Luke 24:1-11 I Corinthians 1:20-25
The Rev. Tom Herbek
April 1, 2018
Unlike some of the unique days we celebrate, April Fools’ Day is not unique to America, and it goes back hundreds of years. In 1698, one of the earliest April Fools’ stunts occurred in England when people were invited to go to the Tower of London to see the “annual ceremony of the washing of the lions.” And in 1919, residents of horse-free Venice, Italy, woke up on April 1 to find Piazza San Marco dotted with piles of horse manure. In 1957, BBC-TV reported that, thanks to a mild winter, Swiss farmers enjoyed a bumper crop of spaghetti. They broadcast a three-minute report of field hands carefully plucking strands of spaghetti from trees. Hundreds of callers called the BBC wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti tree. Each caller was advised to “place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce, and hope for the best.”
In 1965, a Copenhagen, Denmark, newspaper reported on April 1st that Parliament had passed a law that all dogs be painted white to improve road safety because they could then be seen clearly at night. In France in 1986, a Paris newspaper reported on April 1st that the Eiffel Tower was going to be dismantled, to the shock of French people, and it would be rebuilt inside the new Euro-Disney Theme Park outside Paris.
And Readers Digest offered the following tip for readers for April Fools’ day: “Make a dozen photocopies of a paper clip on a piece of paper and put these pages in the copier’s blank paper tray so any copies afterwards that people will make will include a paper clip. Your work colleagues will go crazy looking for the ‘lost’ paper clip in the copier machine.”
On April Fools’ Day, we all get to become fools. And there are those who believe that we who call ourselves Christians are the biggest April Fools. For thousands of years, even back to the time of Paul, what we believe was considered foolishness. How could anyone in their right mind believe that this Jesus was truly the Messiah? After all, he was killed as a criminal, a trouble-maker, a rabble-rouser. He was anything but triumphant.
And this foolishness that he still lives and still impacts our lives; how could anyone believe this foolishness? But what we have learned is that it is not foolishness to believe that what looks like darkness and defeat and failure at first, sometimes becomes what is most important in our lives.
For 2000 years, people have tried to put into words a unique event that words cannot adequately describe. The first writer to describe it in some way was Paul, writing about 20 years after Jesus death on the cross. As the theologian Frederick Buechner writes: “The earliest reference to the Resurrection is Saint Paul’s, and he makes no mention of an empty tomb at all. But the fact of the matter is that, in a way, it hardly matters how the body of Jesus came to be missing because in the last analysis, what convinced the people that he had risen from the dead was not the absence of his corpse but his living presence. And so it has been ever since.”
It is unclear whether Paul, who wrote about half of the New Testament, knew nothing of the empty tomb stories, or whether he decided not to mention what he had heard. But, for Paul, the Jesus who was alive after Easter was crucial to life and to faith. Paul, the first person to write about the risen Jesus, 20 years after the event, describes life with the living Jesus in his own, very personal way.
It is important for us to realize that we do not have just one Easter story, but we have five different stories, one in each of the 4 gospels, and Paul’s own story about the risen Christ. Perhaps the writer of Mark’s gospel is right. Perhaps Paul is right. Trying to find words to describe the fact that Jesus, who died, is still alive, is trying to force words to describe something that is not describable in words.
Even in the 21st century, we are still at a loss to describe what happened at Easter. Can we factually know and factually describe exactly what happened 2000 years ago? Perhaps not. Perhaps our words are not adequate to describe it.
But the meaning of what happened, the extraordinary impact on people personally is clear. For that reason, we ought not to waste our time debating the exact facts, but spend our time struggling with the real meaning for us today.
Dr. Rachel Remen tells the story of a college student who was diagnosed with a dire form of bone cancer called osteogenic sarcoma. His doctor told him that he would die unless he had his right leg amputated at the hip. Despite the urging of his doctors and his parents, he had refused and had gone home to his family’s farm. Miraculously, over time the mass in his thigh had grown smaller and had eventually disappeared.
Finding out about this story twenty years later, Dr. Remen contacted the oncologist who had made the diagnosis, to find out how this spontaneous remission had affected him as a physician and as a person. She did not know if she could find him after all these years, but she did.
It turned out to be easy. The doctor, a relatively young man at the time he treated this patient, was listed in his state’s medical association and still in practice. Encouraged I called and got him on the phone. After the usual introductions, I told him that I was calling to see if he had kept the medical records on a former patient. It was so long ago that I doubted he would remember, and then I told him the man’s name. His response was immediate. “Of course I remember him,” he said with feeling. “I’ve thought of him many times over the years. What a senseless tragedy. Are you calling on behalf of the family?”
“No,” I replied, and told him that the man was still alive. “Thank God,” he said. “Where did he have his surgery?”
“He didn’t have surgery,” I replied. There was a pause. When he spoke again, I could detect a change in his voice. “Then what happened?” he asked. So I told him the story as it had been told to me. There was a long silence and then, without another word, he hung up the phone. I called him several times afterward, but he never returned my calls.
