Paula Northwood April 1, 2018
Scripture: Mark 16:1–8
The last time Easter was celebrated on April Fools’ Day was 62 years ago. I remember it well. Actually, I do not remember it at all; I was only 1 year old. I have been thinking about the significance of a day of tricks juxtaposed with the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. There may be more there than meets the eye.
I spent last week in the Arizona and was reminded that some of the Southwest Native American tribes have the archetype or mythological figure of the trickster. In myths of the Southwest Native Americans, the trickster—described as having human form or occasionally animal form (often the coyote or raven)—sometimes helps people, but most often his behavior causes nothing but trouble for everyone around him. Frequently, he is killed through his own recklessness but miraculously always comes back to life afterwards.
Tricksters do things that turn your world upside down so you see things from a different perspective. I started thinking about how much Jesus was a trickster. Every story or parable he told had a little twist, something the listener was not expecting. Such things as: If someone hits you, turn the other cheek. If your invited guests don’t show up, invite people from the street. The law says you should stone a person caught in adultery but Jesus says whoever is without sin may throw the first stone. To the young lawyer who thought he was pretty good at following the law and loving God, Jesus told him to sell everything and give it to the poor. Often what Jesus said was challenging, even confusing, but he wasn’t a con man. He is one who respects beliefs and traditions yet also questions them, challenges them and subverts them for the sake of political and religious transformation. He was a trickster, not a shyster. And so this morning we look at the final event of his life to see what it means.
In the Jan. 31 issue of Christian Century, there was an article titled “Rising Up With Christ” by John Dominic Crossan and Sarah Sexton Crossan. On a trip to Turkey to visit Byzantine cathedrals carved out of volcanic rock in Cappadocia, they noticed 15 frescoes from the life of Christ. Much to their surprise, instead of using the English word resurrection, the commentary used the Greek word anastasis. Ana/stasis literally means up/rising. The Crossans remark how interesting it is to think of resurrection as an uprising. Resurrection as uprising.
Yes, indeed! But in true trickster fashion, it was not the uprising that some Jews were hoping for in their messiah. It was not a military response to the Empire. The Crossans in their new book, Resurrecting Easter: How the West Lost and the East Kept the Original Easter Vision, write about how the Annunciation to Ascension (the entire life of Jesus) is described in the gospels and shown throughout history in images, frescoes and paintings, but one event in the life of Christ is never described in any Gospel story. The most important and climactic event of them all—the moment of Christ’s Resurrection as it is actually happening—is never described. This—unlike all other Gospel events—is never described. Have you ever thought about that? Why might that be? Surely the great storytellers of the Gospels could have filled in this gap.
We don’t know what happened after Jesus was laid in the tomb. We only have two indications in scripture about what might have happened. One is the empty-tomb tradition in Matthew and Mark, where female disciples discover the vacant tomb and are told by an angel that Jesus has already risen. Or, the risen-vision traditions in Luke and John, in which both female and male disciples see the risen Christ after the event. People experienced him in some dimension.
What is clear is that the Empire put Jesus to death. But as Jesus taught, the realm of God is like a mustard seed. Things are not what they seem. A tiny, tiny seed began to germinate in dark rooms with heartbroken people who were trying to make sense of it all. They worshipped, they sang songs and they shared stories, which blossomed into a community that began to flourish and grow. These nascent communities shared everything. In spite of persecution, the faith communities spread across continents and centuries gathering converts until a remarkable thing happened! What started as a small uprising, an insignificant, nonviolent insurrection of love for their teacher and healer, took over the Empire, and Christianity became the religion of the Empire. Was this what Jesus was going for?
Once Jesus was owned by the Empire, his teachings were misinterpreted and all kinds of terrible things were done in his name. He was domesticated. This is why it is so important not to lose Jesus the trickster. Underneath all the layers of misinterpretation, the goodness and integrity of the trickster shines. The trickster still challenges our perception. The measure will always be: “How are the marginalized, the poor, the sick and the incarcerated treated?” Even if the Empire claims to be Christian, Jesus as trickster will challenge the ways things are done. The life and teachings of Jesus are things of beauty that heal, that give hope and that join people together. Because the realm of God is what Jesus said it was—a realm of justice, peace and love that is always in need of resurrection.
