Pondering the Easter Fool
“If you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:22b, New Revised Standard Version)
This year, Easter Sunday is on April Fools’ Day. The last time that happened was in 1956, several months before I was born. Since then, a couple of generations of Christian preachers have completed forty years of preaching without ever having the opportunity to preach on Easter Sunday as April Fools’ Day. But this year, there is what could be a once-in-a-lifetime occasion to do so.
As it turns out, there are long breaks between Easter April Fools’ Days. Then, they happen once every eleven years for a few times; then there is another long break. So, according to my Google search, the sequence over the past few centuries has been (and will be): 1714, 1725, 1736, 1804, 1866, 1877, 1888, 1923, 1934, 1945, 1956, 2018, 2029, 2040, 2108, 2170, 2181, 2192, 2238, 2249, 2260. In short, if you are a preacher, you don’t want to assume that you will have another chance to do this later. Now is the time. Imagine the possibilities! Here is a link from United Methodist Communications from someone who has given it some thought: umcom.org/learn/the-foolishness-of-god-when-easter-falls-on-april-fools-day
As I ponder the possibilities, the verse above from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount comes to mind. It is one of the few times that Jesus mentions the word, “Fool.” In spite of the frequent references to fools and foolishness in the Old Testament Book of Proverbs, Jesus seems to use the word sparingly. In addition to the Sermon on the Mount, in the Gospel of Matthew, there is also the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids (Matthew 25:1-12). In Luke, there is the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-21). In both Matthew and Luke, there is one occasion each when Pharisees are called “fools” (Matthew 23:17 and Luke 11:40). In Mark, Jesus mentions “folly” among a list of evil things (Mark 7:22). In John, there is no mention at all.
Which brings me back to the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus is talking about anger and warns that saying “You fool” could lead to a hellish existence. So, if we want to ponder a possible connection between April Fools and Easter, who would be the fool? If Easter is thought of as a joke, then on whom is the joke? Of course, we cannot consider Easter apart from Good Friday, nor can we consider Good Friday apart from the ministry of Jesus that leads Him to that place. One of the protagonists in the ministry of Jesus is Satan. Surely on Good Friday, Satan must have been thinking that he had at last won the battle over Jesus. The tortuous, shameful experience of crucifixion seemed to be, from Satan’s angle, a clear repudiation of Jesus. But not so fast! On Easter Sunday, Jesus is vindicated and victorious rather than undone. Instead of death undoing Jesus, Jesus undoes death. (See a great book by Fleming Rutledge called The Undoing of Death.)
The decisive joke that sets the destiny of the cosmos is on Satan. In this high-stakes showdown, God is the joker; Satan is the fool. In fact, Jesus has been winning the victory all along, especially as He embraces the Cross as the Way of perfect love in a world that is captive to sin and death. Satan does not defeat Jesus on the Cross; Jesus defeats Satan on the Cross, by showing His perfect obedience to and unfailing faithfulness in God’s love. Going to the Cross and enduring its agonies, Jesus is rejecting every Satanic temptation to something less. Easter is God’s demonstration that Jesus has it right, and that, in Him, God’s forgiving grace overcomes the world’s sin while God’s resurrection power overcomes the world’s captivity to death.
There is one other time when Jesus uses the word, “fool,” and it is on the first Easter Day. On the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), two of Jesus’ discouraged followers have heard the reports of His resurrection but cannot bring themselves to believe that someone would actually rise from the dead! Perhaps it seems too foolish to them. But Jesus again reverse the tables. He says, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into His glory?” (Luke 24:25-26)
St. Paul would later (1 Corinthians 1:18-25) say something like, the foolishness of the world (that God cannot raise the Son of God from the dead) is actually the wisdom and power of God (that God has raised Jesus from the dead, and in so doing has saved the world from sin and death forever.) What seems like folly to the world is God’s gift of salvation for those who can see it (for those who get the Joke, that is really no joke at all).
In our world that is still so obviously filled with folly, may we as Jesus’ followers today embrace the vocation of being fools for Christ! The Easter truth is that the One whom the world thinks of as a joke is really God’s answer to the world’s deepest questions and God’s remedy for the world’s deepest needs. I hope we can have fun with this great news on this Easter.
Grace and Peace,