A sermon preached by the Rev. Linda Harrison
Easter 2; Bright Sunday; April 28, 2019
Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 150; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31
Alleluia! Christ is risen! Be filled with joy and laughter!
This is the day God has made, let us rejoice and be glad!
And beyond a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin that beer is evidence that God wishes us to be happy, I do believe God does wish us to be happy. The flourishing of creation includes our happiness. Not a transitory, situational happiness, but a deep contentment and satisfaction. An overall sense of well-being within one’s body and soul. God wishes for humanity shalom: harmony, tranquility, a sense of wholeness and completeness with one’s self and all of creation. It is a deep knowing that all is well, despite outward appearances.
This is what the prophets strived to convey in the name of God when they preached repentance and care for the widows, orphans, strangers, refugees – for the people of God to know that deep wholeness. To know that sense of well-being. To foster that sense of harmony within oneself. There is no better way to foster shalom within than to share it without. To share joy in God creates and multiplies the joy we feel in God. Joy in God brings a sense of lightness and freedom that whispers, “Yeah, it’s all going to be okay – it sucks right now, but I’ll be okay.”
In the midst of anger and grief, the members of Congregation Chabad are truly suffering right now after the shooting yesterday. Listening to interviews today, each said how horrific and tragic the event is, and they know they will be okay. Shalom.
There are certainly times to be somber and to grieve. However, piety need not be dour and mirthless. Our Puritan forebears got it all wrong, and American society – if not all of Western society – has been suffering the consequences ever since.
Think about it. Who would follow a sour, gloomy, humorless, all too serious prophet and call that one Messiah? I can’t say the prophets of ancient Israel – preaching punishment and repentance – had followers, hordes of disciples gathered around them hanging on their every word. They were mostly a solitary lot – save for Elijah who had one devoted disciple in Elisha. The prophets were scorned as pessimistic nay-sayers.
Jesus certainly had to have cracked some jokes to lighten the mood, to get the people to listen.
For that matter, why do we read everything in the gospels so seriously? Telling the disciples to feed well over 5,000 people with a couple of loaves of bread and a few fish? That’s just comical! Sure, Jesus was serious about it, as in he certainly meant what he said – but I see Jesus delivering that directive with a knowing playful little smile. I imagine the disciples’ stunned disbelief at first and then busting a gut, “Hey Jesus! You got us! That was a good one! No, seriously, what are we gonna do?” Then filled with that shalom that can only come from God, Jesus smiles all the wider and replies, “I’m serious. Let’s spread some of God’s love and well-being among these people with a little food. Let’s share some joy! You’ll be amazed!”
Shalom allows us to laugh in spite of our immediate circumstance. I admit I struggle for just a few glimpses of that kind of shalom, especially in the midst of deep grief, angst over family matters – and when I do feel it, ohhh, how glorious it is! A feeling of security, if not laughter, in the midst of the storm; remembrance that God is indeed here.
Another story we read will too seriously is that of Thomas. Now it may not have felt comical to the followers of Jesus in the moment, but it certainly is a comical scene. All of Thomas’ friends tell him that they have seen Jesus! “Na-ah. Your pulling my leg. Not a funny joke; not at all!” “No joke, dude! We saw Jesus! Right here – standing as alive as you or any of us!” “Na-ah. Sorry, I just don’t believe you. Until I have my own experience, I’m just not going to believe you.” From there it could easily have turned into an Abbott and Costello sort of dialogue – back and forth, yes and no, ad nauseum.
A week later, wouldn’t you know it? Jesus appears again in that locked room, just shows up out of nowhere. Thomas does indeed have his own experience of the risen Christ. Through laughter of relief and awe, Thomas declares, “My Sovereign and my God!” and falls at the feet of Jesus, weeping tears of joy … It really is going to okay.
Shalom. Despite what will come in the face of persecution, the followers of Jesus know the risen Christ is there – seen or unseen. Jesus is there in their midst.
This is shalom; this deep knowing of joy.
Julian of Norwich expressed it succinctly and beautifully, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
Be filled with joy this Easter season and every season, knowing that all shall be well, for the One who was crucified has indeed risen and is always in our midst. Be filled with shalom, for the tomb is empty and remains empty.
The last laugh is on death! Alleluia!
Blessed be God forever.