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

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