"No Foolin'"

I Corinthians 15:1-11; John 20:1-18

Rev. Dr. William L. Hathaway

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Yes it is Easter and April Fool’s day. My – what a combination! So who are the fools this day? Are the fools, as the skeptics think, all who believe in this mystery called resurrection? Is this story of faith, as Marx asserted, the opiate of the people to keep our eyes on heaven and away from the injustices of the earth? Or are the fools those who accept the dark assertion that death is the end of all things; that death and taxes are the only two things we can count on? There are fools in our midst. But who?

The apostle Paul tweaked the imagination of the early believers by speaking of the foolishness of the cross and resurrection. He wrote of being “fools for Christ.” As a modern interpreter pointed out Paul said “fools for Christ” not “damn fools.” There is a difference. Paul asserted the foolishness of believers who claim that joy is found in the Spirit not in the shopping mall and that the success of a person is measured by the depth of their love not the width of their pocket book or the number of unread emails. In our materialistic culture that would be considered a rather foolish assertion.

Yes it is Easter morning, what we call in the church the day of resurrection. And, as the story is told, the mystery of the day is discovered at times in shouts, but more often in tears and confusion or even trembling silence. The news this day is that God has the last word, not death. And, as Bill Coffin loved to say, the good news is that there is more love in God than sin in the world. Regardless if you come today with shouts or with tears, with a blank stare or trembling silence, welcome to the mystery, wonder and power of resurrection. God has the last word …. or might we say this April 1st, the last laugh.

Let’s not beat around the bush. Today we are at the very heart and center of the Christian faith. We do not worship a dead prophet but we gather in the presence of a living Lord. The problem is that some are tempted to claim too much and others too little.

Some want to say too much by claiming that they understand the resurrection or can describe heaven or put a solid hand on the mystery of death and life. Some, from this perspective even claim to know who will be in and who will be out – a rather preposterous notion that is prone to all kinds of abuse. Yet, even a casual reader of the Bible will notice that no one in the Bible even attempts to describe the resurrection. We have descriptions of an empty tomb and accounts of an appearance of the risen Lord, granted with all kinds of confusing and conflicting details, but no one describes the actual resurrection. Like love or passion or commitment, we can speak of the effect but it is hard to get a handle on the actual experience. The Apostle Paul, who claimed an appearance of the risen Lord, akin to the disciples, spoke of the resurrection as a flash of light. All of these early believers experienced something of the presence of God – a risen Lord not just a memory of a dead prophet – and that is about as much as we can say. The Lord lives and Jesus is Lord – that is all …… and that is enough.

Yet, many say too little, particularly the well educated, liberal crowd that tends to be around congregations like ours. It is hard to speak of the resurrection so we leave it alone. Like mystery, wonder, love, fear, passion, desire, doubt, commitment – faith cannot be categorized and evaluated like other aspects of our physical lives so we tend to leave it to the musicians and poets, a minority in the crowd. For the rest, many say too little as if doubt and questions, confusion and tears were not elements of faith.

But this is what I believe and in some way know:

  • God is love and God’s love is everlasting; it cannot be killed.
  • Jesus cannot be held down by church, by dogma, by political oppression, by hate.
  • The good news is that death is not the last word for individuals or for communities.
  • I believe in the resurrection not the resuscitation of a corpse. That is an important and essential difference. The bible describes resurrection as something radically new and different, not the old body up and walking around. Paul described the resurrection as a flash of light.
  • The resurrection is all about the love of God being stronger than the powers of death.

In other words, the God who had the first word has the last word as well. This is what I believe and experience within the church, with you.

Take note. The resurrection, as in every matter of faith, is personal but not private; intimate but not exclusive. The resurrection is communal.

Our Eastern Orthodox friends are very helpful with this. Here in the United States, so enamored with the primacy of the individual, many think that the point of the story is the personal ticket to heaven. Our Orthodox friends remind us that the resurrection is personal but also communal; it is a witness to all of humanity. They show it in their art – their icons. From early Centuries Christ is shown grasping the hand of Adam at the resurrection. By the 12th Century he is pictured clasping the hands of both Adam and Eve, namely, all of humanity. As the Apostle Paul wrote, Christ’s resurrection was the “first fruits of those who have slept.” (See “Resurrection is Communal”, Christian Century, January 31, 2018 by John Dominic Crossan and Sarah Sexton Crossan)

The resurrection of Jesus marks the transformation of life out of death – for all of humanity …..for slaves longing to be freed, women seeking liberation and children longing to be safe. Resurrection is all about the movement from death to life. Its spirit is witnessed in the Me Too movement as women claim the right to be free from abuse. The spirit of resurrection is seen in the marches around the country a Saturday ago as many hundreds of thousands marched for Our Lives, daring to imagine change with the curse of death by guns. The resurrection is personal but not private; it is communal.

Resurrection is always messy and confusing. That is what I love most about the stories from the gospels, particularly John’s account that we read today. The disciples run and Mary Magdalene weeps. Completely upsetting our silly notion that it was easier to understand Jesus in the first Century compared to now, Mary confuses Jesus with the gardener. The resurrection is experienced through tears and in the midst of confusion.

It is an earthy, gritty, tear stained story. The story may come alive in a similar way with you that in the deep place of your own spirit you will hear your own name. “Mary,” he said, and she could see through her tears. Mary. Bob. Chris. Tom. Cathy. Pat. Jesko, Fran.  In the deep, deep place of your own soul may you hear your name and may it radiate through your tears.

John, who is near death, said to me, “I am OK.” And Patricia, in a similar hard place, said, “I am sad but I am not afraid.” Edvy smiled when I spoke of his good fortune and new lease on life, compliments of successful cancer treatment. His name was spoken in a place of great kindness and good fortune. He knows that he has a new lease on life. A young girl who spoke at the DC march last week said, “I can vote in seven years, so watch out, I am coming.” She too heard her name called. A friend stood on the balcony of the Depot in Haiti and said, “You can’t make a trip like this without your life being changed.” Yes, he heard his name called. A woman who recently gave birth revels within the wonder of it all. (How long can you simply stare at the baby!) A man at the Red House said, “I was dead and not I am alive again.”

“Mary,” Jesus said. And everything changed. Deep, deep in your spirit may you hear your name and know that God is calling you from death to life. For that is resurrection …. and I am not fooling.