Wednesday: We Are April Fools
How could it be that it was only a week between the crowds shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David!” and then shouting, “Crucify him!”?
We’re stuck right the in the middle of that week, trapped between triumph and despair, and today is the day of betrayal.
How apropos that today is also April Fool’s Day.
The interesting thing that I learned is that the placement of April Fool’s Day on April 1st may be related to the fact that it is exactly one week after the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25.
One week ago today, the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would bear a son, a child, and name him Jesus.
The promise of the salvation of the world awoke like a star within her that day. And today, just a week later, we are reading of Judas betraying Jesus unto death. Again—just a week!
How could things turn to such disaster in just a week?
I imagine people began celebrating April Fool’s Day a week after the Annunciation because it must have been about a week later that Mary realized what a fool she was to say yes to Gabriel’s crazy proposal.
I’ve actually always hated April Fool’s Day.
I don’t like practical jokes—I don’t find them funny.
I know some would call me too serious and unable to take a joke, and they may be right.
But I hate the faint cruelty that underlies practical jokes.
Their entire purpose is to make someone else look stupid and gullible, or to shock or startle them so they feel embarrassed.
I always feel paranoid on April Fool’s Day, as though anything anyone says or does to me might be a prank waiting to happen.
I am mistrustful and alienated, and there is some undefinable poignancy to those feelings because they coincide with our gospel so well today.
Today’s scripture is about betrayal, and thinking about this story on April Fool’s Day makes the whole thing seem even more like an incredibly bitter and cruel cosmic joke.
Today’s gospel is really about being trapped in the machine of a story unfolding that cannot be escaped.
And again how appropriate that we come to this day on April Fool’s Day, because there is such a fine line between tragedy and farce.
Everyone in this story is stumbling around like they are in a bad comedy.
Peter is motioning to John to ask Jesus who will betray him. “Surely it is not I, Lord!”
Even as Jesus’ betrayal unfolds before their very eyes, they still don’t understand.
“I guess Judas is going to buy food for the festival,” they say, “Or give some money to the poor.”
Every line is thick with painful irony.
Normally when I stand in the pulpit, I make sure that I am not going to leave without sharing the Good News with you.
But tonight, there is no Good News.
We are stuck and trapped in the midst of a tragedy unfolding, and Easter Day and the resurrection are a long, long way away from now.
There is no good news in Judas being entered by Satan, in the disciples having no understanding of what is happening save that it is something terrible that they cannot comprehend, of Jesus watching his dear friend go out to betray him, knowing the sign that will be given to mark him for the kill is a kiss.
The wheels turn and we are ground up in them right along with everyone else in the Upper Room.
There is one consolation, though.
It is in the fact that Jesus is trapped too.
We are not comforted by the fact that he seems as powerless as we are to stop this awful farce from unfolding.
But here is the moment where the central meaning of the crucifixion begins to unfold.
Jesus is not a superhero on the Cross.
He is a broken and defeated man who lacks the power to save anyone or fix anything.
Jesus on the Cross is God in the ultimate solidarity with us.
Jesus on the Cross refuses to turn his back on us, refuses to abandon us, stays with us and sticks with us no matter how awful our suffering can ever become, and is there with us in the midst of it.
He sheds his blood and sweat and tears just like we do, slogging through the mud of the worst of the human condition.
Whatever any of us have ever been put through emotionally or physically, he is in it with us by virtue of his offering of himself on Golgotha, with no power—supernatural or otherwise—to protect him.
And it all starts here.
Part of what makes this scene in our Gospel tonight so painful is we want to shout, “No! Stop! Jesus—you can prevent this all from happening! You are the Son of the Living God—find a way, any other way, to save us from ourselves! Don’t put yourself and all of us through this!”
This is the point of no return.
And Jesus sees it, knows it, and continues to walk toward it with open eyes.
He has to force himself through it for a moment—“Do quickly what you are going to do,” he says to Judas. “Get out of here and go betray me before I can lose my nerve,” he says.
But he refuses to spare himself, because he will not abandon us to the darkness.
He will enter the darkness and take it all into himself to save us, no matter what cost he must bear.
It all seems so foolish.
But today is April 1st, a day for fools.
Paul says it himself in the First Letter to the Corinthians: “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.”
The unfolding of salvation has always been about people taking foolish risks, from the day Mary said yes to Gabriel to the day that Jesus said yes to the Cross.
The soldiers who crucify Jesus will mock him for the fool they think he is, but every April we have the chance to be fools along with him, fools who open ourselves to the pain of the tragedy that must unfold before the dawning of the day of resurrection.
After all, from Shakespeare to Dostoyevsky, throughout great works of literature, it is often the fool who is the wisest and speaks the truth the most clearly.
Because in the end, the joke is not on us.
In the end, the joke is on the forces of sin and death.
In the end, we find that it is Satan who has played the fool, and we ask along with scripture, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”
It turns out that being fool enough to trust Jesus is the risk with the greatest reward of all—resurrection to new life in him.
We must be fools indeed to give ourselves over so easily to the story that grinds on through betrayal toward death, letting ourselves be trapped in this pain and tragedy along with Jesus and the other disciples.
“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise,” Paul says, “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.”
We may be weak and foolish far more often than we are strong or wise, but today we play the fools for and with Christ, and there can be no better place to be than that.
And so it seems there is Good News to be had tonight, even in the midst of the farcical tragedy unfolding.
All we need is to be fools enough to walk into the darkness with Jesus, fools enough to believe there is life on the other side of death.
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