“Fools”

April 1, 2018
Jonathan Rumburg
John 20:1-18

Introduction

Today is Easter Sunday.  It is also April Fools’ Day.  This unusual conjunction of dates cannot go without comment.

Since 1700, 318 years ago, Easter has fallen on April 1 only 11 times!  The last time was in 1956, more than 60 years ago.  Easter falls on April Fools’ Day again in 2029 and 2040, but after that it will not be observed on April 1 until 2108.  And then 2170 after that.  All that is to say that this fascinating coincidence begs to be noticed and mentioned.

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          April Fool’s pranks are played by pranksters who try to pull one over on a hapless soul who’s forgotten about the perils of April 1.  If successful, the fool is fooled, and the prankster is awarded the joy of loudly proclaiming “April Fool!”

The internet provides a plethora of suggestions to up one’s April Fool’s game.  Some of them would be…

Dip apple-sized onions in caramel, poke a stick in them, and serve them to folks who think they’re biting into an apple.

Or, cut an outline of a large bug, and affix it to the inside of your spouse’s lampshade.  When the lamp is turned on, the silhouette of the bug appears.

This being Easter, there’s ample opportunity to trick the children in our lives… Like unwrapping those little chocolate eggs from their foil wrappers, and rewrapping grapes.  Or stuffing the eggs you’ll hide for their hunt, not with candy but with baby carrots.

But if you want to get devious today, you can—as one website suggests—carve a little hole in a hollow chocolate bunny and fill the inside with mustard.

The possibilities are literally endless.  I know because I may have spent a bit too much time researching this part of today’s sermon!

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          Nonetheless…Today is Easter.  Unarguably the most holy day of the Christian calendar.  And today is April Fool’s Day, which may be rather serendipitous because to look at the broader Easter Story we see a lot of people trying to pull one over on others—trying to fool others toward a particular end.

So with Easter on April 1, we have to ask: “Who is the April Fool?”

A whole slew of candidates come to mind.

Move 1

          Is the April fool Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator?

He was the one who cowered in the face of certain religious leaders who said that failing to deal harshly with a treasonous villain like Jesus would not be viewed favorably by Rome.  He permitted the execution and allowed it to happen in the name of the emperor, then washed his hands of the whole affair.

But, it’s Easter and Jesus is risen!  Sorry, Pilate!  April fools!

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          Perhaps the disciples are the April fools.

          No doubt many of the disciples felt foolish at the crucifixion approached.  They had given up everything— their jobs, homes, and families—to follow Jesus on his nomadic journeys up and down Palestine.  They had pinned their hopes and their futures to a man they believed would liberate them.  And now he was being led away as a lamb to slaughter.  So the disciples ran and hid.  They abandoned him, betrayed him and wanted to forget him.

But now it’s Easter morning, Disciples, and Jesus is risen!  April fools!

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          Perhaps the April fool is the high priest Caiaphas.  A malicious figure in this Holy Week drama who has had enough of this Jesus.

Caiaphas corrupted witnesses, falsified evidence, placed a mole inside Jesus’ inner circle, tracked the movements of this radical insurgent and bided his time.  But with Passover approaching, he had to make sure Jesus was dead and buried, and quickly!  So he pulls the strings, he plays Pontius Pilate like a fiddle, and he gets the job done.

But now, Caiaphas, it’s Easter morning and Jesus is risen!  April fools!

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          Perhaps the April fools are the soldiers guarding the tomb.

          You have to feel for these guys.  They’re simply cogs in the Roman industrial military complex who have guard duty in a cemetery.

They must’ve done something pretty bad to get this job—maybe caught drinking and playing dice; or maybe allowed a prisoner to escape custody.  And now, as humiliating punishment, they’ve been sent to the tombs to guard dead people!

But it’s Easter morning and Jesus is risen!  They let the dead guy get away.  April fools!

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          Perhaps the April fool is Peter, the commercial fisherman.

Oh, Peter.  He started out enthusiastically.  He defended his rabbi right and left.  He was the one who identified Jesus as the “Christ, the Son of the living God.”  He swore never to abandon his Lord.  He even drew a sword against a regiment of Roman soldiers, and aimed to decapitate one of them, but his errant swing deprived the solider of only his ear, not his head.

And then, Peter loses faith faster than a Cleveland Browns fan on week one of a new season.

When Jesus is captured and led away, he denies he ever knew the man.  And the person who said he would never leave Jesus, leaves.

