Sunday’s sermon: The Greatest April Fool’s Joke Ever

Easter April Fools

Texts used – Mark 16:1-8; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

  • Christ is Risen, He is Risen indeed! Alleluia! Happy Easter! No sermon today! [PAUSE] April Fools’!! (Hey, my other option for an April Fool’s joke this morning was to fake labor, so count your blessings, people!) Yes, today is Easter: a day to celebrate Christ’s resurrection and God’s triumph over death for all time – an empty tomb, a risen Lord, and a gospel quite literally come alive. And yes, today is also April Fool’s day: a day to celebrate laughter and fun and good-natured pranks – silly jokes, fool’s errands, and a little frivolity. And I have to tell you that these two holidays landing on the same day – which hasn’t happened in more than 60 years – was just too good an opportunity to pass up. Because while they may seem unrelated on the surface, Easter and April Fools’ Day have a lot more in common than we may think.
  • History of April Fools’ Day = somewhat uncertain
    • Some think it started in France back in the late 1500s when the date of New Year’s was moved from Apr. 1 to Jan. 1 → those who were slow to hear about/pick up on the change were teased about being foolish that they were still celebrating the new year on the wrong date
    • Could also be linked to ancient Roman festival of Hilaria celebrated at the end of Mar. during which people dressed up in disguises
    • Started growing in popularity in England/Scotland back in the 1700s with typical practical jokes and pranks
      • E.g., Scotland: “Gowkie Day” for “gowk” = cuckoo or a fool – people are sent on phony, fool’s errands
  • And if we really think about it, our gospel passage this morning reads more like an April Fools’ tale than anything.
    • Basic outline
      • Women head to Jesus’ tomb after the Sabbath to anoint his dead body with the culturally-appropriate spices
      • Get to what was supposed to be a sealed tomb only to find that giant stone at the entrance rolled away
      • Enter the tomb → find a “young man” in a white robe who tells them, “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He isn’t here. Look, here’s the place where they laid him. Go, tell his disciples, especially Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.”[1]
      • Women’s response: Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.[2]  → And friends, as far as scholars can tell, that is where Mark originally ended his gospel! No tender, sunrise reunion in the garden. No joyful declaration of a risen Christ to the disciples. No appearance of the resurrected Jesus whatsoever. It’s an ending that is as immediate and abrupt as the rest of Mark’s storytelling and delivery throughout the rest of the gospel. The women are terrified. They run. And they tell … no one.
        • In Bible: 3 separate endings to the gospel of Mark
          • 1st and most ancient (therefore most authentic) = where we ended our reading today
          • “The Shorter Ending of Mark”: They promptly reported all of the young man’s instructions to those who were with Peter. Afterward, through the work of his disciples, Jesus sent out, from the east to the west, the sacred and undying message of eternal salvation.
            • Pretty clearly a later addition to the gospel → doesn’t match the rest of Mark in either writing style or understanding of who Jesus is
            • Sort of a “just kidding” ending: “They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid … EXCEPT THAT they promptly reported all of the young man’s instructions to those who were with Peter.” → definitely feels like an “April Fools’!” sort of ending
          • “The Longer Ending of Mark” = 9 more verses that speak of the resurrected Jesus appearing to Mary, then to two more disciples “as they were walking into the country” (sound like the road to Emmaus, anyone?), then to the rest of the disciples, and finally finishes with a sending commandment: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the good news to every creature.”[3]  → Scholars agree that this longer ending was probably written and added sometime during the 2nd century – more than 100 yrs. after the gospel itself was written – because it draws on themes and stories from some of the other gospels.
    • In truth, the ending of Mark’s gospel reads a lot like an April Fools’ story: a young man in a white robe sending these poor, stunned, frightened women on a fool’s errand to spread the news about a resurrected Rabbi that no one has even seen! Of course they’re going to run away! Of course they’re going to keep their mouths shut and not tell anyone! Why would anyone believe their wholly implausible tale? They probably didn’t even believe it themselves right away … and they were there!
  • But the foolishness of Easter goes beyond the absurd and incredulous nature of the events of that morning. Of course we now believe this unbelievable tale because it is the basis of our faith – that God resurrected Christ from the dead in order to bring us new and everlasting life through the gift of grace. But the whole premise of that is foolishness as well, isn’t it? Death is supposed to be permanent, undeniable, “written in stone.” And yet, on that first Easter morning, death did not have the last word. God stole the punchline away from an eternity of darkness and uncertainty, instead offering grace upon grace and a place in the eternal Kingdom. God offered light in the face of darkness. God offered hope. God offered resurrection.
