Tomorrow, Christians find themselves perched on the pinnacle of their cyclical Church Year. As author John Irving’s fictional Owen Meany proclaims, “Any fool can feel like a Christian at Christmas. But Easter is the main event.”
Yes Easter falls in the spring; at least on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the spring equinox. And yes, commerce trivializes it the same way it treats anything that means anything.
But beyond the bonnets and bunnies and baskets, Easter is a day filled with flowering trumpets, high praise, and enough laughter to bring you to tears.
Most of our tears come from the tragic expectedness of life. The upright are trampled. The good die young. The one born Prince of Peace had died a prince of fools. Jesus, in the words of Fredrick Buechner, was the Lamb of God who ended up looking like something hanging in the butcher’s.
But the funny side of Easter is enough to make you cry. Only this time the tears do not come from the tragic expectedness of things but the hilarious unexpectedness of things.
Comedy is about the unexpected. The pie in the face of the pompous. The scarecrow that sings and dances. Mistaken identities from Twelfth Night’s Viola to Mrs. Doubtfire
Take Nicodemus, the religious hotshot who snuck out of his house when the neighbours weren’t watching for a nocturnal interview with Jesus only to be told he had to be born again. He was one of the two men who had lowered the corpse from the cross, wrapped it up and buried it. When the news hit Nicodemus he must have laughed hysterically.
Jesus, once dead but alive again, cooked breakfast on the beach. When everyone was stuffed, the cook got serious and questioned Peter’s love three times, to make up for those other three times Peter said “Jesus who?”
Peter the Rock then got his unexpected promotion from fisher of fish to fisher of people.
And what did the women expect when they came to finish the embalming? What anyone would expect. That Jesus who had died was still dead. You don’t hang around a grave waiting for your friend to come out so that you can pick up where you left off. Death is a period at the end of a sentence, not a comma. The body isn’t a tulip bulb. Bury it, and it stays there.
According to John’s account of the Resurrection, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb of Jesus before the sun was up. There is no mention of her coming to finish the embalming.
She came as we might drop by the funeral home during visitation hours to pay our respects and to convince ourselves that the person we heard was gone is really gone.
The empty tomb meant one thing: grave robbers! Someone had stolen the body. Were they so afraid of what might happen after he died that they’d taken his body to the landfill? She was so convinced that the grave had been plundered that even when she got up enough nerve to look inside, and two angels in the vacant tomb asked her why she was crying, she said it was because she didn’t know where they’d taken the body of her beloved.
But as she was leaving the tomb she bumped into the gardener. What was he doing working so early, picking up discarded Roll Up the Rim cups with a pointed stick? Maybe he had seen something. Or maybe he was the culprit.
“Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
He turned and spoke. This was no gardener.
Easter can be considered the best joke of all time. The stone which the builders rejected turned out to be the chief cornerstone. The maker of the garden was mistaken for the gardener. The victim became the victor with the rules of nature reversed.
Comedy so high and hilarious that only God could have come up with it.
Blessed are those who get the joke.
Bob Ripley, a syndicated columnist, is Senior Minister at the Metropolitan United Church in London, Ont.