Lectionary Text: 1 Corinthians 1: 18-20 (21-24) 25
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?..For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
What an odd day this is! We have set aside and declared an entire day dedicated to nothing but pranks and fools. If someone were looking at this world from afar, they would surely think us more than odd. Precursors of our April Fools’ Day include the Roman festival of Hilaria, held on March 25th (which, interestingly enough, is also the Feast of the Anunciation) and the Medieval Feast of Fools set of December 28th, when pranks are played in Spanish-speaking countries. In Iran, jokes are played on the 13th day of the Persian new year (Nowruz), which falls on April 1 or 2. This day, celebrated as far back as 536 B.C.E. is called Sizdah Bedar and is the oldest prank tradition in the world still alive today. In Poland, Prima Aprilis (“April 1st”, in Lat.) is a day full of jokes. Hoaxes are prepared by people, media, and even public institutions. Serious activities are usually avoided. This conviction is so strong that the anti-Turkish alliance with Leopold I, signed on April 1, 1683, was backdated to March 31st. Did I say that we were an odd bunch?
So what is this “foolishness” of which Paul writes? He was really the only one that really ever dated to speak of the foolishness of the Cross, of the foolishness of God. And he’s right, because in terms of the world, the Cross is utter foolishness. The world says “mind your own business”; Jesus says “there is no such thing as your own business”. The world says “buy low, sell high”; Jesus says “give it all away”. The world says “take care of your health”; Jesus says “surrender your life to me”. The world says “Drive carefully—the life you save may be your own”; Jesus says “whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” The world says “get what you are due”; Jesus says, “love your neighbor as yourself”. Essentially, if someone were looking at us from afar, they would just think us a bit odd. After all, who gives up what they’ve gained, changes one’s life completely, and follows someone to an instrument of death? That, indeed, is just foolishness in terms of the world.
In his book, The Faces of Jesus, Frederick Buechner says that “if the world is sane, then Jesus is mad as a hatter and the Last Supper is the Mad Tea Party…In terms of the world’s sanity, Jesus is crazy as a coot, and anybody who thinks he can follow him without being a little crazy too is laboring less under a cross than under delusion.” (Buechner, The Faces of Jesus, p. 61) Think about it. It is really pretty ludicrous. (At first glance, it probably resembles an April Fool’s prank.) It’s actually downright absurd. Here in this season, we are called to enter Christ’s suffering, called to follow Christ to the Cross. Are we nuts? That could get someone killed!
And yet, there…there up on the altar every single Sunday is that beautiful gleaming cross. Yeah, we all have them. We polish them, we wear them, and we hang them on our walls. I’ve seen them on bumper stickers, billboards, tattoos, and cupcakes. (You know, I guess you can put anything on top of a cupcake!) But maybe sometimes we clean it (the cross, not the cupcake) up too much. Maybe we have forgotten the stench of death emanating from it or the sight of a mangled body hanging from it. Maybe we have forgotten the foolishness of it all. Maybe it is just too much for us. After all, we’re good Methodists, people of the “empty cross”. But it’s NOT empty; it’s full of life–life born from death, life recreated from despair and hopelessness and the end of all we knew. But this promise of life did not just pop out of a cupcake. It did not just appear in the midst of an array of carefully-placed lilies one Easter morning surrounded by spirited renditions of Handel’s best music. God took something so horrific, so dirty, so unacceptable and recreated it into Hope Everlasting. Daniel Migliore calls it God’s greatest act of Creation yet. But in terms of what we know, what we expect, even what we deserve, it is an act of utter foolishness. Who writes this stuff? In terms of this world, it is fool’s gold; but in terms of God’s Kingdom coming into being, it is a veritable Feast of Fools because it takes us and turns us into the wise. But perhaps wisdom is not about worshipping a gleaming, pristine cross but rather looking at an instrument of death and seeing the life it holds. I know…none of it makes sense. If it all made sense, we wouldn’t need it at all.
And, truth be told, the Scriptures are full of accounts of the wise and powerful ones mocking and getting mocked, never really understanding this lowly carpenter’s son born of a scared young girl from a no-name town. But notice that it is the ones who are considered fools–the outsiders, the shunned, the ones who do not measure up to society’s standards–that get it. So, maybe you have to be a fool. After all, don’t you think that those who followed Jesus to the Cross thought to the very end that something else would happen. Perhaps they thought that at the last moment, someone would jump up and yell “April Fool’s”, implying that it would have been the most tasteless prank ever. But that’s not how it happened. Jesus died that day and in that moment, Creation changed as the Sacred and the Holy poured into this foolish world. And we, we have been gathered in, into a Feast of Fools. Thanks be to God!
Faith, you see, is largely an intuitive process, not a summing up of “data.” Faith listens to life and hears something new. Faith drifts off during a sermon and lands on new terrain. Faith sings a new song and suddenly knows more. Faith feeds a stranger and responds differently to one’s own meal. Faith makes wild leaps, risks strange thoughts, dashes outside the box, asks foolish questions, hears unexpected voices. Little by little, faith’s “whole being”grows deeper and deeper, broader and broader. (Tom Ehrich)
On this Lenten journey, think what it means to play the fool. Think what it means to let go of the wisdom of this world and take on the Wisdom that is God. (No joke!)
Grace and Peace,