Easter 2018 is April 1. April Fools’ Day in the United States.
For those of us who delight in practical jokes, we feel the irony of celebrating the event we most need to be deadly serious on a day noted for dubious tricks and traps. To set the resurrection of Christ alongside impishness seems a minor sacrilege. Why would we want to even entertain the idea that the resurrection was a kind of joke? Why would we even muse on the deception concocted by chief priests and negotiable guards (Matthew 28:11-15)? If the resurrection of Jesus is a lie, then Christians are to be pitied more than all people (I Corinthians 15:19).
On the other hand, the resurrection is a great joke. Not in the disdainful sense, but in the comic sense that describes certain forms of theater. The resurrection of Christ is where the true story of the world turns from tragedy to comedy. Both forms of drama have shared elements, but what differentiates them is how they end and what ultimately happens to the characters. Jesus’ life could have been a tragedy, but God’s power transforms death into eternal life. The laughing joy of God ripples through the rocks on that first Easter. The bitter grave goes to pieces over it. And Mary thought He was the gardener! He had us all along. He even told us ahead of time how the story would go, but we couldn’t believe it until it happened. No one is ahead of God’s punchlines.
So yes, Easter is a great joke. That is why it is perfect for a certain kind of fool. Not the worldly ones, but the heavenly ones. Jesus appeared to be foolish in His unbounded trust of the Father and those who follow Christ must abandon themselves to foolishness in the eyes of the world. The world knows that Christians believe wild doctrines, that they waste their lives on one religion when there are many, that they try to give up their own desires to better serve others’ needs, and that they are so unreasoned in their supernaturalism. But then let Christians be fools, if only to obey and love the One who chose the foolish things to shame the wise.
Perhaps 2018’s resurrection Sunday is better named Easter Fools’ Day.
But to be counted as Christian because of the one original Easter Fools’ Day can have tragic costs.
This year’s April 4, the Wednesday after Easter, will mark 50 years since the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Our nation will gather for memorials, prayers, and demonstrations of unity and protest. Some will undoubtedly be on the National Mall near the statue. Others will be in Memphis at the Lorraine Motel. We’ll see it in the news, learn it again in school, and tense up during racially-charged conversations at work. But what our nation too often forgets is that Martin Luther King was a fool in all the right ways.
To begin with, God had chosen him to be counted among God’s people. And then God made him a Baptist minister. And God convicted him through the words of the Biblical prophets about the crying need for direct non-violent action in the United States. King’s part? Obedience. To be foolish in the eyes of the world. To some fellow clergy, he was one more activist too fiery and too political for his own good or anyone else’s. To thousands of his Christian brothers and sisters, he was merely an interesting figure who was rocking the boat, but maybe should have waited for a better time. To secular and cynical minds, he was one more dedicated humanist who got shot. He could have saved his life by backing off, of course, and thereby would have lost it entirely. The only real way to live was to be a fool for Christ, obeying the will of the Father and waiting for comedy and joy to triumph.
And, somehow, it does. The Rev. King and other Christian fools don’t get to experience all that triumph, not yet, but so many have been to the mountaintop and seen the end of the story. The end of every Christian fool’s story is not simply leaving a legacy, nor inspiration for justice, nor serving as a source of hope for the next generation. That is all too small. He and other fools for Christ are not locked into the past and present; they have a lively future. In living and dying, such fools count on resurrection. God makes all things new. And that will be because God has begun it in the risen Christ and God has always been one who finishes His masterworks.
So let this Easter Sunday be Easter Fools’ Day and you an Easter fool. Tragedy, sin, and evil remain, but Christians trust the Great Comedian. We are leaning forward in our seats to hear the final perfect line in His great script of history, but we’ve picked up on how the grand joke goes.
Did I tell you the one about the day Jesus was in the grave, but then He wasn’t?
She thought he was the gardener! And she was right.
His first work was Eden. So will His last be.