Sun, Apr 01, 2018

The April Fool

by Doug Gunkelman

Today is April Fools' Day. It is also Easter Sunday.

It is unusual. Since 1700, 318 years ago, Easter has fallen on April 1 only 11 times! The last time Christians celebrated Easter April 1 was in 1956 -- more than 60 years ago when the world was so unlike the world and culture we inhabit today.

It is unusual. Although Easter falls on April Fools' Day again in 2029 and 2040, it will then not be observed April 1 for another 68 years -- 2108. And then another wait of 62 years . . . 2170.

Since Easter falls on April Fools' Day this year -- today -- and since it has been 62 years since the last conjunction of April Fools' Day and Easter, this fascinating coincidence begs to be noticed and mentioned.

We begin with a brief reference to this weird little holiday, a festive day generated perhaps by the joy of finally shedding the doldrums and darkness of winter.

We call it a holiday, although there is nowhere in the world the day is observed officially. You don't get to stay home and hide in the basement for a day, or take a picnic in the park. But in the western world, some version of April Fools' Day exists and there are pranks.

Typically, a prank is played on a hapless soul who's forgotten about the perils of April 1. When the prank is completed and the fool humiliated, the perpetrator then yells "April fool!" There's the caramelized onion prank. Dip apple-sized onions in caramel, poke a stick in them, and serve them to office workers who think they're biting into an apple.

Or, back in the day, we made our own creepy crawlers and put them in places where they were sure to scare moms and sisters. Then yell April Fool! My wife would say I’m still wearing that sweater, except now it’s in XXL!

The BBC once broadcast a short documentary in a current affairs series purporting to show Swiss farmers picking freshly grown spaghetti in what they called the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest. The BBC was later flooded with requests to purchase a spaghetti plant, forcing them to declare the film a hoax on the news the next day.

April fools!

Today is Easter. This is unarguably the highest and most holy day of the Christian calendar. It doesn't get holier than this. And since it is April 1, we have to ask: "Who, after all, is the April fool?"

A whole slew of candidates come to mind.

Is the April fool Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator? He was the one who cowered in the face of certain religious leaders who said that failing to deal harshly with a treasonous villain like Jesus would not be viewed favorably by Rome. He is the one who washed his hands of the whole affair. He permitted the execution, and not only permitted it, but allowed it to happen in the name of the emperor.

Then, it's Easter and Jesus is risen! Sorry, Pilate! April fools! Say, Jesus is Risen!

Perhaps it’s the disciples. Let's be clear: There's no doubt that many of the disciples felt foolish as the crucifixion approached. They had given up their jobs for this Jesus. They had left their homes and families to follow this man on his journeys up and down Palestine.

Yes, they had been witness to some phenomenal events, stuff they could not then, and could not now explain. They had pinned their hopes and their futures to a man they believed would liberate them. And now he was being led away as a lamb to the slaughter.

So the disciples went into hiding. They abandoned him, betrayed him and wanted to forget him.

And now it's Easter morning and Jesus is risen! April fools! Say, Jesus is Risen!

Perhaps it’s Annas, the high priest, and his son-in-law, Caiaphas. Annas is a dark figure in this Holy Week drama, something akin to Emperor Palpatine of Star Wars. He has had enough. He has corrupted witnesses, falsified evidence, placed a mole inside of Jesus' inner circle, tracked the movements of this radical insurgent and bided his time. But now, with Passover approaching, he must make sure Jesus is dead and buried and quickly! He pulls the strings. He plays Pontius Pilate like a West Virginia fiddler. He gets what he wants.

But now, Annas, it's Easter morning and Jesus is risen! April fools! Jesus is Risen!

Perhaps it’s the soldiers guarding the tomb. You have to feel for these guys. They're simply cogs in the Roman industrial military complex. They've got guard duty in a cemetery. Think about that. They must've been caught drinking grog and playing dice, or perhaps they inadvertently allowed a prisoner to escape their custody. So now, as humiliating punishment, they've been sent to the tombs to guard dead people! They are good, decent men. Following orders. Guarding a dead person. Bet the teasing was brutal in the pub last night!

And now, it's Easter morning and Jesus is risen! April fools! Jesus is Risen!

