Easter: Fools For Christ
April Fools’ Day is actually the best possible day for Easter. Why?
April Fools’ Day is a tradition with deep folk roots in many European countries.
In fact, we can even point to a special Anglican flavor of it—it is mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
Today we know April Fools’ Day as a time to pull pranks, trying to make someone look like a fool and be embarrassed.
Some people love practical jokes and think of them as all in good fun. I personally hate them and hide away from the world on the first of April for fear of falling prey to one.
But there is another tradition of foolishness that is deeply rooted in Christian theology. It goes all the way back to Paul himself.
I’m going to quote a passage here from 1 Corinthians 1 at some length, because it really matters for how we approach our April Fools’ Easter.
“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ 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 since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”
“Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”
By the third chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul goes from describing us as foolish to actively advising us to become foolish: “Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness’, and again, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.’”
By chapter 4, Paul comes out and says it in the bluntest possible terms: “We are fools for the sake of Christ.”
Most of us don’t want to think of ourselves as fools, much less as fools for the sake of Christ.
But there is a rich tradition in Christianity of the Holy Fool.
The Holy Fool is usually someone who is able to take the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience ludicrously literally.
Saint Francis, our own patron, is one of the most famous Holy Fools.
Francis’s follower, Brother Juniper, was another Holy Fool.
He was so committed to giving away his worldly goods that his fellow friars had to keep a very close watch on him. He was in the habit of giving away the clothes on his back, so frequently that he often ran around naked, causing a scandal.
Holy Fools are not just stupid or crazy.
Their actions are a both a kind of performance art and a pointed political statement.
They are not just so on fire for Jesus that they lose their reason.
They are sending a message to the rest of us “sane” people that we might be the crazy ones.
We might be the ones with misplaced priorities.
We might be the ones who don’t know which end is up.
We might be the ones storing up treasures on earth while the Fools, who can barely seem to care for themselves in any practical way, are storing up treasures in heaven.
And the actions of Holy Fools are always in direct response to some commandment of Jesus.
We are then forced to admit the truth that we secretly believe that Jesus himself was crazy, and that everything he asked us to do was crazy as well.
It’s a bunch of nice ideas, but no one could live like that in the real world.
And it does seem foolish to believe that we could ever take Jesus’ commandments seriously and literally.
“If someone asks you for your coat, give him your cloak also.”
“Love your enemies, and do good to those who hate you.”
“Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
“Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.”
“Sell everything you have, give the money to the poor, and come follow me.”
Who could actually live like that?
Well, Holy Fools do, and that is why they are generally hated and persecuted—which Jesus predicted as well.
We hate seeing people who reveal how shallow our discipleship can sometimes be.
We have obligations and responsibilities, we can’t simply dissolve our economic stability for the sake of some words in the Bible, no matter what it says Jesus asks of us.
The life he preaches is not realistic, and we simply can’t do it.
But if we do not believe living out Jesus’ commandments is possible, if we believe they are foolish, why would we believe in the Resurrection?
Indeed, in the gospels, the disciples essentially believe the Resurrection is an April Fools’ Day prank.
In Luke 24, we read when the women return with news that Jesus has risen, “Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told this to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”
In the Gospel of John, they think it’s a prank gone even further and more mean-spirited—they think Jesus’ body has been stolen from the tomb.
And in Mark, Jesus isn’t too happy that they think it’s a prank.
“And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them. Afterward Jesus appeared to the eleven themselves as they sat at table; and he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believe those who saw him after he had risen.”
But who could blame them?
This story of resurrection that the women bring seems like a joke in very poor taste.
The disciples have just been through the worst trauma, violence, betrayal, and failure of their lives.
They have screwed up royally, and they have watched the machinery of a cold and impersonal state destroy and murder their beloved friend and teacher.
They are in no mood for jests or pranks, and this ridiculous story of Jesus walking around alive again is like twisting the knife in their hearts, a cruel and heartless joke.
How amazed they must have been to find themselves in short order proclaiming the unbelievable truth to the rest of the world, being accused (on Pentecost) of being drunk or worse.
The oldest tradition of April Fools’ Day in the British Isles is called “Huntigowk Day,” a shortening of the “Hunt the Gowk,” meaning to look for the cuckoo or fool.
You give someone a sealed letter and ask them to deliver it by hand to someone else because their help is urgently needed. The recipient opens it and reads, “Dinna laugh, dinna smile. Hunt the gowk another mile.”
The recipient then seals up the letter and says that someone else is needed to help with the urgent project, and sends the “gowk” onto another person. The poor letter-carrier is led along from person to person as long as her gullibility allows.
This is exactly who we are as gospel-bearers.
We carry a foolish message and are commanded to carry it to the world, one person at a time.
We proclaim the foolishness of Christ crucified, as Paul says, and as blind holy fools keep bringing the tidings to person after person, house after house.
What is the reward of the holy fool, people like Paul and Francis and Jesus?
They live in complete freedom.
They proclaim the truth with joy and abandon, and have no need of success or validation from the world.
They are wholly and completely dependent on God for their welfare and well-being.
Their trust in God liberates them utterly.
And their lack of encumbrance or self-consciousness, this stupid naïve courage to cast themselves on an uncaring world with a message the world does not want to hear and will not believe, makes them the most vivid messengers of all.
The resurrection seems to the world but an idle tale, and we may be fools to believe it and proclaim it.
But we are fools for Christ, and we are in very good company.
The proverb, “Hunt the gowk another mile,” describes us as well.
We’ll write it on our hearts and make it the compass of our days: “Carry the good news another mile.”
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