Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Good News for April Fools” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
Easter Sunday: April 1, 2018
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Happy Easter!  As you know, this year Easter falls on April Fool’s Day.  Along those lines a friend forwarded me a fun activity that parents can enjoy today with their kids.  Tell your kids that you are going to do an Easter egg hunt but don’t hide any eggs.  When their frustration peaks from carrying empty baskets in search of Easter eggs that are not there, just yell “April Fools!”  Fun for the whole family!

It is appropriate that Easter occasionally falls on April Fool’s Day because there are many people who dismiss the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as a myth only fools believe.  This is nothing new, and yet, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe…we proclaim Christ crucified…For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength (1 Corinthians 1:20-21, 23, 25).

Although Christianity is often dismissed as foolishness, millions of people around the world throughout the centuries have personally experienced the reality of the gospel, the reality of salvation through Jesus Christ, the reality of the love of God—a love stronger than death, a love overflowing with resurrection hope.

In the classic and controversial 1967 film The Graduate Dustin Hoffman plays Ben Braddock, a recent college graduate who is completely clueless about his future.  His parents throw him an elaborate graduation party and everyone is asking him about his future, what he is going to do next.  In a particularly famous scene a tall intimidating man named Mr. McGuire spins Ben around him by the shoulder and looks down at him with an intense and borderline creepy expression, “Ben!”  Ben awkwardly replies, “Mr. McGuire.”  “Ben!”  “Mr. McGuire.”  “Come with me for a minute,” Mr. McGuire continues, “I want to talk with you.”

Mr. McGuire then places his arm around Ben’s shoulder and walks him outside to the backyard, then stops and looks down at him again, “I just want to say one word to you, just one word.”  “Yes sir?”  “Are you listening?”  Ben nods, “Yes I am.”  Mr. McGuire says with great conviction, “Plastics.”  There is an awkward pause and Ben finally replies, “Exactly how do you mean?”  Mr. McGuire points at him emphatically, “There’s a great future in plastics.  Think about it.  Will you think about it?”  Ben blankly nods, “Yes I will.”  “Enough said,” Mr. McGuire continues, “That’s a deal,” and then he suddenly walks away, leaving Ben Braddock standing there more confused about his future than ever.

And the world is filled with people just like Ben Braddock, people confused about their future—especially their future after death—people metaphorically carrying empty baskets in search of Easter eggs that do not exist.  But the gospel, the “foolish” gospel of the love of God in Jesus Christ, gives resurrection hope for your future.  The gospel is good news for April Fools.

Scripture is clear, crystal clear, that Jesus came to give life, eternal life, as Jesus himself proclaimed, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10)—and in perhaps the most famous verse in the Bible Jesus said, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).

In today’s passage from his First Letter to the Corinthians the Apostle Paul emphasizes the heart of the gospel: “I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).  Any “gospel” that is not centered on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is a plastic gospel that offers no real hope for your future.  The biblical gospel is a resurrection gospel based on the very real love of God that gives very real hope for your future.

When it comes to the gospel, what is “of first importance” is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, “in accordance with the scriptures”—or as we sing every week here at Christ Church during our preschool chapel, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

Paul himself had encountered the Risen Jesus while travelling the road from Jerusalem to Damascus.  Paul himself had experienced the overwhelming reality of the eternal love of Jesus Christ.  And in today’s passage Paul wrote that he was by no means the first person to encounter the Risen Jesus: “(Jesus) appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:5-7).

Incidentally, not a single one of these believers who saw the Risen Jesus ever recanted.  Not a single one ever said, “April Fools!  None of this foolishness of Jesus being raised from the dead is true.  We made it all up.”  Not a single one ever said that, even under the threat of martyrdom, which many of them suffered.  Why?  Because the “foolish” gospel of the unconditional love of God, the “foolish” gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus is true—and as the great 1970’s rock band the Doobie Brothers sang, “What a fool believes he sees no wise man has the power to reason away” (from their 1978 hit “What a Fool Believes”).

Speaking of great rock bands, the first song on the second side of the iconic 1969 album Abbey Road by The Beatles is a song George Harrison wrote in Eric Clapton’s garden one beautiful spring afternoon, a classic song of hope:

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it’s alright
Little darling, it’s been a long, cold, lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here
Here comes the sun…
Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces
Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been here
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it’s alright

The gospel brings resurrection hope at the end of your “long, cold, lonely, winter”, resurrection hope rendering “smiles returning to the faces,” resurrection hope that assures you that death is not the end of the story, because the sun of God’s love shines brighter than the darkness of death: “Little darling, here comes the sun” the Risen Jesus says, “it’s alright.”

And after your death, in heaven, among “the smiles returning to the faces” you will see the smiles of the loved ones who have died before you, the smiles of loved ones who come to your mind even at this moment.  In Ken Burns’ riveting 2017 PBS documentary The Vietnam War, Dr. Hal Kushner reveals what it was like to finally be reunited with his family after being a prisoner of war for over five years:

We flew to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania and I came off the helicopter and I saw my wife and my daughter who I hadn’t seen since she was two and a half, and my son who I had never seen, a week before his fifth birthday, and he had on a little tie and a little coat.  And I saw my mom and dad.  And my mom was just overcome with emotion and it was just an incomprehensible moment, and we hugged everybody.

And after you die, when you step off your metaphorical helicopter in heaven and see the smiling faces of the loved ones you have missed so much over the course of your “long, cold, lonely winter,” you too will have the chance to hug everybody—for scripture states that in the same way Jesus was raised you will be raised as well:

In fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have died.  For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ…we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed (1 Corinthians 15:20-22, 51-52).

Jesus himself put it this way, “Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live…all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out” (John 5:25, 28).  And the Risen Jesus who knows you by name will call you by name, just like he did Lazarus (John 11:43), and just like Lazarus, you too will be resurrected.

And in that moment you will realize that the “foolish” gospel of the unconditional love of God has never been a plastic gospel at all, but a very real gospel, a resurrection gospel that means eternal life for April Fools like you and me.