Phil’s Easter Sermon
Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia! What a day…and what a week we’ve had. Table talks and silent reflections, visiting academics and film screenings, shared suppers, fun and games at church house and the sacred squares which tell the story of our week – both what we’ve done and who we’ve prayed for…and of the events of that first holy week – and aren’t they great? They mark Jesus’s entrance into Jerusalem, his week of teaching, trial and tribulation, his death and his rising. That’s the joy we get to celebrate today.
But, of course, today is also April Fool’s Day – the first time that Easter has landed on April Fool’s Day since 1956! Well seeing as St Paul encourages us to be fools for Christ and that last Sunday we joined in the feast of fools…I thought today we’d explore the joy, the meaning, the wonder of Easter but looking at the origins of April Fool’s Day.
On Tuesday, as we shared fun and games at kids’ club, we prayed pretzel prayers, crossing our arms like a pretzel, remembering that pretzels were originally made by German monks who were encouraging people to pray and that even today in Germany, Easter is celebrated with decorated pretzels. Well, one possible origin for April Fool’s Day comes from that same country.
From the 15th to the 17th century, in southern Germany, churches would celebrate Risus Paschalis or ‘Easter Laughter’ in which priests would urge their congregations to laugh out loud on Easter Sunday, even telling jokes inside the church! I thought this was something we could replicate here this morning…
…But why did churches in Germany tell jokes on Easter Sunday? Why have we done it today? It’s because Easter is an occasion for joy and collective laughter is often seen as a strong, direct expression of such joy. Today is the day when we say death and despair won’t have the last word rather life and hope will. Today we say that God’s love story to the cosmos did not end on a cross but will end when peace and justice will kiss, when the only tears seen will be tears of joy, when God will be all in all! Today we say that death has been defeated, love has won and hope abounds.
The tradition of the Easter Laughter celebrations came to end because some Pope got a bit worried about it not being serious enough but our joy is for life…not just for Easter. And it’s our privilege to share the joy of God’s love for us – the joy announced by the angels at Christ’s birth and which rippled out from the empty tomb at his rising – to share this joy with the world. So, in keeping with the tradition of Easter Laughter, we’re going to sing a hymn now written especially for today by a joker from this congregation, itself based on a song by one of this country’s most well-known comedians and today sung by two more clowns. I invite Bethan and Iestyn to come lead us in ‘Fresh Hallelujahs’!
Reading: Luke 24:1-12
A second theory of the origin of April Fool’s Day is that clowning around and pulling pranks on one another in spring is an age-old tradition that’s universal after hard winters…which this year we might understand better than most!
Well, in our reading today, we hear that the disciples thought that the women who had seen the empty tomb and heard the words ‘He is risen’ were essentially doing just the same – trying to get them to believe a story that just wasn’t true.
“The disciples did not believe the women,” verse 11 reads, “because their words seemed to them like nonsense.”
In fact the Greek word ‘leros’ that is used to describe the women’s story here is perhaps best translated as ‘drivel’. ‘Leros’ is the words that lies behind our word ‘delirious’. So, men not taking seriously the truth that women have to tell them…not much has changed, we might well think!
But this notion of getting others to believe in something that isn’t true is at the heart of April fool’s day today. Some of you might be old enough to remember the famous 1957 April fools prank on the BBC when they convinced many viewers that spaghetti grew on trees. How could people believe that? How ridiculous! What drivel!
And yet, just as people today look at those spaghetti trees and find it hard that people fell for that; others will look at us celebrating the rising of someone from the dead today and think the same – just like those first disciples. How ridiculous. How foolish! And, of course, it is!
St Paul spells this out in his correspondence with the church in Corinth –
“The message about the cross doesn’t make any sense to others,” he says. “It seems outright foolish to them that we think God in Jesus died on that cross. But God chose the foolish things of this world to put the wise to shame. He chose the weak things of this world to put the powerful to shame…so let’s be fools for Christ!”
Paul, here, is saying that God’s real April fool joke is the cross and the empty tomb. ‘You think I will save Israel through violent uprising?’ God asks the religious leaders. ‘April Fools! I’ll save the world through a radical pacifist on a cross. You think your Empire will spread through power and fear and division?’ God asks the Romans. ‘April Fools! My kingdom is coming with humility and hope and joy. You think life is about fame and fortune, Facebook likes, retweeting, military-parading, wall-building?’ God asks our world today. ‘Well, April Fools! For life in all its fullness is to be found in care and compassion, in peace-making, cheek-turning, sick-visiting, stranger-welcoming, grace-sharing, forgiveness-offering, radical, reckless love!’ It’s the kind of love that saw God empty Godself of power and prestige to become one of us, to live alongside us, to die on a cross and rise in a garden.
And like the women’s tale of an empty tomb, two messengers and the words ‘He is risen’, it might sound like nonsense in our world, it might sound like some big hoax but today we declare that it is true. We declare that the power of God was seen in the humility of the cross; the fullness of a God in an empty tomb. Today, God says to the world, ‘April Fools’ for I am turning the world upside down…
…So April Fool’s Day – derived from the Easter Laughter celebrations from Bavaria perhaps, a follow on from springtime pranks or, another theory, that it’s a revival of the Medieval Feast of Fools which we spoke about last week as we saw the similarity between Jesus’ entry in Jerusalem and the parade where The Hunchback of Notre Dame was crowned king.
Perhaps you might remember that in the novel, as a baby the Hunchback was abandoned at the door of Notre Dame Cathedral on the Sunday after Easter and he was named Quasi Modo because the Latin translation of 1 Peter 2:2, the Bible reading for that day, begins with the words Quasi modo gentini infantes…In English, the verse reads – ‘like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good’.
Well today, Christ’s palm party continues. Today we taste that the Lord is good indeed. For today is day of resurrection, of new life and through it we might all have a fresh start- we might all become like newborn babies again – full of wonder, full of possibility, not bruised and broken by what life has brought us but keen to learn and laugh and grow in Christ.
Today, then, the resurrection of Christ tells us we have nothing to fear, no reason to wallow in despair or guilt for Christ has shown us that nothing – not even death – can separate us from the stubborn, scandalous love of God.
Today we declare that no babe shall be abandoned, no loved one lost forever. We declare that no person is beyond redemption, no situation beyond hope, no community God-forsaken. So let’s be transformed by the foolish wisdom of the cross and empty tomb. Let’s forgive as we have been forgiven; let’s serve as we have been served; let’s love as we are extravagantly loved and declare, as joyful fools, that Christ is risen. He is risen indeed! Amen.