“We are fools because of the Messiah, but you are wise in the Messiah! We are weak, but you are strong! You are celebrated, we are nobodies!” 1 Corinthians 4:10 (New Testament for Everyone)
There is an interesting coincidence this year, that Easter Day and April Fool’s Day fall on the same Sunday. The origins of April Fool’s Day are not clear, but the celebration of a day set aside for the playing of tricks appears to be fairly universal. The first known British April Fool’s prank appears to have been perpetrated in 1698, when people were fooled into going to the Tower of London to see the lions being washed. Hilarious! And who can forget the “spaghetti tree” edition of Panorama in 1957 – yes, they did broadcast an article about the spaghetti harvest! For all that certain commentators have tried to suggest that Noah sent out the first dove, the one which failed to find land, on April 1st, there is no obvious link with the Bible or the Church for this day, unlike so many others. So, for once, we cannot complain of misappropriation!
Easter, of course, is most definitely Biblical. Which is to say, the commemoration is – the name, not so much. For reasons best known to the early Church, the English name for the feast appears to derive from Oestre, a pagan fertility goddess, rather than from the Hebrew name for Passover, pesach, which is the derivation used in most other European languages. This gives us the Paschal candle, for example. Obvious comments from non-believers are that Christians have stolen a pre-existing festival – similar accusations are levelled against Christmas. Not true, of course, but very difficult to silence. How foolish of us not to recognise this conspiracy of deception by the early bishops!
Foolishness is, in fact, a rather unexpected theme of Easter. St Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthian church, a church riven by infighting, self-opinion and misunderstanding, wrote,
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?…For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:20, 22-23)
Foolishness to the Gentiles. The notion of the Saviour of the world allowing himself to be put to death, and the death of a criminal at that, was utter nonsense to the world of classical Greek and Roman thinking. A death in battle they could have understood. They knew all about heroes and heroic deaths. And as to the nonsense of Jesus rising from the dead…well, more foolishness. St Paul recognised this criticism, and even took on the mantle of being a fool for Christ, in his sarcastic rebuke to the pride of the Corinthian church in chapter 4 – if your self-aggrandizing attitude and failure to humble yourselves before your God is wisdom, he is saying, then we mere apostles, servants of the Lord, are fools indeed!
The world cannot easily grasp the idea that God came to earth in the form of Jesus and failed to put everything right immediately. God could, of course, have taken on the role of benign dictator, but that has never been God’s way of dealing with her Creation. Instead, Jesus showed us how to live and, ultimately, how to die, in service of humanity. And then, most foolish of all, God showed us that even death is no barrier to full life. The literal, physical bodily resurrection of Jesus is still controversial, and rejected by many. Even more fail to fully accept that the Bible tells us that we shall also be physically, bodily resurrected at the end of all things. How foolish to imagine that a dead body, gone to dust, could be reconstituted and come back to life! And yet that is the message of Easter – the resurrection of Jesus gives us the hope of eternal life, perpetual existence in the perfected and resurrected Creation. Yet more foolishness – no sitting on clouds, or ‘going to heaven’, but life, in a physical body, recognisably ourselves, on an earth which is healed and restored, and in which death and suffering are no more.
And yet…billions of people have believed this message, and many of those have changed their approach to life when they recognise that our existence is not just about what we can acquire in our three score and ten years, but is rather about finding our purpose in the eternal plan of the Creator. The removal of death’s finality is not a foolish pipe dream, but the ultimate evidence of God’s love for all humanity.
So, for a while, we who accept this wonderful gift must wear the motley of the fool. We must be the fool who serves rather than seeks to gain, who loves rather than hates, who forgives rather than takes revenge. We must be the fool who turns the wisdom of the world on its head with the words of Jesus, the fool who lives like one who believes that all things come from God. We must be the fool who welcomes and doesn’t reject, the fool who understands and does not judge. That is the fool God wants, and we start at the empty tomb, as the fool who accepts that Jesus was good to his word, the fool who knows the master is not gone, the fool who knows that death is not the end – the fool who rejoices at the Easter acclamation,
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!