Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
In the 4th century, the early church fathers coined a phrase, “Risus paschalis,” or the “Easter laugh.” They believed that the Christian Church should laugh at Easter, after all, “God played a practical joke on the Devil by raising Jesus from the dead. “ The ancient scholars added, “The resurrection was God’s supreme joke played on sin and death.” So in that vein, I heard about a young storekeeper whose business was growing so much that he decided to re-locate to a larger building. A friend sent a floral arrangement to celebrate the occasion. When the friend arrived at the grand opening, he was appalled to find that his wreath bore the inscription: “Rest in peace.” Needless to say, he immediately complained to the florist, who apologized profusely. But then, the florist said, “Look on the bright side, think about this: Somewhere in town today, a person is being buried under a wreath that says, ‘Good luck in your new location.’”
For the women who went to the tomb early that first Easter morning, there was no Easter laughter on their lips. These were the women who loved Jesus. They knew his smile, his voice and his walk. They loved him as a son, a brother, and a teacher. Together they had journeyed with him to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, but they became the unsuspecting witnesses to his death. Their hearts were torn as they stood at the foot of the cross and listened to his last words. Darkness had surrounded them and even the fearless Roman soldiers had trembled. The last sight they remembered of that Good Friday was the lifeless body of their beloved Jesus hanging, bloodied on the cross. At nightfall a wealthy follower of Jesus named Joseph of Arimathea came, and removed the body. He wrapped their Master in a linen cloth, and carried him to a new tomb. Their hopes and dreams had faded. They were without hope or joy; and without laughter.
It should be no surprise that the women were startled when they discovered the stone had been rolled away, and that they were perplexed at the sight of two men standing beside them in dazzling apparel. The words of the two men seemed strange, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” Clearly, what the women were doing was a good thing, a caring act. They came to prepare the dead body of their beloved friend and master for burial. But the angels’ words startled them. Of course, they were seeking the dead among the dead.
But then the angels’ word struck them. It was the punch line, “Good luck in your new location.” Yes, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise.” They hadn’t believed Jesus’ word about the resurrection. They didn’t come seeking the living One. But Jesus was not in the tomb. He would be found instead out among the grieving, consoling them; among his disciples, teaching them the ways of peace and forgiveness. And suddenly, the women realized that joy and laughter were beginning to rise from within them once again.
Unfortunately, Jesus’ own disciples refused to believe the testimony of the women. For them the good news of Easter was nothing more than idle talk; nothing more that wishful thinking. Only Peter dared to run out and see what truth was hidden in the tomb. Stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves, and then he remembered, what Jesus had said. As for the others, not even the heavenly messengers in their finest Easter dress could persuade them to believe. Nor did they see anything humorous in the celebratory wreath, “Good Luck in a new location.” They trusted only what their eyes could see and their ears could hear. They were still seeking the dead.
Of course, they are not alone. There are those today who believe the good news of Easter to be nothing more than idle talk. Mind you, they like Jesus the teacher- this beautiful, gentle, kind and caring person. There are others who come to celebrate Easter seeking this Jesus who was crucified. They seek a martyr who healed and taught and died a horrible death. They come to honor him. But they don’t expect to find the living among the dead.
Then there is that surprise- “Good luck in your new location.” While the evangelist St. Luke affirms, as well as the other gospel writers, that the tomb was empty, they also point beyond the grave. The Gospels ground our Christian faith, not on the stone and the linen cloths and the emptiness of the tomb, but on the presence of the risen and living Lord in a new location. You see as Christians, we do not celebrate the power of the cross nor the empty tomb as the source of our joy and laughter, but rather we celebrate the personal encounter with the risen Lord. It is this Jesus that leads us to faith. As Frederick Buechner once wrote, “It is not Jesus’ absence from an empty grave that convinces us, it is his presence in our empty lives.”
This news that Jesus had been raised from the dead filled the women with excitement and awe. For if Jesus played his joke on death and the devil, what other marvelous things could he do for them in life? It is the question we all must ponder this this Easter morning. If Christ has destroyed death- what other marvelous things could he do for you? After all, we all come to the tomb with broken hearts, broken lives, and broken relationships. We all come to the tomb with the hope that life can be different. We have tripped along life’s pathway and our hearts have fallen to the ground, shattering into pieces. But even now Jesus is doing another marvelous thing. He is there waiting to pick you up, to wipe away your tears and to begin to mend your heart, and to fill you again with joy and laughter.
One Sunday morning a minister got up before the congregation to deliver the call to worship, only to discover a problem with the microphone. He tapped it with his hand, blew into it loudly, knocked it a few times on the altar rail, not realizing he had actually turned it on. While fumbling with the switch, he muttered, “There’s something wrong with this thing.” To which the congregation responded, “And also with you.” Ah, the “Risus Paschalis,” an Easter laugh.
My friends, God is preparing a new song of joy and Easter laughter for you even now- even if you still believe it is an idle tale. God’s incredible patience, mercy, and hope, will stoop down with you to pick up the pieces of your life, to learn what there is to learn, and then see what you can make of what is left. It may not be what you imagined; it may not be completely whole, and it may be in a new location. But God is preparing again this Easter to do a marvelous thing for you in your life, so that you too can proclaim, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.