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April 1, 2014, 5:06 PM

And Now For Something Completely Different...

And now for something completely different…

Some of you may recognize that as the tagline which began each episode of the classic (and decidedly different) British comedy series from the 1970s:  Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

For those of you not familiar with this exercise in oddball British humor, I will direct you to a couple of their classic sketches.

This one literally inspired the use of the word “spam” to mean unwanted, constantly repeated ads on the internet…

This one inspired a t-shirt you may sometimes see me wear, which says, “The Spanish Inquisition, Expected by No One Since 1970”  (That was the year the sketch first aired.)

It strikes me that the words, “And now for something completely different…” make a fitting introduction to the story of the Resurrection.

I know there are cynics and skeptics who will immediately respond that the Resurrection is a joke and a bad one…some kind of fraud or fantasy that a man who was well and truly massacred by the Romans (who knew a thing or two about efficiently massacring folks) was brought back to life.

We live in a world where some people think Elvis is still alive and that the moon landings were faked. But most of us are not so deluded.  So why shouldn’t we believe that Jesus is as dead as anyone else from that era?  It certainly seems a far less preposterous notion than the idea he was raised from the grave.

Besides, even the Gospels don’t agree on what happened.  Not one of their accounts entirely agrees with any of the others.

I would point out that hundreds of people witnessed the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and fifty years later, there are still countless versions of what “really happened” that day.  Events that surprise and shock, have a way of rattling the systems of even the calmest souls and the keenest eyes.  Frankly, I would find it more than a little suspicious if all the accounts did exactly agree.  That would come across as a bit too rehearsed.  Reality, and our reporting on reality, tends to be a lot messier.  But, despite the many different perceptions of what happened, the witnesses to the JFK assassination agreed that he was dead, and witnesses to the resurrection agreed Jesus wasn’t.

In the case of Jesus, this was an extraordinarily dangerous claim for them to make.

If they had simply said, “Jesus’ spirit lives!  It’s like he is still alive with us!” there would have been all sorts of people who would have understood that and not been scandalized by it.  We say that about all sorts of beloved and departed figures.

But, saying that Jesus was literally raised from death by God, was a dangerous, and potentially lethal proclamation.  He had been killed by a collusion between the religious and political establishments.  To claim that God had revived him in defiance of their claims to authority and power, was to engage in a profoundly subversive act.  You could be arrested for it.  You could be whipped to within an inch or your life for it.  You could be sent into slavery for it.  You could die for it.

Why not just say it was “as though” he had been raised, when that could spare you danger and death?

But, there were people who insisted that he HAD been raised from death, even at the cost of their lives.

These days, we see some despicable scammers, blingy bishops, and money-grubbing televangelists who pad their bank accounts, claiming that Jeeeeeesus is gonna make you rich, if only you send them your money.  But, back in the day, his followers were poor and among the most oppressed and powerless in their society.  Following him didn’t make them rich (as the world counts wealth) or powerful, and it tended to make them less than popular with the people who were.

But, still, they insisted he had broken death.

People point to him creating an expectation that he would rise, before he was killed, and they claim it generated a sort of group fantasy that he had somehow done so.  They note that the Jews believed in resurrection before Jesus ever showed up, and that helped set that stage for his desolated disciples to engage in a mass delusion, as a way to buffer their grief.

Actually, many Jews did NOT believe in resurrection or any kind of afterlife.  The Sadducees, didn’t.  The Pharisees did, but they did not expect the Messiah to be crucified, or to be raised.  Resurrection was to be a mass event they expected to take place at the end of the world.

Jesus violated all those expectations.  He wasn’t what anyone had expected.

There are other surprising twists in the Easter story which defy expectation and easy explanation.  But hey, I’m not going to give away all my preaching materials here!

Whatever happened, it changed the world in an unexpected way, using the most unlikely characters.

I suspect that when the stone rolled away that impossible morning, the first sound that echoed from the broken grave was…laughter.

And while the Scriptures don’t record what he may have said as he emerged, I can easily image the Risen One saying, maybe with a bit of a giggle, “And now for something completely different!”

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