A Catholic priest and a rabbi were chatting one day when the conversation turned to a discussion about career and promotions. What do you have to look forward to in terms of promotion? asked the rabbi. Well, I could become a bishop, said the priest. What s after that? pressed the rabbi. A little embarrassed because it was unseemly to be ambitious, the priest responded, If I serve well and do a great job as bishop it is possible for me to become archbishop. OK, keep going, replied the rabbi. Exasperated, the priest continued, If it were God s will there is an outside chance I could become a cardinal. What then? the pushy rabbi asked again. Hesitantly, the priest answered, Well, it is virtually impossible, but if I was in all the right places at all the right times I could be elected as Pope. What comes after that? the rabbi asked. Good grief! shouted the priest. What do you expect me to become, GOD? Well, responded the rabbi – – – One of our boys made it!
There is an ancient custom in the church that on Easter Sunday every sermon should start with a little bit of humor. This is called the risus paschalis or the paschal joke. 1 Well, who am I to mess with tradition!
Now there are those who think all of Easter is one big paschal joke. They see it as wishful thinking, the stuff of fairytales, the left over remnants of a primitive religion. And from a certain point of view who can blame them. What we proclaim this morning as truth is almost laughable in a world where there is so much violence and suffering. We say that the tomb is empty, Christ has risen. Many others respond Really? I just don t see it.
My favorite writer Frederick Buechner once said: If the world is sane, then Jesus is mad as a hatter . . .. The world says, Mind you own business, and Jesus says, There is no such thing as your own business. The world says, Follow the wisest course and be a success, and Jesus says, Follow me and be crucified . . .. The world says, Law and order, and Jesus says, Love. The world says, Get and Jesus says, Give. In terms of the world’s sanity, Jesus is crazy as a coot. 2
Buechner is right. If you think about it, our whole faith is opposite from the workings of the world and there are many who would say the joke s on us. Well, let them giggle all they want. I don t care. I ll sing and praise God – all the way to the empty tomb.
You see today is the day when we proclaim that the world has it all backwards. Rome didn t crush a poor itinerant Jewish preacher by nailing him to the cross. Rather God took the crucifixion and transformed that event into the most wondrous good news love triumphs over hate and life is stronger than death. The last laugh is found in the echoes of the empty tomb not in the sound of nails hammered into the cross.
This morning you and I are the inheritors of the news that Christ is risen. You and I are heirs to the joyful truth that with God the last will be first and the lowly will be lifted up. As a result, it is up to you and me to live as Easter people. It is up to you and me to keep pushing against a world where all that matters is power and money. It is up to you and me to keep clearing a little space for the Kingdom of God.
The story is told that a schoolteacher assigned to work with children who were confined to the hospital received a routine request to visit a certain child. The classroom teacher said to the visiting teacher, We are studying nouns and adverbs in class right now. Please focus on that so he won t fall too far behind . When the teacher entered the child s hospital room, she was surprised to discover a young boy badly burned and in a lot of pain. He looked like he was in no condition to learn anything, but now that she was in the room she felt she couldn t just turn around and walk out. So, hesitantly, she stammered out, I m the hospital teacher and Mrs. Jenson has asked me to help you with nouns and adverbs. The next day the teacher ran into a nurse from the burn unit. The nurse asked her, What did you do to that boy in 603? Before she could explain herself, the nurse went on, We ve been so worried about him, but ever since your visit, his whole attitude has changed. He s cooperating. He s fighting to make it. He s responding to treatment. It looks like he s decided to live. When he had recovered, the boy later explained that he d given up hope until that teacher s visit. Everything changed for me, he said. It dawned on me that they wouldn t send somebody to teach me nouns and adverbs if they thought I was going to die. 3
Whether she knew it or not, that teacher was an Easter person because she brought hope to a situation where there seemed to be no reason for hope. You see to be an Easter person is to always shine a little light where there is only darkness, to love those people others consider of little value. To be an Easter person is to live in the light of the resurrection knowing it s the world that actually has everything backwards.
I love Easter Sunday; it is my favorite day of the year. I love all the flowers, the kids in their Easter outfits, the joyful music, the Alleluias we sing and say after the long days of Lent. But if Easter stays confined to this celebration then we really don t get it. Because it isn t enough to just celebrate Easter you have to live it. We have to be that teacher. We have to be an Easter person.
When you care enough to get personally involved with Hurricane Relief; Habitat for Humanity; Peter, Paul Development Center; Freedom House; Sacred Heart; The Children s Center; or many others – then you are an Easter person, you are living Easter. When you can find joy in the mundane everyday activities of life then you are living Easter. When day after day you hang in there with a friend whose life is in turmoil offering them hope and support – then you are living Easter. When you swallow your pride and forgive your spouse when your marriage isn t going well then you are living Easter. When you can stand up at work and do the right thing even when the right thing is anything but profitable then you are living Easter.
Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia! This is the great punch line of God s risus paschalis. It isn t a joke played on anyone but God s good news proclaimed for everyone. Now let s go and be an Easter people! Amen.
1 Martin L. Smith, SSJE, Nativities and Passions, Cowley, 1995, p.155.
2 Frederick Buechner, The Faces of Jesus
3 Journal For Preachers, Easter 2004, p.40