The April Fool
1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” 3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying. 11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). 17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
Today is April Fools' Day. It is also Easter Sunday.
This unusual conjunction of dates cannot go without comment.
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.
Therefore, 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 this discussion 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. It's as though on April Fools' Day, everyone gets out of their houses for the first time, like mole-people leaving their subterranean burrows to frolic in the sunshine for a while.
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 merriment ensues.
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, cut an outline of a large bug, something that's perhaps an inch or two long, and affix it to the inside of your spouse's lampshade. When the lamp is turned on, the silhouette of the bug appears suddenly, freaking out your victim.
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.
Today is Easter. This is unarguably the highest and most holy day of the Christian calendar. As holy days go, 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 potentates 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!
Perhaps the disciples are the April fools. 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 peripatetic 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 home. They abandoned him, betrayed him and wanted to forget him.
And now it's Easter morning and Jesus is risen! April fools!
Perhaps the April fool is Annas, the high priest, and his toady son-in-law, Caiaphas. Annas is a dark, malevolent figure in this Holy Week drama, something akin to Grand Moff Tarkin or 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!
Perhaps the April fools are the soldiers guarding the tomb. You have to feel for these fellows. They're simply cogs in the Roman industrial military complex. They've got guard duty in a cemetery. 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! Haha! They are good, decent chaps. Ordinary, common, 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!
Perhaps the April fool is 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!
Perhaps the April fool is Thomas, the one with a Ph.D. from Jerusalem Institute of Technology. Oh, 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 scholarly fellow Thomas who asked, "We do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" (). When his colleagues asserted that Jesus was alive, it was Thomas, ever the academic and scientist, 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" ().
And now, Thomas, it's Easter morning and Jesus is risen! April fools!
Perhaps the greatest fools are all of us. Certainly, much of the world believes we're crackers, 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 obey his word, are regarded by many as the fools. The April fools.
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!
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 Trickster as it were. 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 eschewed a comfortable lifestyle. For friends he had tax collectors, hookers, lepers, fishermen, the poor and needy. Not a CEO among his inner circle. He shunted aside angel 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" (). Jesus was God's Fool, "a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks," whereby God reconciled the world to himself (; ).
In the royal courts of medieval Europe, there was often a character known as the fool, or jester. On one level, the fool was there to keep the noble lord and his guests entertained at their banquets. Yet, on another level, the fool possessed a type of power that could be claimed by no one else in the room. The fool could criticize the king to his face and get away with it. He could speak truth to power.
A fool figures prominently in one of Shakespeare's greatest tragedies, King Lear. After making some bad decisions that lead to the loss of all his property and power, the king goes mad and exiles himself to the moor in winter. There he would have surely died, were it not for his faithful fool and for his only loyal friend, the Duke of Gloucester, who's been blinded for his decision to side with the king.
Lacking sight, the steadfast Gloucester can do little to physically help his old friend. And the king, afflicted by madness, can no longer make sensible decisions. It falls to the fool to look after both fallen noblemen. He's the only faithful and true servant they've got left.
The brilliant thing Shakespeare does with this character of the fool is that he sees to it that every word that comes out of the fool's mouth -- as absurd as it may sound at times -- is truth. Lear's fool never lies to him. Although the message is typically delivered in a joking way, he speaks truth.
There's something else besides truth that forms the foundation of the fool's relationship to King Lear, and that is love. The reason the fool can get away with saying the things he does is that, even in his madness, the king still knows his fool loves him.
So, there you have it, the characteristics of a holy fool: truth-telling and love
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" (). 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" ().
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" ().
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. Perhaps we might reaffirm our belief that Jesus is Lord.
Quite simple, actually.
Just a quiet reaffirmation that goes like this: "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 something of 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, as it were, to live for you, and to seek support in that company of fools we call the church. Amen."