Sunday, April 23, 2017

Not the Same Anymore: The Last Laugh

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. For David says concerning him,
‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope.For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption.You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’“Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, ‘He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.’This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.
(Acts 2:14a, 22-32, NRSV)

Grace and peace from God, our Father, and from our resurrected Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Welcome to Holy Hilarity Sunday!

Celebrating laughter and joy on this second Sunday of Easter is actually a long and very rich tradition in the church. There is quite a history of congregations celebrating this day, sharing jokes and fun stories, and engaging in pranks on each other.

The tradition arises from early theologians, where they reflected on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead as a huge practical joke that God played on Satan. They called it the risus paschalis, meaning the Easter laugh.

So, today, it seems especially appropriate for us to laugh and to have fun. To celebrate the pure joy of Easter in a fun way the week after we’ve celebrated it in a glorious way. To mix faith and humor and to stir them both deeply into our lives so that we might live more fully into being and sharing ourselves as joyful people of the resurrection.

This wasn’t always the case. This being joyful people of the resurrection. In those first hours and days after Jesus’ resurrection, even after Mary Magdalene had announced to the disciples that she had seen the Lord, laughter and joy and poking fun wasn’t necessarily on the minds of Jesus’ followers. They were afraid. They had gathered together in fear, not sure what would the authorities might do to them as possible accomplices to Jesus, this enemy of the state.

And, then, one can only wonder at what must have a level of bewilderment and disbelief and, yes, still fear, after hearing Mary’s announcement. Not knowing entirely what was happening. And whether what Mary told them was, in fact, true.

So, they continued to hide in fear behind locked doors.

It is there, in their fear and in their darkness, that Jesus seeks them out and meets them. Exactly where they are. Offering peace in place of fear. Offering assurance in the midst of their doubt.

It is at that point, after Mary’s witness to them and after they finally experience Jesus themselves that they, too, could fully experience joy.

But that wasn’t all there was to be. Because, it was at this point--after they had experienced the living and resurrected Jesus--that he sent them out on a mission. It is noted in our John text. It is also the story that precedes our text in Acts.

Did you hear that in both the John and Acts readings? That, before Jesus sent them out, he breathed into them the Holy Spirit?

It may seem weird to hear this at this point. Usually, from a liturgical standpoint, we reserve the outpouring (or inbreathing) of the Holy Spirit for Pentecost. And, yet, here we have it on the second Sunday of Easter--in our first reading, which is an extension of Peter’s sermon after the events of the Pentecost, after the Spirit has been poured out on the disciples gathered together, waiting. After they have begun to speak in the native languages of those listening. Even after those very listeners have begun to question the disciples’ legitimacy.
It is at this point that Peter stands up. And, just like Mary did, he witnesses. He connects the dots for them. He tells them everything that has happened and helps them to more fully understand what this means. That everything that has happened has been part of God’s plan. It’s not a second chance or God’s Plan B. It has been what God has intended for all time. That God would send God’s Son, proving to them through miracles and wonders and signs who Jesus was. That God knew that Jesus would be crucified. That God would raise him up. That God would free him from the “pain” of death. (This is the best translation for this phrase. And that the word used for pain is the same word associated with the pain of childbirth.) God would free Jesus from the “pain” of death by raising him up. It’s almost as though God was birthing a new world. Turning the world upside down. Is it any wonder then, if you remember our resurrection story from last week, that it began with an earthquake?

With Christ’s resurrection, God disrupts the world.  It is not the same anymore.

This is what happens when God disturbs business as usual. Nothing is the same anymore. This is what the gospel does. It tells the story of God bringing something new into being, something that challenges the “world,” the way things are. It is the same disruption that happens when the Gospel is preached. When we, just like Mary and Peter, witness to the Good News. Because it is then that Jesus appears and is experienced and nothing is the same anymore.

Over these weeks of Easter, this is what we will be looking at. Each week for six weeks, we will be looking at the Acts texts, which during Easter, will replace in our readings that from the Hebrew scripture. We will see how, in hindsight, God’s people witness how God disrupts the world. How God intrudes. We will see what it means for Jesus’ followers and for us to share this witness. We will watch and learn right along with those characters who inhabit the pages of Acts. That second half of the Luke gospel that begins by fixing all of our attention and expectation upon God, even as we see that people will also play a part in God’s objectives. We will see how they respond, as people who watch for God’s lead. Not as puppets, but as God’s agents, prompted to tell what they have seen. To report and to share evidence of the new realities that God has brought about through Jesus. New realities that are rooted in the past, that exist in present realities, and that connect us to the future by pointing toward the salvation that God will ultimately accomplish.

And, perhaps, just perhaps, in our listening and learning, we, here at Grace and Glory, might discover--or rediscover--the availability of God’s salvation or God’s commitment to renew and restore right here in Goshen, Kentucky. That we might see, in our midst, our resurrected Lord present, welcoming us into a new life, a resurrected life. A life of joy and laughter, a life of love and freedom, a life of peace and wholeness, a life together with him as part of the body of Christ.

That is the reality of our experience of a salvation from a disruptive God, for whom, with the resurrection nothing will ever be the same anymore. That is the basis for our joy. That is the basis for our laughter. That is why we celebrate Holy Hilarity Sunday.

And that is why we, and not death or the devil, have the last laugh.


Preached April 23, 2017, at Grace and Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY
Second Sunday of Easter
Readings: Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

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