    • Back in Feb., when Ash Wed. also fell on Valentine’s Day, began monthly newsletter article with definition of “irony”: a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result → By this definition, I think we could call the whole idea of resurrection and the whole Easter story irony in the extreme! A resurrected Jesus is definitely an event deliberately contrary to what was expected, and is, frankly, pretty darn amusing.
    • Paul proclaims this in our NT passage for today – just how foolish faith is and yet how God works wonders in even the most inconceivable foolishness: The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed. But it is the power of God for those of us who are being saved. It is written in Scripture: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will reject the intelligence of the intelligent. Where are the wise? Where are the legal experts? Where are today’s debaters? Hasn’t God made the wisdom of the world foolish? In God’s wisdom, he determined that the world wouldn’t come to know him through its wisdom. Instead, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of preaching. Jews ask for signs, and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, which is a scandal to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. But to those who are called – both Jews and Greeks – Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom. This is because the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.[4]
      • Additional, later endings of Mark’s gospel = perfect illustrations of this → human “wisdom” trying to come up with a better ending to the story … as if God’s ending wasn’t good enough
        • Scholar: The story of Jesus does not end with his death. God has done something new, something unheard of to this point. The crucified one is now the risen one, but risen to a new life, rather than simply to more of the same life. … A sense of incompleteness to the story clearly reflects the truth that it is God who is at work. God is not done with the Christian community yet.[5]
    • Sometimes – often times! – we as humans take ourselves too seriously. We look for the downfall and the destruction and the signs of death all around us – in our relationships, in our jobs, in our society, in our environment, in everything! – but we forget that we are not the be-all-end-all. We forget that our knowledge, our understanding, our “wisdom” pales in comparison to that of the God who created us – that even God’s foolishness is wiser than our very wisest moments, even God’s weakness is stronger than our strongest days. We forget that God is indeed a resurrection God – a God who was not and is not finished yet in this world. And in the face of that unbelievable and yet undeniable truth, we forget to keep our eyes and our expectations open to those flashes of God still at work in the world and the people around us.
      • Resurrection = perfect example of this → God took something as final and cold and barren as death and turned it on its head with the resurrection
        • Resurrection = filled with light
        • Resurrection = dynamic (energy and movement and commotion)
        • Resurrection = not the end of the story but a whole new beginning
  • And having Easter – this day of ultimate resurrection, the day in which God triumphed over sin and death for all time – having this high holy day land on April Fool’s Day, a day of practical jokes and hoaxes, is all too poignant. The tomb that was supposed to contain the broken body of the conquered and humiliated Teacher instead contained only empty grave clothes. Not even the greatest ironic writers and satirists today could have come up with a more staggering, more meaningful, more emphatic twist.
    • Also why having our Gospel reading on this Easter morning be Mark’s strange and seemingly-incomplete end to Jesus’ story is so perfect – scholar: The words with which Mark ends – [“Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid”] – are the necessary beginning point for any Easter proclamation. They express awe at what God has done in this life and death of Jesus. … [The women’s] silence is not a failed or inadequate response. Silence is a wholly appropriate response, because the women’s silence creates a space for the voice and presence of God to resound. … The women’s restraint and Mark’s parallel restraint in recounting the Easter story combine to allow a moment of holy awe for the reader of the Gospel.[6]  → So on this day, let us celebrate the ultimate, awe-inspiring, faith-forming foolishness of the resurrection. Let us bask in the unbridled joy of a Savior who has pulled the ultimate prank on death. Let us recognize the holy and the sacred in the midst of the absurd and the unpredictable. And let us be open to the possibility and grace of unexpected endings because in those moments of apparent imperfection, God is truly doing something new. Alleluia! Amen.

[1] Mk 16:6-7.

[2] Mk 16:8.

[3] Mk 16:15.

[4] 1 Cor 1:18-25

[5] Nelson Rivera. “Mark 16:1-8 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: Mark. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 532, 534.

[6] Gail R. O’Day. “Easter Vigil – Mark 16:1-8 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year B, vol. 2. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 355, 357.