprising people at Easter popping up unrecognized and then “Voila” Christ can be recognized in others.

There’s different sort of Easter humor in the Gospel of Matthew, an earthquake occurs and a glowing angel descends from the sky and rolls back the tombstone in such a terrifying way that the macho heavily armed Roman guards around the tomb are petrified with fear. Amidst this fearful event the angel looks at the women disciples witnessing it all and says “Do not be afraid!” a funny request given the Roman Guards’ knees are still shaking.

In today’s Lectionary reading for Easter we can find some humor too. Three women show up early in the morning to tend to the already entombed body of Jesus. As they approach the tomb it almost comically dawns on them at the last minute that there’s a big old stone they have to move from the tomb. So we hear them say to each other “Who’s going to roll the stone away . . . ?” And then low and behold it’s already moved and when they go inside the tomb Jesus is not there, instead some young chap’s there who startles them further with news that not only is Jesus not there, but that he’s been raised from the dead.

The women react like I am pretty sure most of us would. We are told  they are “overcome with terror and dread [and] they fled the tomb [and] said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.”

The resurrected Jesus, though, is not to be feared, Mark’s community knew this, but could look back and understand the disciples’ mistaken fear and fleeing.  It’s only later that the truth of the Easter resurrection is understood and the early reaction can be smiled at with a knowing understanding.

The Easter story is very strange if we think about it. The story is that Jesus, despite being executed on a Friday, has risen from the dead Easter morning.   Three days of death is ordinarily enough to hold anyone down. That was the experience back then, and it’s been the experience ever since . . . except for the amazing Easter event that we and many around the world are celebrating today.

Somehow, some way, there really was an Easter event. An event where Jesus who was dead, was . . . is . . .  IS experienced as very much alive, to some as a physically reality; to others as a spiritual reality;  to some in the image of Jesus; to some in the image of others and even creation.  The early writers of the story know that any way we consider it this is . . .well . . .  Hard to imagine. The early followers and authors of the Gospels know that this is difficult to believe.

We can even hear in the stories that are told,  a bit of levity, a sort of self-effacing acknowledgment that the story belies ordinary experiences of death. Jesus is dead, so dead, that people who knew him can’t even register they are in his presence . . . and why would they . . .  he’s dead? But, no . . . NO he’s not!

There is, from a human perspective, a sort of “cosmic joke” angle to what is going on. I mean, it’s just not normal. So it’s hard to fathom  . . . Yet, it happened.

The ultimate bottom line to the story is an undeniable truth from a Christian perspective, Jesus lives on in one way or another. Christ is risen!

The cosmic joke may have caught the unsuspecting Jesus followers off guard, but the cosmic joke is not actually on them or on us. The joke is on Rome and elite powers ever since that would try and stop God’s way, the cosmic force, that unceasing call for us to love and to move toward caring, compassion, justice and peace. What we call “The Way,” the path, Jesus taught and practiced and lived out more fully than anyone.

Jesus heard that call so loud and so strong he dedicated his entire being to it. He emptied himself of quests for other things and pursued love with all the gifts and all the opportunities and all the moments that God provided.

Jesus imagined a world where all hurdles the culture put up to love were knocked down and then he lived as if they all were knocked down. For us Jesus was the first great teacher and practitioner of equality.

The shunned became welcomed. EQUALS.

Untouchable lepers became touchable. EQUALS.

Unforgivable-stone-able adulterous convicts became forgivable livable lovable human beings. EQUALS.

Unworthy to the culture children became worthy. EQUALS.

Hated tax collectors became beloved followers. EQUALS.

Demon possessed became love possessed. EQUALS.

Poor beggars became fed and nurtured worthy human beings. EQUALS.

Strangers became friends. EQUALS.

Even enemies became those to love. EQUALS.

A fantastic example of Jesus efforts at knocking down all the hurdles and re-imagining relationships as equal is his meal table.  The common meal practice of his day was turned completely around by Jesus. His invitations were not as tradition of the day dictated – to the elite and connected. His untraditional invitations were to absolutely everyone.  Consequently Jesus’ table is remembered and recorded as having a menagerie of humankind: rich and poor; gentile and Jew; slave and free;  criminal and everyday Joes; men and women; abled and disable; boys and girls; Pharisees, Syrophoenicians; Samaritans; Romans; soldiers; natives; aliens; friend; the loathed; and foes.  All were welcomed to his table . . . and still are.

Jesus imagined the hurdles to human kindness and care were knocked down– and then he set out to live as if they really were. And not just at the table, of course, but in his following and in his ministry and in his love, and in the love of his followers.  And not just some hurdles all of them. ALL. OF. THEM. Even 2,000 years later it is still remarkable . . . still absolutely extraordinary.

In a little while we will re-enact that table with the Lord’s Supper which like Jesus’ original table, is at this church also open to anyone, all the time, no hurdles as to who may partake. To some this seems an unusual Communion table practice because it is so open. To us it is the table practice Jesus started and thanks to the Easter miracle Jesus continues to this day to preside over it. All are invited. All are welcome. All are loved. All matter much to him   . . .  and us.