There are many ways to live out this resurrection, this uprising, this resurrection as insurrection. Because of time I will give only three examples, but there are so, so many more. Each morning without fail, whether we see it or it is obscured by clouds, the sun rises. This life-giving star warms our faces and our soil. From our snowy, muddy soil will burst forth all the beauty and bounty of our earth. To join the earth in this uprising, we need to reconnect with nature. To rediscover who we truly are—and who our brothers and sisters are—we must become intimate with our natural surroundings.
The wisdom of nature can’t be understood with our thinking mind. We have to experience it with our being and let it speak to us through all our senses. To rise up with our mother earth means we must engage in taking care of our precious home. We must move beyond simply admiring the beauty of the earth toward protecting and caring for the earth.
There are so many ways to get involved, from investing in alternative energy sources to recycling and so forth. One small step you could take this year is to minimize plastic pollution. Join efforts to phase out single-use shopping bags, ban microbeads in cosmetics and promote the use of sustainable alternatives. We must rise up on behalf of creation!
We must also rise up on behalf of all people. In the Crossan book I referenced earlier, they noticed that in western Christianity the focus on the resurrection was individual. The idea is expressed in “Jesus died for my sins.” But in eastern Christianity, the resurrection involved all of humanity—it’s communal. Our salvation, so to speak, is bound up with each other. Our work on anti-racism is uprising work!
Close to my neighborhood in Saint Paul, half a century ago, our community intentionally put the new highway, Interstate 94, through the African American Rondo neighborhood, destroying hundreds of homes and businesses and scarring the close-knit community. Finally, many years later, there’s a vision for repairing that damage.
For about two years, a nonprofit called ReConnectRondo has been pursuing the idea of building a “land bridge” that would cover a portion of the interstate with land for housing, businesses, parks and other amenities, while cars drive through a tunnel below.
The reconciliation efforts began last July, when Mayor Chris Coleman issued a proclamation apologizing for what happened to Rondo, and state Department of Transportation Commissioner (and Plymouth member) Charlie Zelle apologized on behalf of the department that built I-94. Zelle said the department would “never build that kind of atrocity today,” and he committed the department to “a new era when we put people ahead of concrete and community ahead of cars.”
Mayor Coleman concluded, “Today we acknowledge the sins of our past, regret the stain of racism that allowed so callous a decision as the one that led to families being dragged from their homes, creating a diaspora of the African American community in Saint Paul.”
If the Department of Transportation can admit to their sins of racism, how much more can we invite every aspect of our local government and our lives to examine ways that we can confess our sin and start to make reparations? We must rise up on behalf of all people!
And finally, many of you have joined the uprising started by the Parkland, Fla., youth as a result of the school shooting that took 17 lives. You may have participated in the March for Our Lives, which was created by, inspired by and led by students of all ethnicities, religions and sexualities across the country.
Alex Wind, one of the survivors of the Florida shooting, said: “We’re marching because it’s not just schools. It’s movie theaters, it’s concerts, it’s nightclubs. This kind of stuff can’t just happen. You know, we are marching for our lives; we’re marching for the 17 lives we lost. And we’re marching for our children’s lives and our children’s children and their children.”
Turnout for the march was estimated to be between 1.2 to 2 million people across the United States, making it one of the largest protests in American history. As Beth said last Sunday, more than 800 protests were planned in every American state and on every continent except for Antarctica.
While gun violence and homicides have generally declined over the past couple of decades, America is still number one among developed nations when it comes to both. To ensure the safety of our children, this is one uprising that we can all support. We must rise up in love for our children!
To depict Christ’s resurrection as uprising, as humanity’s liberation from death, means, I think, to join the forces of life that work for our planet, all people and our children. Our greatest sin is not falling short or failing, but refusing to rise and trust ourselves and God, again and again. . . .
Here is the invitation: Imagine today that together we are a part of a nonviolent uprising that contradicts the Empire. Imagine that we join the trickster in challenging, questioning the status quo and subverting injustice for the sake of political and religious transformation. If we are dispirited by the enormity of the injustice that crushes us and the intractability of those in positions of power, Jesus’ words beam hope across the centuries.
We need not be afraid. We can assert our human dignity. We can lay claim to the creative possibilities that are still ours, challenge the injustice of unfair laws, force evil out of hiding and rise up recognizing our own power. Let’s see what happens. After all, things are not what they seem. Someone is winking at us from the empty tomb. Let’s go where love is leading us this year together, shall we? Let’s keep following the greatest mystery of all—the uncanny ability of love to triumph over fear. Where is the risen Christ today? Have you seen the trickster lately? The trickster is here, I know it. He is there . . . She is there . . . and there and there and there. May it be so. Amen.