Two Rivers Pastoral Charge
April 28, 2019 (Holy Humour Sunday)
Scripture: John 20:19-31
I want to invite you to imagine yourself back to the time of the first Easter – the day when the empty tomb was discovered. The first disciples had moved through grief, confusion, fear, and wonder when they discovered that the grave where Jesus’ body had been laid was empty.
They have been numbed by grief, and stunned by the unexpected turn of events. And now they are hiding themselves away. All of the factors that were present in Ancient Jerusalem before Jesus was crucified are still present have been magnified. There is still the threat of the Roman intolerance of dissent hanging over them. There are still mutterings of rebellion blowing around them. But now all of this is complicated by grief. All of this is complicated by the fear of being discovered to be disciples of Jesus. Remember that Peter was so afraid of being found to be a follower of Jesus that he denied knowing Jesus the night that he was arrested.
And so with this fear and threat hanging over them, and the unbelievable – literally beyond belief – surprise of the empty tomb, it’s no wonder that the disciples had hidden themselves away with fear. They have locked themselves away for fear of being found, for fear of being discovered to be followers of Jesus, for fear of what might happen to them next. They have locked themselves away, not quite sure what their next step is to be.
Last Sunday I mentioned that our story was a story of the empty tomb, not a story of the resurrected Jesus. Well, this week the resurrected Jesus finally makes an appearance. Those disciples are hiding away behind locked doors, when all of a sudden Jesus is standing among them. He says, “Peace be with you.” He shows them the wounds in his hands and in his side. And it is only now that the disciples are able to shift to rejoicing. Where there had been uncertainty and fear, now there is only joy. Not only is the tomb empty, but Jesus is alive, and Jesus is standing among us.
As I was thinking about Easter, and the resurrection, and this scripture passage, I came across the same quote several times this week on FaceBook. You know, where someone takes an inspirational quotation and puts in with either a beautiful or a dramatic picture behind it. Anyways, this quote read: “Resurrection means that the worst thing is never the last thing,” and it is attributed to theologian and novelist Frederick Buechner. “Resurrection means that the worst thing is never the last thing.”
That seemed to fit well with our scripture passage this week – after all, those disciples were likely going through the very worst days of their lives, days filled with grief and fear. But because of the resurrection, the worst thing was not the last thing – there was still the resurrection to come.
But I must be a sceptic at heart; and I definitely never take anything I read on FaceBook at face value (pun intended). Especially when I see nice quotes attributed to famous people. So I started digging. Is it a real quote; and if it is, was it written or said by Buechner?
Well, I discovered that it is more of a paraphrase than a quote, and the actual quote from Buechner, from his novel The Final Beast, reads:
“The worst thing isn’t the last thing about the world. It’s the next to last thing. The last thing is the best. It’s the power from on high that comes down into the world, that wells up from the rock-bottom worst of the world like a hidden spring. Can you believe it? The last, best thing is the laughing deep in the hearts of the saints, sometimes our hearts even. Yes. You are terribly loved and forgiven. Yes. You are healed. All is well.”
This actual message goes far beyond the nice, inspirational, FaceBook-worthy quote. It says that not only is the worst thing not the last thing, but that the best thing follows the worst thing, and that the seeds of the best thing have already been planted. It says that joy, and even laughter are already welling up and springing up even in the middle of tragedy and suffering and despair. It says that healing and love and forgiveness will follow, no matter how unlikely that may seem.
And that is what turns our scripture reading about resurrection into a very appropriate reading for today – Holy Humour Sunday. This is the day when the disciples’ fear and bewilderment turns to joy and laughter. This is a day when we can sing and rejoice because the risen Christ stands among us. This is a day when we can laugh because death and suffering no longer get to have the final word. The resurrection is God’s great cosmic joke on the expected order of things.
This has been a challenging week in many ways for our community and for our province. The river waters continued to rise through much of the week, roads became flooded, water poured into basements for the second year in a row, and an air of anxiety and uncertainty hung over things, with the River Watch forecast changing from day to day. For many people, this week might have felt like the worst thing.
And yet even in the middle of the stress and anxieties of this week, those seeds of hope and joy were planted and were welling up. Volunteers from the community rallied and filled and delivered sandbags, often to people that they didn’t know. The military showed up and worked side-by-side with schoolchildren in the sandpits across the province. Individuals delivered sandwiches and baking to the volunteers, and churches hosted meals to feed anyone who needed it. Love has been and continues to be shared with neighbours wherever you turn.
And that fits with our scripture story too, because Jesus doesn’t leave the disciples where he finds them, hiding away behind locked doors. He repeats to them, again, and again, “Peace be with you.” Jesus doesn’t want them to be afraid – Jesus wants them to have peace in their hearts. And Jesus breathes on them, and gives them the Holy Spirit, and sends them out into the world with the Holy Spirit, God’s power of love, working in them and leading them. And even when one of the disciples, Thomas, laments that he was not present when Jesus appeared the first time, Jesus re-appears so that all of them would be able to have faith.
Jesus is alive, and Jesus is among us. The seeds of joy that were dormant in those times of stress and fear have sprouted to life, and the laughter has swallowed up all of the shadows.
Peace be with you.
Receive the Holy Spirit.
Now let us go into the world, led by love and by laughter, so that God’s joy might reach to every corner.
May it be so.