Written by Pastor Ed
He was a flop at thirty-three
His whole career was one of failure and of loss
But the thing that’s so distressful
Is he could have been successful,
But instead of climbing up, he climbed a cross!
He was a flop at thirty-three
He jumped from carpentry to preaching to the mob;
He just never was adjusted
So he spent his whole life busted
And he never got promoted on the job.
He never saved a single cent,
And Dunn & Bradstreet wouldn’t list him on their list;
He could not establish credit,
And you might as well be dead at
Thirty-three as have your credit not exist.
He spent his time with fisherfolk,
When there were more important contacts to be made;
He would contemplate a flower
And ignore the cocktail hour
It’s no wonder that he never made the grade!
Oh, he was licked right from the start,
When he said to do others as you wish they’d do;
For to make it you must drive,
Because of course, the fit survive
You’ve got to do the others in or they’ll do you.
He paid no heed to social codes,
The status factors that can help you get ahead;
Now you and I have never flopped
And yet our names are never dropped
The way that they’ve been dropping his since he’s been dead.
We’ve fought our way up to the top
We’re both established as successful men of worth
So the thing that puzzles me
Is why that flop at thirty-three
Is called the most successful man to live on earth!
(From “For Heaven’s Sake: A Musical Revue” by Helen Kromer & Frederick Silver, 1961)
That song (which I wasn’t going to try to sing) from a 1961 musical revue called “For Heaven’s Sake” by Helen Kromer, is a fitting reminder of how many would see the story of Jesus. It’s another example of the theme we have been following throughout Lent, of God turning the world upside down and inside out.
Unlike Christmas, Easter has never become a huge commercial enterprise. You don’t hear Easter hymns being played in the stores for months beforehand, and while there’s certainly some push to buy new dresses or fuzzy bunnies and candy, it’s certainly not like Christmas. Perhaps part of that is because of Lent, when traditionally you don’t overindulge, but I think part of it is also that the retail market hasn’t quite figured out what to do with this strange story.
And there are lots of improbable parts to the accounts, which differ from teller to teller. Mark’s account, probably the earliest, is rather short and leaves us and the disciples wondering what really happened. John’s, which we read this morning, is more complete but still contains some interesting features. There is a certain sense of urgency to the story. Everyone seems to be running, and as one writer pointed out, it seems like a rather strange detail to focus on this race between two disciples to see who could get there first.
That same writer, D. Mark Davis, noted several other interesting features to the story. He identifies the Beloved Disciple not as John, but rather as Lazarus and suggests that the reason this Beloved Disciple, who got to the tomb first, didn’t go in immediately was, well – if you were Lazarus who had spent three days in a tomb, you might be a bit hesitant to go in right away as well.
Eventually they both enter the tomb and see the wrappings and the hanky lying there. Then John says, they believed, although what it was they believed isn’t quite clear because John also notes that they still didn’t understand the scriptures. Perhaps they simply believed that Jesus’ body was no longer there, and with that they went home.
But Mary Magdalene remained behind, weeping. And there’s another rather curious feature. While the disciples figure most prominently in most of the Gospel story, it is women who are the ones who follow Jesus all the way to the tomb and are the first witnesses to the resurrection. And it is Mary who sees the angels, who either weren’t there when the disciples went in, or they didn’t notice them, and then there’s Jesus who appears to Mary.
And Mary mistakes him for the gardener. I’ve always wondered about that, but again Mark Davis has an interesting take on this bit of information. He says, “I love the ingenuity behind the supposition that when Jesus arose, after removing his linens he walked out of the tomb naked, so he grabbed the gardener’s garments of the clothesline to cover himself up.” All speculation of course, but as good an explanation as any.
It is only as Jesus calls her by name that she recognizes who is standing in front of her. I was reminded of this just over a week ago when Rudy Sr. told the story of a man who returned to his home after being in a Russian prison camp for 3 years, I believe it was. And when he showed up at the door, his wife didn’t recognize him and wasn’t going to let him in the house, until he called her by name.
I’m sure many of us have had the experience of meeting someone out of context or whom we hadn’t expected to see and not recognizing them. And Mary not only seems to recognize Jesus, but also comprehend what this all means for she returns to bear witness to the risen Christ.
And yet, in many ways we are still trying to comprehend what it all means, even after all these years. Because this is the biggest up-side down and inside out experience of all time. We all know the saying that “there is nothing certain in life except death and taxes.” (Even in Alberta we now know) But the resurrection of Jesus means that death is not really the end. Death has been overcome.
It’s Paul’s whole argument in I Corinthians 15. “19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.” (I Cor. 15:19-20)
And that changes everything. I know, we’ve become used to hearing phrases like that almost every day now. It’s become the excuse for all kinds of political maneuvering; something big happens and that “changes everything” so now we have to throw out what we had planned and we can do what we wanted to all along, we just needed an excuse.
But this really is game changing. If we no longer need to fear death, think what that can mean? We shake our heads at the suicide bombers who willingly give their lives for a cause, albeit a wrong one. But they do so because they firmly believe, or have been led to believe, that they will have a greater reward in the after life. While I don’t condone their actions, I marvel at their commitment.
What would it mean if Christians were that committed and believed that strongly in the power of the resurrection that we would give ourselves to the way of Jesus and the way of peace no matter what the cost, because we no longer fear death? I have a great deal of respect for the members of Christian Peacemaker Teams who put themselves in the line of fire and are willing to risk their lives in the cause of peace.
Easter, the resurrection, stands at the foundation of our faith as Christians. When I took a Philosophy of Religion class in university, the professor challenged us to prove to him the existence of God in the course of the semester. Now, of course that’s an impossibility, but for my final paper I used a philosophical methods whereby you argue from a negative, is there a situation in which you would not believe in the existence of God. And I argued that, when I die, should I discover there is no life after death I would be ready to give up my belief in the existence of God.
He didn’t buy it, although I got a good grade and he said it almost convinced him. But the reality is, as Paul stated in the verses I read earlier, if the resurrection didn’t happen, then we might as well all go home and have a good time and look out for ourselves – follow the advice of Ecclesiastes.
But, many people argue, we can’t live in today’s society like Jesus taught. We have to be afraid of terrorists or others who have the potential to harm us. We need all the military might, the security systems, and so forth to protect us and save us. After all we have to get ahead in this world and provide for the future and that takes compromise and knowing how to make it in the world.
Yes, he was seemingly a flop at thirty-three, and yet in many ways the most successful man to live on earth. Easter changes everything.