A lot of people found it odd that Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day were on the same date this year. But we have an even odder one for you… Easter is on April Fools’ Day!
At first glance, they might seem difficult to integrate, and the juxtaposition somehow disrespectful to contemplate. But there’s another way of looking at it.
In his first letter to the Christians in Corinth, Saint Paul says, “We are fools on Christ’s account.” And Saint Francis of Assisi was known as “God’s fool.” But most of the time, we’re urged to not be fools. Looking foolish is something to be avoided at all costs. Being treated like a fool is an insult.
What kind of foolishness is it that Saint Paul is talking about?
Everything about Christianity seems foolish to the world. Think about what we believe to be true:
- God became human. The all-powerful, all-knowing God not only embraced humanity, but started out as a vulnerable baby.
- God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are three… and they’re also one. Wait—what?
- God’s mercy and love are unconditional. That kind of love can easily be called foolish.
God has a history of using people who society sees as weak and unimportant (we could call them “foolish”) to do amazing things. And our history as people of God—no matter how literally or figuratively it’s interpreted—is also filled with “foolish” events. Just a few examples include:
- The Israelites wandered in circles in the desert for 40 years
- Noah built an ark despite there being no signs of a flood
- A donkey talked Balaam out of his plan to put a curse on the Israelites
- Lazarus died, but came back from the dead
You can probably add any number of events to that list!
The early Church was largely Hellenistic, and the cerebral Greeks had a difficult time with some of this foolishness. None of Christianity was in synch with the culture in which they lived. This was the Church Saint Paul addressed: be fools, he urged them. Do the unexpected. Believe something your culture doesn’t support.
That same allegiance to God over culture is what earned Saint Francis his title. He grew up when a merchant economy was starting to take hold and flourish in Europe, and he saw how it valued people according to their wealth. He turned his back on this worldview because he understood that Christianity calls its followers to a greater priority: that of relationship over personal wealth and power.
Francis called his way the vita evangelica, and the people of Assisi made fun of him for it—called him a fool. Even today many don’t take him seriously, seeing him as something of a madman who liked to hang out with birds and animals. That has to be the epitome of foolishness!
But as Saint Paul makes clear to the Corinthians, being a Christian means shedding what society tells you is right and proper and embracing instead what God tells you is right and proper. The two seldom coincide, and society mocks what threatens it.
Some see it as a vocation. In the Orthodox Church, certain saints actually have it as a title: Fool-For-Christ:
One form of the ascetic Christian life is called foolishness for the sake of Christ. The fool-for-Christ set for himself the task of battling within himself the root of all sin, pride. In order to accomplish this he took on an unusual style of life, appearing as someone bereft of his mental faculties, thus bringing upon himself the ridicule of others. In addition he exposed the evil in the world through metaphorical and symbolic words and actions. He took this ascetic endeavor upon himself in order to humble himself and to also more effectively influence others, since most people respond to the usual ordinary sermon with indifference. (The Law of God, Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, NY: 1993)
Still writing to the church in Corinth, Saint Paul concludes, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
Perhaps it’s not so odd that Easter coincides with April Fools’ Day. There is nothing so foreign to our culture—so foolish—as a religion that is based on someone dying and being resurrected from the dead. In the next few weeks, we’ll be talking about how this foolishness plays out (or doesn’t play out) in our lives as Christians today. We hope you’ll stay tuned!
(Just as a postscript—in France, where I grew up, April Fools’ Day is known as poisson d’avril (“April Fish”), which is a neat connection, since early Christians recognized each other through the sign of the fish!)
by Jeannette de Beauvoir