Ever read Ecclesiastes? Did you like it? Not my favorite book. The writer of Ecclesiastes must have been having a particularly miserable day when he wrote this maxim: Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of countenance the heart is made glad. I can see him sitting at his desk, dour-faced, and I’m waiting for him to look up and shout, “April fools!” but nothing happens. He just sits there like he’s for real. Most days I just leave him alone. I much rather hang out with the writer of Psalm 118, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!” or Psalm 126, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy!”
I stumbled upon this little work of poetry that seemed most appropriate for this day when we celebrate the resurrection of the Lord, and our Jewish friends and neighbors celebrate Passover.
This week’s calendar offers surprises
In both Old and New Testament guises:
One God has sufficed
For both matzoh and Christ,
But it’s only the latter that rises.
Easter is the day when laughter is our prayer and our praise, for the Lord has raised Jesus from the dead. Do you know this one?
Two snowmen are standing in the backyard. One says, “Hm.” The other says, “That’s funny, I smell a carrot, too.”
Or this one:
What’s the best thing about Switzerland? I don’t know, but the flag is a big plus.
What’s the difference between a hippo and a zippo? A hippo is really heavy, and a zippo is a little lighter.
Not corny enough?
Murphy’s law says that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Cole’s law is thinly sliced cabbage.
And an old favorite:
A horse walks into a bar and the bartender says, “Why the long face?”
Not funny? Let me tell you a story about the KKK:
In 1953, Eldon Edwards formed the U.S. Klan’s, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, in Atlanta. He attracted few members until the following year, when the Supreme Court ordered school integration in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education and many whites throughout the South were determined to oppose the law and maintain segregation. By September 1956, Edwards was host to one of the largest Klan rallies in years, drawing 3,000 members to Stone Mountain, the site of the rebirth of the Klan in 1915. By 1958, Edwards’ group had an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 members.
Tom Long grew up in Atlanta, he was a teenager in the 1950s, and every year in the fall, he remembers, on a Saturday, a horrific spectacle would happen. The Klan would gather on Stone Mountain for a ritual of hate during which they would burn a cross. And then they would get in their cars and drive down US 29 into downtown Atlanta honking their horns. And then in downtown Atlanta they would pull their hoods over their faces and they would march down Auburn Avenue. Auburn Avenue was Main Street in black Atlanta. The citizens of Auburn Avenue would lock their doors and shutter their windows for fear of the men under those hoods.
But then in the 60s the civil rights movement began to flower, and the first light of a possibility of a new and different way of living in society began to dawn. One year, fall came around and the Klan did as usual: the burning cross on top of the mountain, the motorcade of hatred down US 29, the robes and the hoods. Then they came to Auburn Avenue, and they started their parade of terror. But this time, the people living on Auburn did not lock their doors, and they did not shutter the windows of their homes and businesses. The citizens of Auburn Avenue stood out on the sidewalk; and, as the Klan went by, they laughed and laughed and laughed. And the Klan has never marched down Auburn Avenue again. The laughter of the redeemed, the laughter of hope toppled the powers and principalities.
God raised Jesus from the dead to redeem us, to fill our hearts with hope and our lips with laughter. God raised Jesus from the dead to teach us how to laugh at the power of the oppressor and at our fear of the oppressor; how to laugh at death and our fear of death, how to laugh at sin’s power to weigh us down with shame, despair, and regret; how to laugh at the devil who thought he had the last laugh when Jesus was brutally executed; God raised Jesus from the dead so all of us would laugh and live and follow the Risen One in the beautiful morning light of the promise that love wins.
“The raising of Christ is proved by our courage to rise against death,” writes Jürgen Moltmann. “That is not just a play on words. We show our hope for the life that defeats death in our protest against the manifold forms of death in the midst of life. It is only in the passion for life and our giving of ourselves for its liberation that we entrust ourselves utterly to the God who raises the dead.” The raising of Christ is proved by our courage to rise against death by joining the citizens of Auburn Avenue and laughing with them at the absurd displays of supremacy and exclusion in our streets, our schools, and places of work. We show our hope for the life that defeats death in our protest against the manifold forms of death in the midst of life. But what about Mark’s story?
Mark ends his gospel in midsentence, So [the women] went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid … That’s hardly a shout of victory over death. Not exactly a rousing display of courage to rise against death.Why would Mark want to tell us the story of Jesus with such a strange ending?
We have heard and read the whole story, from its beginning to this moment. We were there when Jesus was baptized and the heavenly voice declared, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” We were there when Jesus began proclaiming the good news of God in Galilee. We heard him preach and teach about the kingdom. We watched him inaugurate God’s reign by healing people and breaking bread with them, forgiving their sins and driving out demons. We heard him tell us three times about his death and resurrection. “After I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” He did tell us, didn’t he? We were there when Jesus prayed in Gethsemane and the disciples couldn’t keep awake. We were there when Judas betrayed him, Peter denied him, and all the disciples deserted him. When Jesus was arrested, questioned, and convicted, mocked, abused, and crucified, we were there. And now we’re here on Easter morning, and we’ve come to the tomb with these three grieving women, and Mark tells us that they too fled, seized by terror and amazement. End of story? No. We’re still here. The story Mark wrote down is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ—and the gospel is still unfolding with us as participants. It’s as though Mark were saying, “This is my story, now you tell it from here.”
The women were terrified. Something had gone wrong – or had gone so right they couldn’t take it in. There was the word that Jesus had been raised. And there was the word about a new life for them: Leave the tomb. Tell the disciples; tell even Peter. The risen Lord is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.
God had raised the body of Jesus to new life and by doing so, God had reversed the whole order of reality itself – of time and history, of life and death. God had raised Jesus from the dead, but for the three women, the new order of reality had only begun to sink in. And so they fled and said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. If Jesus ends up rejected, crucified, dead, and buried – it may break your heart, but it also confirms everything you have suspected about the world all along. It’s a Friday world, after all: Might makes right. Blessed are those who take what they want. The meek inherit nothing at all, except the scorn of the bullies.
But if we can open our fearful hearts to the promise and the new reality of this glorious day, Easter laughter floods this Friday world with hope, and we are given the courage to follow the Lord of life on the way. We know that at some point those three women started laughing and following, or Mark wouldn’t have had a story to tell.
“Easter,” writes Moltmann, “is the beginning of the laughter of the redeemed and the dance of the liberated … Since earliest times Easter hymns have celebrated the victory of life by laughing at death, by mocking at hell, and by making the lords of this world absurd.”
God raised Jesus from the dead so all of us would laugh and live and follow the Risen One in the beautiful morning light of the promise that love wins.
So, here’s the question that Eastertide begs:
Is is all about candy and eggs?
No, the point to be praised
Is that Christ has been raised
And death taken down a few pegs.
 Eccl 7:3
 Jürgen Moltmann, Experiences of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007), 32.
 Mk 14:28
 Jürgen Moltmann, Experiences of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007), 32-33.