One of the extraordinary things about Jesus’ living to love and loving all who were – and are–  living, is that whether we think it was God’s intentional or unintentional plan, one way or another that living and loving created a Way to God that has worked to connect millions of people to the Sacred, it’s a way that mediates the Divine, it is a Holy tool.

Process theologian John Cobb refers to that continuing mediation effect by Jesus as the creation of a “field of force” that we can step onto or into.  It’s what I like to think of as portal and opening to God, what my Buddhist friend Joy calls a “dharma gate.” Metaphorically there’s a gate in life we can step through and take a path to better experience God– and dedicate our life to doing as Jesus did . . . TO LIVE TO LOVE.

And it’s not an un-attended opening, this portal this gate! Easter insured that it’s got Jesus as a kinda all-in-one caretaker, teacher, role model, hero, greeter, guide, God-presence and walking-the-path-beside-us- companion for us.  Jesus has an all in one existence. For Christians he is the Christ being who greets and keeps us on the path to God and our own transformative existence.

In fact Jesus’ role for us is so all encompassing that we experience him as God incarnate, Christ. So that on the path, “the Way” he left us, Jesus as Christ can be seen everywhere soaking creation– in sunsets, clouds, ocean waves, family . . . even in one another. (We are going to sing a song in a few minutes that movingly remembers this beautiful truth.)

These experiences of Christ can be occur in voices and images of Christ that speak to our heart, or for some of us Jesus is actually taken in by our own senses in mystical experiences of the very real resurrected person of Jesus.  People, good sane people, have joyfully reported experiencing such sensory encounters ever since that first Easter.  From the Gospel encounters I’ve already enumerated, to the Apostle Paul’s blinding experience on a road right up to some our own post-Easter epiphanies with Jesus. He is really experienced as a living presence. For Christians there is no other way to justly describe that reality.

Some Christians understand Jesus’s body as has having been physically risen from the dead, AND “some Easter stories speak of Jesus in quite physical ways. But others report that he appeared in ways that transcend the physical.” (Marcus Borg. Speaking Christian, p. 110).    One way or the other,  the truth is that there has been an experiential reality of the being-ness of Jesus for over a period of 2,000 years.

Whether he comes to us as a spiritual presence, like he did for Paul, or if he comes to us as a physical presence like he did for Mary and other disciples . . . there’s a real continuing experiential nature to Jesus.

If nothing else all of us – even non-Christians– are affected by the real resonating presence and continuing affect his life has had throughout history.  And I cannot emphasize enough how he, Jesus, as God incarnate (Christ) lives on.  And not just in in the beauty of the world and those on-the-path personas that we Christians turn to for help and comfort and personal transformation, the Christ who holds our hand, answers our prayers, and even appears to us.

See, we cannot forget that for Christians Jesus the Christ also amazingly lives on and appears to us in other human beings as both givers and receivers of love and care and compassion.

Once in that “field of force” which Jesus created and set to vibrating for all time, we begin to see that Christ, God incarnate in all of creation for sure, but most especially in what seems to be one of the hardest places for us to fathom, in other human beings.

In the Bible we can hear this recorded in the recollections of Jesus as providing an Easter-onward presence in the love and comfort and compassion as the unrecognized gardener and and the traveler on the road to Emmaus along with other stories.

Jesus has been and continues to be experienced mystically.  But also in the everyday, in the every-man and every-woman and every-child.

Jesus taught that we can find Christ in the poor and the thirsty and the sick and stranger and the prisoner.  His point was that when we tend to the least among us, we tend to Christ. Others are a very real, very available means of accessing the risen Christ.

The ultimate bottom line to the story is an undeniable truth that Jesus lives on for us. He opened a flood gate of love. He amplified God’s unstoppable way –the cosmic force–that unceasing calls for humankind to love.

Jesus heard that call so loud and so strong he dedicated his entire being to it. He emptied himself of quests for other things and pursued love with all the gifts and opportunities and moments God provided.  He imagined a world where all hurdles put up to love were knocked down and then he lived as if they all were knocked down. He was – and is–  for us the first great teacher and practitioner of equality. His reward . . . our reward, for that life well lived is the resurrection.

Easter remembers the hope and the promise that love cannot die, will not die, and vibrantly lives on and on and on. Easter is a celebration of that. Christianity is supposed to be a day-to-day effort by Jesus’ followers to live into that promise and become a part of the hope as we try to empty ourselves of quests for others things and turn toward pursuit of love with all the gifts and opportunities and moments God provides us.

And Christianity is also about celebrating the presence of God’s incarnation in everything from the lowly among us, to each other, to Christ in all of creation.

One of the beautiful things about stepping onto the “field of force,” of finding the Christian portal to God, is that we can find God in ourselves, in one another, in just being, and in all of creation.  Once in that field of force all you have to do is take a look and open our eyes and miraculously, wonderfully Jesus will show it to you. Because Christ is risen, risen indeed.