Jokes. We all like jokes—even if we don’t all like the same jokes. Public speakers (including preachers) will often use a joke to break the ice before getting to the heart of their subject. And April fools is the one day of the year that is set aside for jokes. The inner child in all of us longs to shout those words again: “April Fools!”
But what do we do when April Fools day falls on Easter? It doesn’t happen often. The last time Easter fell on April Fool’s Day was 1956. It will happen only twice more this century—in 2029 and 2040. The reason it is so rare, of course has to do with the peculiarities of dating Easter according to the full moon and the Spring Equinox…First Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox…but that’s another story for another day. We’re talking about April Fools Day—which is not what we might call a religious holiday. So what advice would you give to a struggling preacher?
Perhaps you would say that God and Jesus and the resurrection are serious things, not to be taken lightly. Ignore April Fools Day. Avoid the levity and get to the heart of the matter—that Jesus died, for heaven’s sake…and for ours…and that he rose again on the third day. A middle ground might be to gently acknowledge the April Fools side of the day with a joke—perhaps even a joke about April Fools day—but then get on with it. Preach the resurrection with all the serious and solemnity it deserves, giving only lip-service to the lighter side of this coincidence of the secular and sacred calendars.
But there is another possibility that I hadn’t considered. It’s something that gets to the heart of what defines a good joke—one that allows us to see a truth in a new and quite unexpected way. The premise and conclusion of a joke stand in tension. If you buy into the premise, the conclusion (the punch line) reveals something ludicrous about the premise and our assumptions. In sketch comedy the punch-line comes as something is revealed that the audience recognizes, but the characters fail to comprehend.
Consider this. On Good Friday (could there be a more ironic name for a day?) Jesus died on a cross and was buried. There he lay through the Sabbath until early Sunday morning. Now the women move to the tomb for an ordinary, if painful duty. In truth, everything you and I have experienced about life and death, would tell us that their concerns—including about who they might get to move the stone—were deeply and sadly legitimate. But the stone is already rolled away. The tomb is empty save for some linen grave clothes rolled up in the corner. Mary turns and in her confusion sees one whom she believes to be the gardener until he speaks her name. “Rabbouni,” she exclaims. The Truth is standing in front of her and she doesn’t recognize it. God is saying to the world, “you thought you had all this figured out, but I have a surprise for you.”
As a post-script, I ran all this by a minister friend who objected saying that April Fools is too often associated with pranks—which have as their object making fun of someone. “Are you saying that God is playing a joke on US?” he asked incredulously. I thought for a minute and said “No, the joke isn’t on us. The joke is on death itself.” In our funeral liturgy, we proclaim, “Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restored our life. Christ will come again in glory.”
So this Easter, among all the greetings of “Christ is risen, he is risen indeed!” and “Happy Easter” add one more greeting to your list: “April Fools!” And say it with a smile. For in Christ’s resurrection, God has revealed that even death has lost its hold over humanity.