Dr. Remen then writes some profound words:
Most of us encounter a great deal more Mystery than we are willing to experience. Sometimes knowing life requires us to suspend disbelief, to recognize that all our hard-won knowledge may only be provisional and the world may be quite different than we believe it to be. This can be very stressful, even frightening. But if we are not willing to wonder, we may have to hang up the phone on life.
–My Grandfather’s Blessings
Perhaps we all encounter a great deal more mystery in life than we are willing to experience. The problem with God’s presence with us is that mystery is a part of life.
Paul says that we will all be changed, that a great mystery will occur. But perhaps it already has, in many ways. We can be stoical or cynical about Good Friday. We have each experienced terrible disappointments, like these women who came to the tomb that morning had experienced on Good Friday. We have learned how to get through such times. But we have few resources to help us to deal with mysteries that we encounter, the ones that leave us filled us with terror and amazement.
We have few resources to deal with a stone rolled away, to deal with life outlasting death. It means that God has the last word, that nothing is fixed or secure, that God is on the loose in our world. It means that God is still speaking and acting in our world. It means that death is not the last word, but only the next-to-last word.
We have trouble dealing with such mystery, trouble with the darkness and pain of life, seeing little or no value in it. We only value clarity, not what is puzzling to us in our life.
Rachel Remen tells the following story about the hidden value of the dark parts of our lives and our world. It is a story about the puzzles of our lives:
All through my childhood, my parents kept a giant jigsaw puzzle set up on a puzzle table in the living room. My father, who had started all this, always hid the box top. The idea was to put the pieces together without knowing the picture ahead of time. Different members of the family and visiting friends would work on it, sometimes for only a few minutes at a time, until after several weeks hundreds and hundreds of pieces would each find their place.
Over the years, we finished dozens of these puzzles. In the end I got quite good at it and took a certain satisfaction in being the first one to see where a piece went or how two groups of pieces fit together. I especially loved the time when the first hint of pattern would emerge and I could see what had been there, hidden, all along.
The puzzle table was my father’s birthday present to my mother. I can see him setting it up and gleefully pouring the pieces of that first puzzle from the box onto the tabletop. I was three or four and I did not understand my mother’s delight. They hadn’t explained this game to me, doubtless thinking I was too young to participate. But I wanted to participate, even then.
Alone in the living room early one morning, I climbed on a chair and spread out the hundreds of loose pieces lying on the table. The pieces were fairly small; some were brightly colored and some dark and shadowy. The dark ones seemed like spiders or bugs, ugly and a little frightening. They made me feel uncomfortable. Gathering up a few of these, I climbed down and hid them under one of the sofa cushions. For several weeks, whenever I was alone in the living room, I would climb up on the chair, take a few more dark pieces, and add them to the cache under the cushion.
So this first puzzle took the family a very long time to finish. Frustrated, my mother finally counted the pieces and realized that more than a hundred were missing. She asked me if I had seen them. I told her then what I had done with the pieces I didn’t like and she rescued them and completed the puzzle. I remember watching her do this. As piece after dark piece was put in place and the picture emerged, I was astounded. I had not known there would be a picture. It was quite beautiful, a peaceful scene of a deserted beach. Without the pieces I had hidden, the game had made no sense.
Perhaps winning requires that we love the game unconditionally. Life provides all the pieces. When I accepted certain parts of life and denied and ignored the rest, I could only see my life a piece at a time- the happiness of a success or a time of celebration, or the ugliness and pain of a loss or a failure I was trying hard to put behind me out of sight. But like the dark pieces of the puzzle, these sadder events, painful as they are, have proven themselves a part of something larger. What brief glimpses I have had of something hidden seem to require accepting as a gift every last piece.
We are always putting the pieces together without knowing the picture ahead of time. I have been with many people in times of profound loss and grief when an unsuspected meaning begins to emerge from the fragments of their lives. Over time, this meaning has proven itself to be durable and trustworthy, even transformative. It is a kind of strength that never comes to those who deny their pain.
–Kitchen Table Wisdom
Perhaps being April Fools is not so bad. In fact, believing this foolishness that we believe can be a part of true wisdom. The world’s view of defeat may actually lead to triumph. The world’s view of darkness may actually be the only source of light. The foolishness of following a carpenter turned itinerant preacher, trouble-maker, turner-of-the-world-upside-down, rabble-rouser, crucified-savior, living-Christ, may be the wisdom that surpasses understanding. And it may lead us to joy in our life.
Even though we would love to throw out the dark pieces of life, the struggles, the failures, the pain of it all, perhaps it is in these parts of life that we find redemption, find joy. Perhaps these are the places where God speaks to us in the most redemptive ways, and we listen because we are vulnerable, the only time we actually would be able to hear.
Perhaps it is in the dark places of life that we become healed, and out of that healing, we are able to assist others with their healing. Perhaps it is in our foolishness that we actually become wise.
So let us be the most enthusiastic, most unashamed “April Fools”, children of God, followers of Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen Lord!