Perhaps it’s Peter, the commercial fisherman. Oh, Peter started out enthusiastically, no doubt. He defended his rabbi right and left. He was the one who identified Jesus as the "Christ, the Son of the living God." He swore never to abandon his Lord.

He even drew a sword against a cohort of Roman security forces, and nearly decapitated one of them, but his swing was errant and deprived the solider of only his ear, not his head.

But then, Peter loses faith faster than a rock sinks in water. When Jesus at last is captured and led away, he denies he ever knew the man. And the person, who said he would never leave Jesus, leaves. What a fool!

And now, Peter, it's Easter morning and Jesus is risen! April fools! Jesus is Risen!

Perhaps it’s Thomas, the one with a Ph.D. from the Jerusalem Institute of Technology. Thomas thought he was so smart. He prided himself on his knowledge of the visible world. He delighted in understanding how things worked. He was a curious fellow, believing there's a natural explanation for everything. When Jesus talked about going "to prepare a place" for them, it was this fellow Thomas who asked, "We do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" (John 14:5). When his colleagues asserted that Jesus was alive, it was Thomas, who demanded to see the evidence. "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe" (John 20:25).

And now, Thomas, it's Easter morning and Jesus is risen! April fools! Jesus is Risen!

Perhaps the greatest fools are all of us. Certainly, much of the world believes we're crazy, completely foolish souls who need Jesus and religion as some sort of emotional crutch.

It's likely that a fair percentage of the general population, who -- although identifying themselves as religious -- think that we committed followers of Jesus, take things too seriously. We who love Jesus, who follow his teachings, who try to obey his word, are regarded by many as the fools. The April fools. Jesus is Risen!

But perhaps there's another sense in which we're the Easter fools. We're fools when we claim to believe, but behave as though we don't. We affirm a belief in the resurrection of Christ. We declare that "He is risen!" But we live as though Jesus were still in the tomb, cold and decaying. We affirm our belief with our lips but do not confess Jesus as Lord with our lives.

So why bother? We are indeed fools.

And now, friends, it's Easter morning and Jesus is risen! April fools! Jesus is Risen!

No, the biggest April fool is not Pontius Pilate, not the disciples, not Annas the high priest, not Peter, not Thomas and not you or any of us.

The greatest April fool is Jesus Christ himself. He is the Fool of Easter. He is the one who called the devil's bluff in the greatest jest of all time.

Even during his ministry, he acted in foolish ways, according to most contemporary observers. He sacrificed a comfortable lifestyle. For friends he had tax collectors, hookers, lepers, fishermen, the poor and needy. He avoided investors, and instead told them to give away their wealth and follow him. He knew that there is power in being a somebody, but there is truth in being a nobody. He opted for the truth because he knew that power emerges from truth. He chose weakness instead of strength, vulnerability instead of aggressiveness, truth instead of practicality, honesty instead of influence. He stuck his fingers in the eyes of religious authorities and often seemed to deliberately bait those who had the power to kill him.

And then they did. But death could not hold him. The grave could not contain him.

On Easter Fools' Day, "God made foolish the wisdom of the world" (1 Corinthians 1:20). Jesus was God's Fool, "a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks," whereby God reconciled the world to himself (1 Corinthians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 5:18).

Today, Jesus is alive! -- he who "for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2). It was Jesus who "emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness, and being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death -- even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:6-8).

Pretty foolish, it would seem. But this is not the end of the story.

"Therefore, God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, ... and every tongue should confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:9-11).

On this Easter Fools' Sunday, perhaps this is what we have an opportunity to do: As fools for Christ, as God's fools, we might consider in humble reverence reaffirming our allegiance to the one who pulled off the greatest jest in history. We reaffirm our belief that Jesus is Lord.

Quite simple, actually.

Just a quiet reaffirmation that goes like this: Let us pray, "Lord Jesus, many people might not think it's the smartest thing in the world to follow you. In fact, they may think I'm crazy, and that you yourself were a lunatic. But I have just enough foolish faith to believe that you pulled it off, that you conquered death and brought life and light to the darkened world.

So I recommit my life to you -- to be your fool, to live for you, and to seek support in that company of fools we call the church. Amen."