In an ancient Russian Orthodox tradition, the day after Easter was devoted to sitting around table & telling jokes. Even in Church they told them. Why? Well, they felt they were imitating the cosmic joke that God pulled on Satan in the resurrection. You see, Satan thought he had won & was smug in his victory, smiling to himself for having had the last word: death. Then God raised up Jesus from the dead, & life & salvation became the last words. The whole world laughed at the devil’s come-uppance & discomfort.

   This attitude passed into the medieval concept of hilaritas, which did not mean mindless giggling, but rather that, even in the moment of disaster, one may wink because he or she knows there is a God who makes all things new again. Hilaritas is an Easter response to life triumphing over death, & that’s the origin of the Easter Day jokes.

   This means that Christians, as believers in the resurrection, are by definition deeply committed to that hope grounded in a suffering Messiah who rose again; a hope that is in four of the most famous post-Easter stories in the New Testament: the stories of the Gardener, the Cook, the Stranger, & the Housebreaker. All four appear at moments of disaster, of profound sadness & disillusionment. All four bear unexpected witness to God’s presence & love. All are high comedy.

   The Gardner says one word to the weeping woman in his garden. He calls her by name, “Mary!” Out of her grief she recognizes the Lord. Gone to mourn for the dead, she finds life. Thinking at first she is talking to the gardener, she winds up clinging to the Lord. The joke is on her!

   The second story is where the depressed apostles have gone fishing for the lack of something better to do. They are dropping their nets without much enthusiasm, for their Master has just been put to a terrible death. On the shore of the lake where they are fishing, someone is cooking fish. They draw near to the shore & begin to make out the cook. John, younger & with sharper eyes, exclaims to Peter, “It is the Lord!” Think of that. In an off-shore cook-out, God called to them when they least expected it, when they were in the midst of despondency. When they had lost all taste for life, He served them a meal. Now that’s hilarious!

   In the third story there are two young disciples, quite dejected, on the way to Emmaus. A stranger joins them. He speaks to them, attracts them, eats with them, breaks bread with them - & they recognize the stranger. They had broken hearts. The stranger, who breaks bread & not hearts, smiles & disappears. What could be more fun than that?

   Then in the fourth & final Easter story, the apostles were hiding behind closed doors for fear of the establishment. Suddenly Jesus appears out of nowhere. Now according to the Gospel His first words to them were “Peace be with you.” Still it is hard not to imagine Him thinking “Gotcha!” followed by a hearty laugh. There they were, cringing in fear when the risen Housebreaker surprises them with a visit. It must have taken their breath away. One is tempted to think they laughed & cried at the same time.

   Easter tells us of one who silently comes into the human situation disguising Himself as the Gardner, the Cook, the Stranger, & the Housebreaker who lifts us up & brings hope out of despair, new beginnings out of old disappointments, life out of death, & laughter out of tears.

   And that’s the basic Easter joke. When all seems lost, it may just be found. At the moments when sickness & death proclaim their victory, they meet their defeat – all because of the power of the resurrection. That is why we share the hilarious joy of an Easter faith.  AMEN!