Sunday, April 01, 2018

Easter Sunday

Mark 16
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

To begin, it has to be plausible, something people will believe. And it has to be well-developed, to give the overall sense of being real. But there has to be a giveaway, some element that makes it obvious to someone with a keen eye that this is a hoax.

So, as an example, in 1977 the Guardian published a seven-page travel supplement about San Serriffe, an island nation dominated by two large islands, Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse. That should have been the giveaway. That, or the seemingly accurate map that showed two islands shaped like a semi-colon. But otherwise, it had all the hallmarks of a real holiday destination: Ads by Kodak and Guinness (describing how the freak barley crop of ’56 turned the beer upside-down) and glowing profile of president-for-life General Pica.

Amazingly (or perhaps not amazingly) many people bought it, and the Guardian received several complaints from airlines and travel companies, troubled by customers who refused to believe it was a hoax. Most got it, of course, and some played along, including the reader who sent a letter on behalf of the San Serriffe Liberation Front complaining about the pro-government slant of the supplement.

Sadly, most April Fools’ efforts lack the commitment of the Guardian in 1977. Some are fun—Microsoft promised to release a mobile version of MS-DOS some years back—but designed to be clever rather than truly deceptive. And that seems to be the key: for a moment at least, you need to think “wow, really?” until you discover the truth.

Ironically, celebrating the empty tomb on April 1st tends to highlight all the elements that strain belief. At the end of our reading today, the women tell no one, fearful—we can assume—of not being believed. We get the same reaction from Thomas, forever burdened with the name “Doubting” because he told his friends he wouldn’t believe unless he himself saw the wounds.

And perhaps most tellingly, the end of Matthew’s gospel addresses this issue head-on, describing a plot among the chief priests and the Roman guards (28.11ff) to forge a report that Jesus’ friends retrieved his body in the night, making the whole thing a hoax. “The Passover Plot” (1965) both book and film picks up this notion, casting Jesus as frustrated intellectual who draws in a group of twelve co-conspirators to creates an elaborate plan that includes a staged crucifixion (using the same near-death drug as Romeo and Juliet) and an escaped tomb.

It’s little wonder then that St. Paul gets the last word when he says: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1) And with a rhetorical flourish he continues: “Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”

The resounding answer is “yes.” By framing the entire story in such a way that it beggars belief, God is busy pranking everyone who is committed to the finality of death. “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom,” Paul says, “and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

And the great Tertullian takes it a step further: "The Son of God was crucified: there is no shame, because it is shameful. And the Son of God died: it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd. And, buried, He rose again: it is certain, because impossible." Credo quia absurdum.

Of course, we can’t talk about the absurdity of belief without stumbling into a bit of a conversation about the age in which we find ourselves. Clearly the impulse to label things we are unable or unwilling to believe a conspiracy, a deep-state plot, or simply fake news has been given new life in recent months.

And I don’t think it’s just a failing of the far-right. The success of “weaponized” misinformation on Facebook and other platforms is that we tend to “like” the things that echo our worldview and ignore the things that do not. As someone cleverly pointed out, we’re not the customer in the story, we’re the product—trained to generate and select the content that can then be sold on to others.

That’s enough of that. As I told my preaching students, you have to mix in a little judgment with all that grace, and remind people that we’re all redeemed sinners, we’re all in need of God’s abundant mercy. And right on cue, that takes us back to Paul:

26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

Jesus gather to himself a few fisherman, a tax collector, people with “interesting” backgrounds or no background at all. He started in the Galilee, a backward region in an backward province, among the poorest of the poor, clearly the “least and the last.” He attended to lepers and the demon-possessed, in a contest for most reviled and most ignored.

He taught in parables, tiny riddles of the kingdom that left these followers scratching their heads and arguing amongst themselves. He spoke to everyone, drank with everyone, forgave everyone. And when he died, he didn’t lash out at the people to betrayed him or crucified him, he demonstrated God’s great foolishness by comforting others from the cross. “This day,” he said, “you will be with me in paradise.”

And on that first morning, the day hope was born, he didn’t appear to the governor or the ruling council, or the nobles or the chief priests—he appeared to no one. “He is not here,” the angel said, “he is risen!” And following our theme, he made foolish the men in a patriarchal society by sharing the news first with women—first witnesses to the resurrection.

And it’s here that I want to share a quote from Nadia Bolz-Weber, who gets book title of the year for her recent book called “Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint.” Here is her quote:

"The Christian faith, while wildly misrepresented in so much of [our] culture, is really about death and resurrection. It's about how God continues to reach into the graves we dig for ourselves and pull us out, giving us new life, in ways both dramatic and small."

I think you can see how resurrection—while never a myth—is always a metaphor for the new life that surrounds us. Even in the midst of the most vexing moments, the most troubling times, the most grievous setbacks, God foolishly offers hope. God can do no other. Hope is hardwired into the unfolding of the human story, because it would otherwise be unbearable. Those graves we (as individuals) and we (as a collective) insist on digging for ourselves generate the same type of response: from an empty tomb to sprinkling of baptismal water to the fellowship that surrounds us just now.

Paul said “we are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ.” May your Christ-wisdom lighten your every day, and shine on everyone you meet. Amen.