All the buses in Birmingham being converted into water-borne barges so they can use the canals of that city. St Albans Cathedral agreeing to open a Burger King in their building. The Church of England announcing it’s bringing out a new series of liturgies for pagans. Australian Police revealing they intend to introduce to their crack canine attack squad and number of sausage dogs.
These were amongst the more hare-brained stories run in various news outlets as April Fools stories this year.
There is occasionally an intriguing coming together of the Church’s calendar with the calendar of the secular world. For today we celebrate Maundy Thursday on April Fool’s Day.
What connection can there possibly be between those two things? Surely they are about as far apart as chalk and cheese.
And yet, when one thinks about it, the New Testament uses quite frequently the language of foolishness precisely to describe a dynamic at the heart of the Gospel.
St Paul is the most famous exponent of this idea. In his first Epistle to the Corinthians, he says the following:
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
St Paul points out here that there is something foolish in the story of Jesus, in the sense that it turns the assumptions and rules of the worldly wise on their head. The Gospel is about gaining eternal life through losing your life. It is about strength found in weakness and riches found in poverty. It is the revelation that God loves the humble and insignificant, and laughs in the face of the security and power which the powerful think they have. Above all, it is a rejoicing in the foolish paradox that in Jesus Christ, the creator became a created being, and the eternal was made mortal.
And tonight is the point at which we begin afresh our celebration of that divine foolishness at the heart of the Gospel. For the Lord of the Ages tonight washes the feet of his disciples, and is handed over to those whom he created. Even more foolishly, he leaves to us a way of commemorating him, the god who existed before time itself, through a fragile piece of bread and a tiny sip of wine.
We see tonight that divine foolishness will characterise much of the next three days, as God gives of himself lavishly, ridiculously, brazenly, incongruously for us. For if we ever tried to apply logic to this story, we would fail to understand it. We wouldn’t grasp even half of its meaning. And that’s the point. God calls us to open ourselves to him and to receive this gift, even though we don’t’ feel worthy, even though it sometimes doesn’t make sense. Even though we haven’t earned it, and even though we don’t totally understand it.
For there’s only one way really of dealing with an inveterate fool – and that is to join them in their foolishness. Leave behind your assumptions about what we deserve or what the world teaches us is important in this life, and enter for the next three days the world of divine foolishness in which none of that matters. For in that world, all we have to do is marvel and rejoice in God’s foolish love, and receive the gift he wishes to give us – the gift of his own self.
Fr Peter Anthony