Sunday is April Fools’ Day. There are many theories on how this day came into being. Probably the most persuasive is that, in the 1500s, the Western world switched from the Julian calendar to the current Gregorian calendar. New Year’s began on March 25 on the old Julian calendar. Since Holy Week fell during March, April 1 was celebrated as the new year. The Gregorian calendar marked the new year on January 1.
When the switch was made, the story goes, those who forgot or didn’t realize the change were called April fools. Eventually April 1 became a day to pull pranks on friends. Have you ever been sent to get some elbow grease or 50 feet of shoreline?
Sunday is Easter Sunday. The most important day on the Christian liturgical calendar. The celebration of Easter, the death and resurrection of Jesus, is the heart of Christian faith. As a pastor I have been preparing for this day for months.
This year’s preparations have been especially exciting for me. Easter falls on April Fools’ Day!
The last time that happened I was in the third grade. 1959. It will happen again in 2029. It will happen one more time in this century. So this Sunday is it for me. My one chance to celebrate Easter AND April Fools’ Day.
I wrestled with the title of my sermon. “Fools for Christ’s Sake” was a front-runner.
After all, The Apostle Paul once wrote that, “When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified ... 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.’” (1 Corinthians 1:18-19 and 2:1-2)
“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” A message the wise deem “foolish.”
What was it about Jesus’ death by crucifixion that so stirred Paul? It helps to understand Paul’s faith in Christ by understanding what crucifixion meant in that first century in the Roman Empire. Romans believed there were five ages of humankind. They also believed they were living in the fifth and final age, and that it was their destiny to rule. Their motto was “Peace through Victory,” which worked really well as long as you were Roman, but not so well if you were the other guy.
Maintaining peace meant having the most powerful army. It also meant those who challenged Roman authority had to suffer so badly it would serve as a deterrent to others. Crucifixion was beyond painful. It was dehumanizing. It was public. It was the worst way to die.
It was also a proclamation that Rome owned the most powerful weapon in the universe, the power over life.
So when Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom of God had arrived it was only a matter of time before Rome would do away with him. Only a matter of time before Jesus would be crucified.
Despite his message of inclusion, of love and forgiveness, of freedom from slavery to the false gods of power, money, fame, and violence.
Jesus’ entire life was a nonviolent resistance to the conventional thinking of the worldly wise. It still is. He spoke truth to power. The powers of the world spoke back. And executed him. But there was a third voice that had yet to speak.
And on the third day God spoke, and said, “Fooled ya!”
The Rev. Ron Griffen is lead pastor of First United Methodist Church in El Centro.