The foolishness of God: When Easter falls on April Fool’s Day
God is the creator of comedy, according to the Rev. Jerry Herships, pastor of After Hours Church in Denver, Colorado, and former stand-up comedian. “God has to have a sense of humor when you think about it. Just look at the hippos, the giraffes, or the Kardashians!”
“Add to that the fact that Easter is on April Fool’s Day this year. It almost makes it twice as funny; like the resurrection wasn’t already hard enough to accept. But seriously, I think Jesus came back saying, ‘No, guys. I’m not kidding. It’s me. I’m back. I have overcome death.’”
How did this happen?
Easter always falls on the first Sunday following the first full moon of the spring equinox, so while the day of the week, Sunday, stays the same, the date can vary by almost six weeks. This year Easter falls on April 1. Yes, April Fool’s Day, a combination that hasn’t happened since 1956.
Within the United Methodist Church, the focus is always to be on the Christian observance rather than the secular holiday when the two coincide. But that doesn’t mean there can’t be some humor. Just look at the irony.
The origin of April Fool’s Day is unclear. One theory is that it came into being when the Julian calendar, which placed the new year around the March equinox, was replaced with the Gregorian calendar, which placed the new year January 1. People who didn’t know about the change or refused to accept it and continued to celebrate the new year in the spring were called April fools.
The Rev. Taylor Burton-Edwards, a specialist in United Methodist worship, said the resurrection really was a joke on those in power at the time of the crucifixion. “They thought once Jesus was dead, he would be out of their way, things would go back to normal and they would continue to reign forever. The joke was on them. They may have been used as the instrument of death for Jesus, but they couldn’t make him stay dead!”
So, what is a pastor to do when such a holy day lands on the same day as a foolish holiday? Here are some ideas for injecting some holy humor into your Easter celebrations.
Get creative with worship
The Rev. Mark Barden, senior pastor at Central United Methodist Church in Shelby, North Carolina, is still toying with some sermon titles for Easter. Some he is considering: “Resurrection: The Ultimate April Fool Joke” “The Joke is on You” “You Just Thought I was Dead” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Tomb” and “Surprise!”
Others have suggested using the “foolishness of God” as a sermon theme or title. And, as luck would have it, the Epistle lectionary reading for the Third Sunday of Lent is 1 Corinthians 1:18-25. Verses 22-25 address the paradox of the cross as the symbol of God’s power:
“Jews ask for signs, and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, which is a scandal to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. But to those who are called—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom. This is because the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (CEB).
Or use drama to demonstrate the disbelief and astonishment the disciples surely felt when confronted by the absurdity of the resurrection. For example, Barden and his worship team will open their service with a humorous twist on the traditional empty tomb skit: The women, who have encountered the risen Jesus, will rush into the room where the disciples are in grief and mourning and shout out the good news, “He’s alive!” The disciples, in disbelief, say, “Yeah, yeah, April Fool!” but are soon convinced.
Inject some fun into your Easter events.
Special events such as Easter breakfast or an egg hunt provide opportunities for creativity and fun. Following the service at Central United Methodist Church, Barden says his church plans to have some sort of food-centered gathering for everyone and perhaps have an Easter egg hunt for the children. The main thing they want is for everyone to feel welcome and joyful with the event being celebrated.
Use humor in your outreach efforts.
Christians often have the reputation of being somber and serious. Yet Easter is not only the most holy day of the year, but also the most joyous and celebratory.
Consider using humor in your outreach messaging as a way of communicating the joyous news of God’s deep love. Humor has a way of breaking down barriers and defenses and can provide an effective way of connecting with those who are wary or skeptical of the church. Using humor also communicates that yours is an inviting, authentic and joyful community.
For example, one of the designs offered this year by United Methodist Communications for outreach materials such as postcards, door hangers, yard signs and banners proclaims, “It’s Easter… no foolin’!
Plan a sermon series encourage visitors to return.
Take the opportunity to invite Easter visitors back to your church. Plan a sermon series that starts on Easter Sunday or the following week and lasts through the season of Easter (7 weeks, including Easter Sunday). Be sure to tease the series on Easter, and invite visitors to continue the journey they have started with your community.
Three Ohio pastors, the Revs. Doug Damron, Jonathan Kollmann and Jim Stauffer began the practice of working on their sermons during their commute from Asbury Theological Seminary to the small churches in Southern Ohio where they were student pastors.
The three of them have stayed close for more than 20 years, and Damron said they decided this year, with April Fool’s Day landing on Easter Sunday, to replicate the connectional practice.
They created a Facebook page, Laughing With God, that offers a free five-week sermon series, graphics, videos and a small group guide for congregations and fellow colleagues in ministry. The series reflects on what it means to “laugh with God” about death, the impossible, legalism, respectability and life itself.
Herships reminds us that with Jesus’ resurrection, God has the last laugh over death and suffering: “Every Easter really is April Fool’s Day. For three days, the whole world, all of humanity, thought that hope and love were dead. But God came back to say, ‘Surprise!’”