Scripture | John 20:1-18 | 1 Corinthians 1:18-30
All of us know how Easter came to be – I mean, that’s why we’re here, right? But I for one didn’t know where April Fools’ Day came from. Apparently it goes back to when the Gregorian calendar was introduced in Europe in the 1500s. Up until then the French celebrated New Year’s somewhere around April 1. When the new calendar came out, New Year’s was moved to January 1st.
Some folks didn’t like it – imagine, people not liking change – so they kept celebrating the New Year around April 1. To yank their chains, some jokesters started pranking them – like inviting them to non-existent New Year’s Day parties on April 1st; they’d show up and no one would be there. It didn’t take long for April 1st to become an annual festival of pranks and hoaxes.
Personally, I think Easter is the best April Fools’ prank ever! The biggest prank ever pulled off in the history of humanity happened that first Easter morning when Jesus emerged from the tomb alive. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, I’m told, they even celebrate the day after Easter as an official “Day of Joy and Laughter” in honor of the great joke God pulled on Satan.
God’s Easter prank fooled everyone:
- It fooled the Roman government officials who crucified Jesus, and thought they’d put that troublemaker in his place;
- It fooled the religious authorities who wanted to stop Jesus from interfering with their consolidation of power;
- It fooled Satan, who assumed that when the Son of God died, evil had won;
- It even fooled Mary – poor Mary! When she saw him she thought he was the gardener.
God fooled them all that first Easter. It was just too crazy for words.
Until Easter morning, Jesus must have seemed like a fool himself to those who were watching. Getting himself into trouble, letting himself be caught by authorities, not fighting for himself at his trial, dying a humiliating death on a cross. But it turned out that his ‘foolishness’ revealed God’s power like nothing else could. Only by letting the worst happen to him could people see God’s wisdom at work in the world: that
- goodness is stronger than evil,
- truth is greater than lies,
- love is stronger than hatred,
- and life is stronger than death.
That’s the foolish wisdom of God.
It’s different than the way the world works, isn’t it? Completely different. Polar opposites.
Honestly, not much has changed since that first Easter. The world still measures power by how much control people have over others. The world still sees success by how much people own or how famous they are. The world still views wisdom as knowing what you can get away with, or how well you can manipulate people. “Wisdom” has to do with saving yourself first and looking out for Number One. It’s all about maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain. In that world, everything about the cross is foolish idiocy.
And believing in the resurrection of Jesus? You’ve got to be kidding.
So are we foolish, or wise? I guess it depends which world you live in. By this world’s standards, we may be the worst kind of fools for believing in the wisdom of God.
But what if it’s true? That the wisdom of God is so much wiser than the wisdom of the world around us? What if it is this world, in fact, that is so foolish?
I’ve been reading a book for a while now that is a source of great insight. It’s called The Book of Joy, about a meeting between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I keep reading and re-reading it because I find these men so wise. Both faced great suffering, not only their own, but that of their people. Yet one of the threads throughout this book is their wicked sense of humor and their ability to laugh. As they tell their stories, it becomes clear that their laughter at the foolishness of human foibles is one of the most powerful ways they faced both evil and pain.
Like the time the Dalai Lama was visiting Northern Ireland. It was right after “The Troubles,” as it was called; the period of violence that grew from the deep-seated animosity between Protestants and Catholics. The Dalai Lama attended a private meeting where both sides were present, both victims of violence and perpetrators. The tension was palpable; there had been great suffering on both sides. He listened as a former militant told of how he had been indoctrinated to believe that the violence perpetuated against the Catholics was justified - because Jesus was a Protestant! The Dalai Lama began to laugh uncontrollably – even he knew that Jesus was a Jew! His laughter changed the atmosphere completely. The tension lifted.
So who was wise, and who was foolish?
Then there was the time Archbishop Tutu spoke at a funeral outside Johannesburg. It was at the height of Apartheid in South Africa, when government-sanctioned white supremacy kept blacks – the majority - in poverty and powerlessness. There had been a massacre by white soldiers in a black township, and the situation was extremely tense.
At the funeral he began by telling a story he had heard, about creation, how God had made people by forming them out of clay and baking them in a kiln. Well, God forgot all about the little figures in the kiln and came back to find them burned to cinders – and that’s how black people came to be. People laughed a little nervously.
Then he told how God made a second batch, but this time was so worried about burning them that God took them out too soon, and they were just half-baked. And that’s how white people came to be. And then they laughed in earnest. People were still in pain, but the anger lessened. It lightened.
So was he foolish, or was he wise?
Last week in France a gendarme named Arnaud Beltrame died in a hostage takeover. The attacker had stormed a supermarket and killed a worker and a customer before taking a cashier hostage. The police and special forces quickly surrounded the building.
Then Arnaud Beltrame did something extraordinary; you might even say absurd. He set down his weapon and offered to take the cashier’s place. Her name was Julie, and she had a two-year-old daughter. He went into the building, and she came out. And Beltrame died.
At the State funeral, French President Emmanuel Macron said this about Beltrame:
With all his experience… he surely knew he had a rendezvous with death. He took this decision, which was not just a sacrifice but was first being true to himself, true to his values and true to who he was and what he wanted to be. He would not have allowed anyone to take his place because he knew the example has to be set from the top… the light he has lit in us has not gone out.
By the world’s standards, he was utterly foolish. Wasn’t he?
Wasn’t Jesus just a fool, too?
At the beginning of the Gospel of John it says that what came into being in Jesus was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
“The light he has lit in us has not gone out.” Are we fools to believe that?
Jesus said he gave us an example, to serve one another. Are we fools to live sacrificially?
Jesus said we should love one another, even as he loved us. Are we fools to love?
Jesus said he came that we might have life, and have it abundantly. Are we fools to think that the cruelty of the cross could lead to life; and sorrow to laughter, or this world’s despair become hope?
I don’t know about you, but I believe that God’s wisdom is wiser than the dull, deadly greed of this small, petty world, the predictable power-grabs, the carefully nurtured arrogance and hatred that this world lives by too often. I would much rather live in God’s foolish wisdom than that.
I want to stand with the fools of this world who dare to believe things can change, even if change becomes costly.
I want to be one of those fools who believes that goodness is stronger than evil, truth is greater than lies, love is stronger than hatred, and life is stronger than death.
If I’m a fool, then so be it. I would rather live in the foolishness of God.
I want to live as one of God’s fools for love.
Rev. Karen Chakoian
First Presbyterian Church