Monday, March 19, 2018
I did something foolish -- or at least unusual -- for Quakers yesterday. I preached from the lectionary at our local meeting. The reading was John 12:20-33. What follows comes from my study of that text -- thought it might not seem like it.
Easter falls on April 1 – April Fool’s Day. April 1st is a day for joking around. Which is one reason Nancy and I got married the day after April 1st. This joking around is an old practice. You see April Fool’s started almost five hundred years ago.
In sixteenth-century France, the start of the new year was observed on April first. New Year’s then was celebrated in much the same way as it is today with parties and dancing into the wee hours. Then, in 1562, Pope Gregory introduced a new calendar for the Christian world. In his calendar the new year fell on January first. There were some people, however, who hadn't heard or didn't believe the change in the date, so they continued celebrating New Year's Day on April first. Other people played tricks on them and called them "April fools." They sent them on "fool's errands" or tried to make them believe that something false was true. In France today, April first is called "Poisson d'Avril." French children fool their friends by taping a paper fish to their friends' backs. When the "young fool" discovers this trick, the prankster yells "Poisson d'Avril!" (April Fish!) – which doesn’t have quite the same ring as “April Fool.”
April 1st as a day of foolishness is celebrated around the world – with regional variations. In Scotland, for example, April Fool's Day is actually celebrated for two days. The second day is devoted to pranks involving the posterior. So it is called “Taily Day.”
All this foolishness comes to a head on April 1 – and I’m happy that it falls this year on Sunday. Not because of the silliness (which we often call foolishness), but because of the real foolishness that God used that we remember at this time of year. As 1 Corinthians 1:27 reminds us “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.”
In no way is that more true then it is as we look toward Easter. Easter centers around foolishness. No, not human foolishness – though it may give us some comfort to think that way about Pilate, Herod, Judas, the “crucify him” crowd or even the thick headed disciples. But the foolishness I’m thinking of is foolishness to the extreme – the folly of Jesus. It may make us uncomfortable to think of him that way, but Jesus was the ultimate fool. At least by the world’s standards.
Think about it – what sane man would talk about being “one with the Father” and mean it? What great teacher would joke about camels and eyes of needles or tell tales of foolish fathers who forgive even prodigal sons? And what rational person would give himself up, not for his family or friends, but the very people who hated him and despised him? As Paul writes to the Romans: “You see, …when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
What a fantastically foolish thing to do. I doubt any of us can truly comprehend what doing this meant for Jesus. David Citino, a poet, helped me to understand it a bit better when I read his poem “Situation No. 33: The Feast”
You’re told the ingredients
have been assembled: for the sake of love,
wine and bread, fennel, honey and leeks;
laurel and bay to represent
your political importance and way with words;
a sampling of fabulous beasts and birds.
Fruits and meats to symbolize labor;
salt, the apple and lamb.
You’re told the entertainment
will consist of your slow dismemberment
to the pulse of bass drums,
the plodding cadence of Gregorian chant,
screams of your parents and children.
You’re told it will hurt
like nothing else, but after it’s over
your very best friends will take you
home with them and place you
on altars in the midst of music and yearning,
place you near fire, teach their children
to sing your name.
Do you accept?
The answer is intelligently clear – no, we do not accept. What kind of fools do you take us for? Fools like Christ? Foolish, foolish Jesus. His actions confound us to this day, if we really stop and think about them.
Yes, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise;” – if we think we are wise. The cosmic Christ comes out of chaos and creates everliving love – calling us home to the Father. “Ally, ally in Free” he calls, “the rules are suspended. No one is out. No one is “it.” Run home. Run home.” He is the “April Fool” of whom Noel Stookey sings:
You wear your heart on your sleeve
And though they laugh when they leave
You call it Love and I believe (you)
Why must you always play the clown?
You have the edge you laid it down
You give it up without a sound...
Oh April Fool
How can the say "love is cruel"?
They catch the ring but drop the jewel.
Like a teardrop in a pool...
As the heart shows through the eyes
Before you were born you were recognized
And unto the losers comes their Prize.
Oh April Fool
Even as the hands were washed, you knew
We'd free the thief instead of you
You said the Father was in You
You said we know not what we do
Forgive us...April Fool.
Who, indeed, is the true April Fool – the Christ who comes turning mourning into dancing, dying for his enemies, baking fish by the seaside for his friends, or us, so wise by the world’s standards, who guard what we have, repay slights with interest, and pray loud, but not so well?
Let us, when we arrive at this April Fool’s Day, remember the greatest Fool of all – the everliving Christ who comes dancing from the grave, who defeats death that we might live, who forgives all prodigals, who gives himself for others. May we become, as Paul urges us, “Fool’s for Christ’s sake,” giving our lives for each other and Him.
And that is no joke.