Sermon on John 20:1-18
Pastor Timothy A. Wheatley
Evangelical Lutheran Church, Cokato MN


John 20:1-18 RSV
1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Mag'dalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." 3 Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb. 4 They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; 5 and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, 7 and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes. 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." 14 Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." 16 Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rab-bo'ni!" (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, "Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." 18 Mary Mag'dalene went and said to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

 

Alleluia Christ Is Risen! Palm branch cross lily - Celebrate

He is risen indeed Aleluia!

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,

            Today is April Fool’s Day which is odd. The last time that Easter was on April Fool’s Day was 1956.  April 1st is a day when I am careful about anything I read or hear, after all it is the one day a year when we can apparently lie or deceive each other without any sort of consequence.  Last year for example Burger King announced that they were going to make Whopper flavored cologne.  I have to be honest and say that anything that is told to me today is suspect. 

Reading the Gospel text on April 1st sounds a bit different.  There are many things in here that could be used as an April Fool’s Day trick.  For example, imagine you were Peter—here Mary is with an unbelievable story about Jesus’ body being gone from his tomb. Then when you and John actually arrive at the tomb, John (the disciple whom Jesus loved) won’t go in until Peter goes in first?  What a way to get pranked, you know that when you have to do something first on April 1 you are being set up. 

            Of course the biggest set up seems to be on Mary, She finds the empty tomb early in the morning and runs to get her friends.  They check it out, and then for some reason just leave her alone there.  After the other witnesses are gone two men in white show up.  Mary looks around and then Jesus himself greets her—but of course she doesn’t recognize him. We know the reason she doesn’t recognize him is because he is in his heavenly body. But if this was a prank it would be because he was a in costume.  Mary actually talks to him and asks him where his own body is.  What a great prank that would be!  Except it is not a prank on Mary, she is just so blinded by Jesus’ death that she cannot possibly grasp the truth. 

            For either Peter or Mary it isn’t a prank at all because Jesus told them that this would all happen.  We hear in Mark 9:31, “Jesus was teaching his disciples, saying to them, The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he will rise.”  I mean that is clear evidence that it was not a trick. Jesus had told them directly what would happen, they just were not ready for it because they thought it was a metaphor. But Jesus was telling them the literal truth.  They were so blinded by death and pain that they couldn’t hear Jesus’ hope for them.  They let themselves be tricked by despair and pain, yet Jesus never meant for them to be fooled, he meant for them to have hope and life!

I admit April Fool’s Day was not a big part of my youth.  We learned about it young and we got to practice the really simple April Fool’s Day pranks.  Like saying there is a tiger in the bathroom, don’t go in there!  Then before we could be told, “nah I don’t believe you” we’d yell “April Fools.”  When we started getting more creative with our tricks and plots my mother quickly banned the April Fools holiday all together.  I remember we were disappointed. We really wanted to hide all of my sister Beth’s books so she wouldn’t have them the next day at school. Thinking back on it this may have been the reason my  mother banned the “celebration.”  I know if we had followed through with it my sister would have not had her books and homework the next day and she would have been really hurt and been in school crying.  Many things people do to one another for April Fool’s Day actually are mean spirited and make a great story for the trickster; very few are also great stories for the ones who are tricked.  The whole celebration kind of came into perspective when my brother explained that there was a time and a place for those kinds of tricks, and that was only if you played them on people who deserved them.  Mockery and pranks were often the last refuge against a cruel dictator or uncaring monarch.  We may not often think of the court jester. You know, the guy dressed in colorful clothes who juggled and did tricks and was laughing all the time.  At times the jester was the only person who could speak the truth to the king.  Anyone else who speaks truth to the king was liable to be beheaded. But the jester, who was always silly and unthreatening could at times speak the truth because since the jester did not appear threatening even the paranoid monarch could giggle at the truth. 

            This of course is why Saturday Night Live (SNL) has never done a parody of you.  If we are honest, there are parts of your personality or routine that SNL could totally make into a sketch!  I don’t know which actor they would get to play you, but I bet that we all would be rolling on the floor laughing.  However because in the grand scheme you are not that well known and because you don’t have much power on the world stage, they have never done a sketch on you.  Instead, like modern jesters they attack the rich and powerful to point out what no one else can say.  So if we accept my brother’s hypothesis that tricks should not be played on those who do not deserve it, what better person to play a trick on then Satan.  Who deserves to be fooled more than the prince of lies?

            While Easter is not a trick on Mary or Peter, it is a trick on Satan.  Satan has been scheming for a long time to get the best of God.  It started in the garden with the trick he pulled on Adam and Eve, convincing them to eat of the fruit of the tree of good and evil.  It continued with whispers of how they could be better than God if they just worked together.  The people then built the tower of Babel and were scattered.  It continues through the whole history of the peoples of Earth.  Every time Satan successfully convinced man to betray and kill one another or tear down another society Satan would giggle with delight.  After all, every time people made in the image of God defiled themselves, killing one another or worshiping something that wasn’t God, Satan got to put another feather in his cap so to speak and claim a victory. 

            When this Jesus came down from heaven Satan got worried. He tried to kill Jesus as a babe when King Herod massacred the children who were under two years old. But Satan’s trick failed.  He then tried to tempt Jesus in the wilderness but Jesus resisted—even after 40 days of fasting.  Satan even tried multiple times to get Jesus killed while Jesus was preaching.  He was so busy stirring up the Scribes and Pharisees that he didn’t even hear Jesus’ predictions.  He was so busy listening for things to exploit he didn’t hear Jesus’ explanation of what is going to happen to him.  Instead Satan must have laughed with glee when he finally found a member of Jesus’ circle, namely Judas, who would betray him.  How Satan must have dance with joy at the humiliation and pain caused to the perfect body.  There must have been a party when Jesus cried, “It is finished.” and gave up his spirit.  But as Satan was celebrating, so was heaven.  What Satan meant for evil and damnation—God meant for good and grace.  God used this most awful of events as the salvation of all. 

            So on that morning when Satan saw what had happened how much more upset must he have been than Putin watching SNL.  Jesus was like the jester, taking the shame and humiliation upon himself in order to pronounce a truth the world needed to hear.  Death is no more and Satan is defeated.  If God had used a great king like David to show us that, we all would remember only that “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (I Samuel 18:7).  David, God’s anointed, was known for his death and valor.  How can a man steeped in death defeat death?  It took Christ, wrapped as a lamb and killed, to destroy death; a sacrifice to forever defeat the need for sacrifice.  How great was God’s trick that Satan had participated and even encouraged his own destruction. 

           So today we laugh and celebrate, because the greatest fool is Satan and the last laugh is God's! Amen.