Easter Sunday 2018

The Garden Tomb

Easter 2018

Alleluia - Christ is risen - he is risen indeed - Alleluia! It’s not every year that the first Sunday of April is not only Easter Day but April 1st, All Fools’ Day! In fact that hasn’t happened since 1327. (Only joking: it’s 1956 actually.) Although 1327 was the year Elizabeth de Burgh died: She was the wife – the Queen - of Robert the Bruce. No relation to Chris de Burgh incidentally. And that was also the year the potato tax was introduced. (Also not true: potatoes hadn’t been invented then.)

So much for April Fool’s jokes. But did you see the full moon last night? – probably not, it was raining. It was a blue moon: Because there were two moons this March, one at the start of the month and one at the end. the second moon of the month is called a blue moon. Last night’s full blue moon is important because it is used to fix the date of Easter, which is always the Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox. So this year, that moon was Saturday March 31, which means Easter Sunday is the day after, today April 1. Which is also April Fool’s Day, and it’s the first time this has happened in many of our lifetimes –it only happens, which might say once in a blue moon! The last three occurrences of this coincidence are 1923, 1945 and 1956. So it has been a while and next time will be in 2029.

All Fools’ or April Fools’ Day goes back as far as Chaucer’s time (he died in 1400), when some say it was jokingly referred to as ‘32nd March’. The first recorded ‘April Fool’s prank’ was on April 1, 1698, when several people were tricked into going to the Tower of London to "see the lions washed”!

Less than 100 years later, in 1769, it was said that the origin of April Fools’ Day was biblical, it being the day on which Noah, foolishly, sent out the first dove to search for land, far too soon. Unlikely as that is, we can turn to the New Testament to find more useful Biblical resonances. For as St Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians:

‘Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? …we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength’.

So we can see that foolishness and faith are connected, not only in the minds of the faithful but also in the faithless. King David, who wrote Psalm 14 began it with the famous line: “The fool has said in his heart - there is no God.”

For those who have no faith, the idea that Christians believe in a human being who was also divine, who was sent by God to live and teach peace and goodwill, was betrayed, and executed only to rise again on the third day to show the created world that what they see isn’t all they get… is absurd. It is foolish, they say to put hope and trust in an impossible and implausible event that took place 2000 years ago in a primitive time and volatile part of the world. And yet, those of us who do put our faith in this God-man Jesus, sent by our Father Creator to save us from the sins that damage all of us and open up new hope for the living and the departed - we accept the foolishness of such an idea. Yes, we accept that it is foolish: Insane, nonsensical. Implausible and inconceivable, defying every reasonable thought and emotion.

But that is the whole point – and it is the only possible resolution to the sick joke of human sinfulness. Look at the terrible things that folk do to one another – the full range from unkindness to mass murder. That there is any goodness in the world at all seems itself to be a miracle. The way we are built, the way we behave, make us do terrible things to each other, so we are thankful for any kind of kindness.

Perhaps you have followed the story of that terrible business in a French supermarket last week when a French policeman substituted himself for a hostage, risking his own life so that somebody he had never met could walk free. Lt Colonel Beltrame was soon shot by the terrorists and died a few hours later. He gave his life for someone else, and has been hailed as a hero. And he was doing what his Lord, Jesus Christ had done – something incomprehensible to those without faith, hope or charity, but something which God understands all too painfully. His friends said of the awful outcome that they were shocked at what happened, but not surprised at what he did. Jesus’ friends might have said a similar thing of what Jesus did on the Cross.

As Jesus himself said: ‘Greater love hath no man than that he lay down his life for his friends’ -  Greater love even more to do so for a stranger. Beltrame knew the risk and paid the ultimate price.

In response to malice and sin, this kind of action is the closest thing we have to an answer – a response that says – ‘however bad you are, you will not win’. War, terror and evil set up a taunting question that needs resolution. Every horrible thing we see on TV or around us, begs a question. The question that is begged is not the simple ‘why’ question, but rather the ‘what is to be done?’ question. What is the answer to the question of sin?

The old joke has it that, if the Vicar asks a question in church, the answer must be ‘Jesus’. Well, when it comes to sin, the answer is Jesus.

Not just ‘Jesus’, but the risen Jesus. The crucifixion, which represents all human sinfulness bundled together, is the question to which the risen Christ is the answer. Every terrorist’s sin has been uploaded onto the Cross in advance, along with every other sin there is, has ever been, or ever will be. And the cross is not so much the answer, but the question. The cross is the huge question mark set in the landscape of history. It is the question mark at the end of the death sentence that ended Christ’s earthly life.

But the resurrection is the huge exclamation mark written by Jesus as the end of the earthly sentence that is his story. For the resurrection is the answer to the crucifixion question. It is the resolution of the tension set up by the Cross. The resurrection doesn’t make any sense without the cross – without it it would be the answer to a question no-one was asking. And the Cross would remain unanswered without the joy of the Easter dawn. Death and sin are not conquered by the cross – as some like to say – no, they are defeated by the resurrection.

So it is not foolish to believe in the cross and resurrection of Jesus – it is in fact sensible, coherent and necessary. Necessary in two senses – it was necessary for it all to happen, in order to answer the question of sin, in order to resolve the tensions created by human wickedness. And necessary to believe in both cross and resurrection, because neither make sense without the other. Which means it is therefore foolish to not believe it, even if it seems so to others.

For on this Easter Day that also happens to be April Fool’s Day, we remember that foolishness is a form of vulnerability. To act the clown, or tell a joke is to risk rejection. It is awful to tell a joke that no-one laughs at, or to be laughed at for the wrong reasons. And yet this is exactly what Jesus did and what happened to him. Mocked with a purple robe and crown of thorns and laughed at while bleeding on the cross, his ignominy truly is pathetic - and most of the ancient world thought so at the time and many people still do. How can God be crucified? Or rather, how can someone who is God be crucified, surely God cannot be defeated in this way. Death cannot have dominion over a humiliated, lacerated, mocked deity. It must be some kind of pathetic joke.

And yet, we are still talking about it 2000 years later. The old joke still has life in it: eternal life, in fact. Because the story - the shaggy God story - does not end with the ridicule of the cross, the foolish end to a story told by an idiot, signifying nothing. Far from it, for there is resolution to the divine humiliation and a punchline to what looks like a human joke.

For the punchline to divine humiliation is glory. The answer to the question of humiliating crucifixion is an exclamation of glory as the sombre cross dawns into the joyful resolution of Easter Day. Death is mocked by resurrection; the joke is on us and the last laugh is God’s. Or rather the first laugh of the New Creation, as the relief and renewal of resurrection brings a joy that is not foolish but wise. For it is truly wise to welcome and embrace God’s unexpected ending, and join in with the resolution and renewal wrought by God on that first Easter Morning.

April Fools’ Day comes but once a year, but Easter Day is every day. Every day we live in the light of that Easter Dawn when God answered the painful question mark of the cross with the good news exclamation of resurrection life:

Alleluia - Christ is risen - he is risen indeed - Alleluia!

The Rev'd Dr Gordon Giles, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 01/04/18