Oh Peter.  It’s Easter morning and Jesus is risen!  April fools!

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          Perhaps the April fool is Thomas, the one with a Ph.D. from “Jerusalem Institute of Technology”.  Smart-smart-smart guy this Thomas.

He prided himself on his knowledge of the visible world.  He delighted in understanding how things worked.  He was a curious fellow, believing there’s a natural explanation for everything.

When Jesus talked about going “to prepare a place” for them, it was the scholarly Thomas who asked, “We do not know where you are going.  How can we know the way?” (John 14:5).

When his colleagues asserted that Jesus was alive, it was Thomas, ever the academic and scientist, who demanded to see the empirical evidence.  “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

But Thomas, it’s Easter morning and Jesus is risen! April fools!

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          But perhaps the greatest fools are all of us.

          Certainly, much of the world believes we’re foolish souls who need Jesus and religion as some sort of emotional crutch.

It’s likely a fair percentage of the general population, who—although identifying themselves as religious— think that we committed followers of Jesus take things too seriously.  We who love Jesus, who follow his teachings, who obey his word, are regarded by many as the fools—The April fools.

And perhaps we are Easter fools—but definitely in another sense though.

We’re fools when we claim to believe, but behave as though we don’t.

We affirm a belief in the resurrection of Christ, and declare “He is risen!”  But we live as though Jesus were still in the tomb, cold and decaying.

We affirm our belief with our lips but do not confess Jesus as Lord with our lives.

Yeah, so maybe we are the fools.

After all, it’s Easter morning and Jesus is risen!  April fools!

Move 2

So who is the April Fool?

Well if we’re honest and faithful, then we’ll realize the biggest April fool is not Pontius Pilate, not the disciples, not Caiaphas the high priest, not Peter, not Thomas, and not any of us.

The greatest April fool is Jesus Christ himself.

          Jesus is the Fool of Easter.  He is the Trickster as it were.  He is the one who called the devil’s bluff in the greatest jest of all time.

Just look at the life and ministry of Jesus and we will see over and over again how he acted in foolish ways.

He eschewed a comfortable lifestyle—having had riches heaped on him at birth and wowed the religious leaders at age twelve.

For friends he had tax collectors, hookers, lepers, fishermen, the poor and needy—nary a CEO or Chief Priest among his inner circle.

He shunted aside wealthy investors, and instead told them to give away their wealth then follow him.

He knew there was power in being a somebody; but he chose instead truth in being regarded as a nobody—opting for the truth because he knew that power emerges from truth.

He chose weakness instead of strength, vulnerability instead of aggressiveness, truth instead of practicality, honesty instead of pedigree.

He stuck his fingers in the eyes of religious authorities and often seemed to deliberately bait those who had the power to kill him.

And then they did.  Through an elaborate plan of deceit, betrayal, collusion, and conspiracy, they arrested, beat, humiliated, and crucified Jesus.

But the grave could not contain him.  Not even death could hold him.

So yes, that makes Jesus the April Fool—the one who fooled everybody into thinking they could stop God’s plan of redemption.

After her encounter with Jesus on that first Easter morning, Mary returned to the Disciples and declared, “I have seen the Lord.”

What she didn’t declare was, “April Fools.”
This was no joke.  This was truth.  And there is power in truth.

Conclusion

On this Easter Fools’ Sunday, we have an opportunity…

As fools for Christ, as God’s fools, we have the opportunity, in humble reverence to the one who pulled off the greatest jest in history, to reaffirm our belief that Jesus is Lord.

It can be a simple, quiet reaffirmation that we can say to God and ourselves.  Something that maybe goes like this…

“Lord Jesus, many people might not think it’s the smartest thing in the world to follow you.

          In fact, they may think I’m foolish, and that you yourself were something of a lunatic.

          But I have just enough foolish faith to believe you pulled it off, that you conquered death and brought healing, wholeness, and new life to a broken, fragmented, and dying world.

          So I recommit my life to you—to be your fool, to seek support in that company of fools called the church, and live in your foolish ways.”

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          It’s Easter.  And I invite you to make that reaffirmation.

Recommit your life to be a fool for Christ.

Because even though it may seem foolish, and the world around us label us fools—the ways of Jesus will lead us beyond the foolish ways of this world, to a way of life that is true life… new life with the risen Jesus.  Happy Easter.  Amen.

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