Thursday, April 5, 2018

Jesus is Dead…April Fools!

This year we get to witness a relatively rare event.  Easter falls on April Fool’s day!   The last time this happened was 1956, and the next time we see this conjunction is 2029.  So for me and many others, this is the first time we remember seeing such a thing.  

Since Easter celebrates the Resurrection of Christ, and April Fool’s Day celebrates practical jokes, one might conclude that there’s not much of a connection between the two events, even when they fall on the same day.  This isn’t exactly the case, however.  Many early Christians understood the resurrection of Christ to be a practical joke disguised as a ransom paid to the devil.  As Jonathan Burke explains:

According to the ransom model humanity was held under the power of the devil, until Christ offered the devil his own life and body in exchange for those he held, thus ransoming us by taking our place (substitution).  Christ tricked the devil however, ransoming humanity but also taking back both his life and body.[1]

Not many modern Christians embrace this view, as entertaining as it may be, since it involves Christ making a shady deal with the devil.  But the idea of Satan victimized by a divine practical joke did inspire an interesting Christian practice. 

In the 15th century a number of churches could be found celebrating Easter by telling jokes and encouraging people to laugh.  They called it the “Risus Paschalis”, which is Latin for “Easter Laugh”.  Easter was always a time of great joy, but the introduction of jokes into a sermon was something many of the dower Church Fathers would have frowned on.  And when the Easter joke telling got out of hand, and the pulpit acquired an ‘R’ rating (or far worse) the practice was condemned and discouraged.

Recently there are a number of Christians resurrecting the practice.  One group, The Fellowship of Merry Christians, has been promoting a cleaned-up version of the Easter Laugh since 1988.  Noting that Christians from the earliest days to the present have seen Easter as a time of unbridled joy, they say why not laugh!  And why not tell jokes (clean ones)?

Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy” (John 16: 20 NRSV).  If our pain has turned into joy, who can fault us for a hearty chuckle?  

April Fool’s day is something of a mystery, and nobody is entirely sure where the holiday came from.  But Easter is a different story.  For Christians, it is grounded in the greatest upset in human history, when Jesus Christ conquered darkness and death by rising from the grave.  I don’t see this as a practical joke, but it does give rise to the greatest punch line in history:  “He has risen!”

The 4th century Christian preacher John Chrysostom mocked the grave in an Easter sermon with these words:

It received a body and encountered God.
It took earth and came face-to-face with heaven.
It took what it saw and fell by what it could not see.
Death, where is your sting?
Hades, where is your victory?
Christ is risen and you are overthrown.[2]

So tell a funny story, go to a Post-Easter Party, laugh.  We share an Easter faith.  It’s not an April Fool’s joke, but it is our hope, a hope that makes us now and always a joyful people.


[1] Jonathan Burke, Crucified With Christ: The Biblical View of Atonement (LivelyStones Publishing) 10-11

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Non-Leap Of Faith

Ken Baldwin was twenty-eight years old, and severely depressed back in August of 1985 when he decided to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge (According to a New Yorker article).  “I wanted to disappear,” he said. “So the Golden Gate was the spot. I’d heard that the water just sweeps you under.” Walking onto the bridge, he counted to ten, froze, counted to ten again, and this time jumped over the side.[1]

Baldwin is one of the few people to jump off the bridge and survive, so we know what he was thinking at the time.  “I still see my hands coming off the railing,” Baldwin recalls, and “I instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable—except for having just jumped.”

People who jump off the bridge, not surprisingly, often find themselves suffering from “tunnel vision.”  They only see their troubles, their depression, and fail to see anything bright or hopeful in their lives.  They focus on escaping their problems, and the edge of the bridge offers them a path to that destination…or so they think.  One jumper left a suicide note with the simple message:  “Absolutely no reason except I have a toothache.”

The season of Lent, that period of time between Ash Wednesday (February 14th this year) and Easter (April 1st), is a season of introspection, and a time when we sometimes give up something bad for us (candy, cigarettes, etc.) or start practicing something good for us (praying regularly, exercising every morning, etc.).  Lent is a season for change, but maybe instead of embracing superficial changes, it ought to be a season of significant shifts in our way of living.  And what’s more significant than a shift in attitude?   Maybe Lent is a good time to replace our “tunnel vision” with a wider perspective.  Instead of leaping into despair, or the promise of a quick and easy solution, we should hunker down and face life head on.  Don’t give up, but plan and dream.  Don’t go over the edge, but courageously resist and hold on.  As the Apostle Paul advises:  “Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13 NRSV).  

The French dramatist and novelist, Tristan Bernard, was arrested by Gestapo agents along with his wife, and interned at the Drancy deportation camp.  The agents were at his door to take them away, when Tristan turned to his weeping wife and said:  “Don’t cry, we were living in fear, but from now on we will live in hope.” This seems like an excellent idea for Lent.

Maybe, as Ken Baldwin discovered when he jumped off the bridge, everything in our life that we think is unfixable is totally fixable—if we don’t leap into despair.  Maybe Tristan Bernard is right, and now is the time of hope. Maybe Paul is right and we should stand firm with faith and courage.  And maybe this Lent is a good time to take this non-leap of faith.

Yours in Christ;

[1] From the New Yorker's 2003 article:  Jumpers: The fatal grandeur of the Golden Gate Bridge, by Tad Friend:

Monday, January 8, 2018

Resolving To Become More Stubborn, Close-Minded, And Obsessive!

After years of making New Years resolutions that always seem to melt away with the snow of winter, maybe I’ll try something different this year.  How about this:  For 2018 I resolve to become more stubborn, close-minded, and obsessive!  After all, I already have some talent in these areas, plenty of experience, and I might as well build on my strengths.  Besides, these aren’t necessarily bad qualities; it’s just that we typically practice them in bad ways.  In fact, I invite you to join me in these resolutions.  Together we can make 2018 a year of stubbornly close-minded obsessiveness.  Here’s what I mean.

Let’s be stubborn, but in the right way.  When we have a conflict with another person, let’s stubbornly forgive and refuse to hold a grudge.  Let’s be stubborn about resolving the conflict in healthy ways.  When we have an illness, or find ourselves facing a stressful ordeal, let’s be stubborn about fighting the illness and working through the ordeal with courage, compassion, and determination.

Let’s be close-minded, but in the right way.  When life refuses to live up to our expectations, let’s not be close-minded about the evidence.  Instead, let’s be close-minded in our refusal to become unloving, or disrespectfully.  Let’s be close-minded about listening to thee evidence and not our desires.  Instead of being close-mindedly inflexible, let’s be close-minded about learning and growing. 

Let’s be obsessive, but in the right way. How easy it is to be obsessed with unimportant things, like the dust in our house, while completely ignoring larger issues like the dust gathering in our important relationships.  So let’s be obsessed with maintaining healthy relationships!  And instead of obsessing over buying that new TV, car, or house, let’s obsess over spending our resources on things that would make our world a better place. 

Jesus invites us to “…strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness…” (Matthew 6:33a NRSV).  With the arrival of 2018, we have an entire year ahead of us to do this very thing, while at the same time perfecting those qualities in which we already excel.  Let’s make a New Years Resolution to work together in stubbornly, close-mindedly, and obsessively striving first for God’s Kingdom!

Yours in Christ;
David Rockhill