a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
theme: Life and Death Matters
Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.
April 1, 2018
Mark 16:1-8 (NRSV)
1 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.
2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.
3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”
4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.
5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.
6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.
7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”
8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
For the mind and imagination of a writer, the fact that Easter is on April 1 is a delicious temptation to explore the metaphor and possible spiritual truths connecting Easter and April Fool’s Day. I ran off a previous keyboardist who was horrified when I quoted – mind you it was not my own concept or idea – a writer who suggested that Jesus was the original “zombie,” because he came back to life and wanted our lives – but not to take them from us, but to give them back to us for abundant life. Despite the possibility that I might get crucified for giving in to this temptation I have decided to go down that path. I hope you have enough of a sense of humor that you won’t take any more offense at what I say than I might actually intend. But think about it – all the possibilities: Jesus is risen: April Fools! Is our faith all based on a joke? Some atheists think so. Are we fools to believe in a resurrected Lord and Savior?
I was intrigued enough about Easter being on April 1 that I went back to find out the last time it happened and the next time it will happen. Easter is set according to the calendar of the moon. It is always the day after the first full moon after the spring equinox, as it is based on the origins of Passover, the Jewish holiday that Jesus had come to Jerusalem to celebrate that week we remember and call “holy week,” as Christians. The last time that Easter fell on April 1 was before I was born, in 1956, 62 years ago. The next time it will fall on April 1 is relatively soon: 2029, just 11 years from now.
And who invented April Fools Day anyway? Wikipedia has a foolishly long history of April Fools, most of which I feel silly for having read, but I did find out that, if the writer’s research is correct, it claims that, “In the Middle Ages, New Year’s Day was celebrated on March 25 in most European towns. In some areas of France, New Year’s was a week-long holiday ending on April 1. Some writers suggest that April Fools’ originated because those who celebrated on January 1 made fun of those who celebrated on other dates.” If that is so, I am shocked at what that might mean about our calendars and that there was ever any question that the New Year began on January 1. Shocking, I tell you! That would play havoc with the collegiate football bowl schedule if we ever went back to that!
All that said, you are still saying to yourself, he hasn’t gotten to any Christian reason for making all this fuss about April Fools’ Day. Well, as tenuous as it is the first reason is that Paul, the Apostle himself, says “we are fools for Christ.” In 1 Corinthians 4, Paul tells the Christians in Corinth:
8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Quite apart from us you have become kings! Indeed, I wish that you had become kings, so that we might be kings with you! 9 For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, as though sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to mortals. 10 We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. 11 To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless, 12 and we grow weary from the work of our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day.
What is Paul arguing for or against? He is confronting the attitude in some of the Christians there in Corinth that they are wiser, more powerful, and better Christians than others. As best as we can follow the argument there are several cliques in the church there, some of whom think that freedom in Christ means they don’t have to do anything because they have special beliefs that make them superior to others. Paul was known as the Apostle of Grace, his letters emphasizing we are saved by grace, not by works or by law. He was like a roving pastor to these churches strewn across the Roman Empire in Greece and Turkey and even in Rome itself. He argued that they still were bound by the law of love. He argued that the person who thought their knowledge of spiritual things or their ability to do semi-miraculous things like speak in tongues, or their ability to engage in any behavior because they knew the only thing that mattered was the spirit were not as wise or as powerful or as spiritually superior as they might think they were. He argued that what mattered was how you showed the love of Christ to others, especially those in the faith community itself.
So he ironically and somewhat sarcastically says how he wishes he were as wise and powerful and “spiritually free” as they seemed to think they were so that he could be a king like them. But instead, like a fool, he was willing to suffer weakness, poverty, hunger, and the public humiliation of being jailed and beaten for his faith. As a fool for Christ when people treated him hatefully he blessed them, when they persecuted him, he endured, when insulted or smeared, he responded by speaking kindly. All of this seems foolish today where people routinely use the anonymity of social media to mock and hate and lie about those we don’t know. It seems silly when our leaders and media stars routinely insult and smear those that disagree with them. It seems like silliness to speak of blessing those who treat us and others badly.
So as fools for Christ we must look even beyond Paul to Christ himself. Of course our first argument is that the behavior Paul is describing and prescribing is the very behavior and attitudes that Jesus called for from his disciples. Still, what could be more foolish than to follow a Savior who died on a cross at the hands of the most powerful nation on earth at the time? What could be more foolish than to bless those who curse you, help those who want to hurt you, love those who hate you?
What could be more silly than to think that it is better to tie a half-ton stone around your neck and throw yourself in the sea than to allow children to be harmed in a culture that actually believes that there is a debate about whether we ought to stop making guns so available to violent and potentially mentally unstable teenagers or adults? What could be more ridiculous in a culture that demands that profit is the highest value and therefore the only true god than to demand that people have basic human rights that include having food, clean water even in Detroit, healthcare even if they can’t afford it? Nope, foolish to think that way when profit, free market, and capitalism are the true gods whose importance far outweigh our belief in a 1st Century rabbi who was executed by the powerful for proclaiming a kingdom of different values and a God who believed even the poor, the mentally ill, the addict and the alcoholic and the homeless were as valuable to, and as loved by, God as the Fortune 500 billionaire or the beauty queen or a Congressman or a President. Foolishness!
So okay, it may be questionable whether we are fools believing in some kind of 1st Century April Fools joke because we believe in a risen Savior. But let’s consider another way to look at all of this. What if we were foolish enough to really believe it and not just say we believe it? What if we were to be foolish enough to look at the resurrection as the same challenge God put before the Hebrew people thousands of years before: “I set before you the ways of life and death… choose this day whom you will serve…” What if we were foolish enough to really believe in resurrection as a choice between life and death now? What if we were foolish enough to live now as people of the resurrection?
In other words instead of just talking about faith in a risen Lord we acted as if that Lord were our Lord, and the things he did we would do? What if instead of just worshiping on Sunday we lived every day looking for ways to bring new life to others, give hope to others, love others as ourselves? What if we started voting for the same values Jesus upholds rather than those the bosses of Wall Street uphold?
Even more. what if we were foolish enough to really believe that God is alive, that Christ is risen, and that God is bringing new life, whether we were ready or participated in the effort or not? What if we stopped expecting death, and evil and sin to win? My colleague Ron Lucky, a retired pastor in Lexington, Kentucky says our expectations have been so shaped by death, and sin, and evil, and the distortion of the way things should be we have very little faith in God really changing things. He says, Easter is proof that we can expect God to act. He says Easter means that, “And that means one day God will bring to pass a world where no father will ever abuse his child and no child will ever abuse his father; a world where no mother will ever again watch her children go to bed hungry; a world where nobody will point a gun at anybody else; a world where no woman will ever be assaulted or insulted by a man, where no mother or father in Africa or anywhere else will die of AIDS, leaving orphaned children. Easter says that everything we have come to expect is up for grabs now. Because now we know who’s in charge around here, don’t we?”
Either God is in charge or resurrection is just a fool’s joke, April or any other month. If we are going to proclaim Christ is alive, if we are going to proclaim resurrection, then we better be ready for God’s power to break the chains of death, the power of sin, and the status quo that gives privilege to a few while the rest just suffer. Wow! I didn’t intend to sound so serious when I began this sermon. I thought I could have a lot of fun and yet make some kind of Easter-ish point. But there, you go, even when it comes to sermons, God is in charge. No April Fool’s there. AMEN.
 Ronald Luckey, What Can You Expect? faithandleadership.com, 4/23/12.