Years ago when I was just starting out as a student pastor, the children in the little Sunday School decided to create and perform their own Easter pageant. Actually, it was their idea; they’d done their own Christmas play a few months before, which had gone very well, and now they wanted to take on the passion story; and in fact, one of the older boys (Jon, who might have been 11 at the time) was dispatched to write the script and then bring it to me for approval.
Well, that he did; and let me tell you, it was quite a script! Oh, the basic elements were all there: the last supper, Judas’ betrayal, the trial before Pilate, the cross, and of course, the empty tomb on Easter morning. It was actually a fairly well-written play for a kid his age; the only problem was that Jon had employed, shall we say, a great deal of artistic license in his telling of the story! To begin with, the disciples were all suspicious of Judas from the get-go, and wanted to warn Jesus first thing; and also did not hesitate to get into a fist fight with the soldiers who came to arrest Jesus! And it got worse from there; suffice to say that there was an attempted military intervention against Pilate and Herod, complete with guns and tanks, in order to rescue Jesus from being hung on the cross (actually, if I remember correctly, this being the 80’s, Mr. T figured prominently in this part of the story!).
Basically, his imagination had run away from him, as is wont to happen with 11 year olds; but the thing is, I remember talking with Jon about it, and saying to him, “You do know this is not how the story goes, don’t you?” And he said, “Yeah… but this is how it should have happened.” Jesus shouldn’t have been killed, he said. “Someone should have rescued him, and there were just so many ways that that could have happened. It was just so foolish that Jesus had to die!”
I never forgot that, and in fact, every year about when we come to this night when we remember all the horrific events that led up to Jesus’ death on the cross, I am reminded of Jon’s words and I realize that after a fashion, Jon was right. It was just so foolish that Jesus had to die!
And aren’t we asking the same questions tonight? If Jesus knew of Judas’ betrayal, why couldn’t he have tipped off the others of his plan and thus be protected? And why didn’t he hide rather than be in plain sight in the garden? And for that matter, why even go to Jerusalem if the plan most certainly was for his life to be placed in the hands of a sinful humanity? Why didn’t the disciples have a little more backbone, and why couldn’t the fickle crowd have been incited to riot in order for Jesus to be stolen away before the crucifixion? Surely there were countless opportunities to have save Jesus from his fate!
But no, that’s not how the story unfolds, foolish as it may seem to our modern day ears and hearts.
But then again, isn’t that how God works? And isn’t that what tonight is all about? Michael Ruffin writes that in fact, “Almighty God did some mighty foolish things in carrying out his plan of salvation,” foolish, that is, as the world reckons foolishness. “He chose to have his Son come to earth to live as one of us… [taking] on the limitations of human life… [living] a life in which he showed compassion and love and acceptance to the worst outcasts of the society in which he lived,” only to be despised and rejected by the people. God “chose to have his Son give his life as a ransom for undeserving and largely ungrateful humanity. [God] chose the Cross as the way for his Son.”
In other words, it is precisely the foolishness of our God that brings us the life and salvation we need; turning every one of our worldly expectations upside down and inside out for the sake of a divine plan for our redemption. Everything we do tonight – the story we tell, the meal that we share, the prayers that we pray – is in remembrance and praise of a God who, as Paul would later testify, “chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise,” who “chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong,” who chose “what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing the things that are… he is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” (1 Corinthians 1:27-30)
Ultimately, our gathering here tonight is about the foolishness of God, and the sacrifice of Jesus…. who was, in fact, our fool; indeed, Jesus was our April fool.
Now, do not misunderstand; I’m not making a comparison here between the events of this Holy Week and the pranks routinely played on April Fool’s Day; but there is a sense in which it is appropriate that on this night we remember this divine foolishness, borne of infinite and redeeming love, that has made all the difference to you and to me.
These final steps on this journey to the cross are far from easy; in fact, the pathway before us runs so far afield of our whole sense of fairness, justice, simple right and wrong (!), that it is wholly offensive to our ears and eyes; agonizing to behold. But in order to truly experience the glory of the risen Christ come the day of resurrection, in order to know that newness of life as our own, first we must follow Jesus – our April Fool – into that dark night of betrayal and desertion;
…to pray with him in the garden;
…to stand with him in the courtyard as the guards mock and spit and hit;
…to walk with him as he drags the wooden crosspiece along the steep and winding hills just beyond the city walls, his shoulders bruised and fallen from the sheer weight of it;
… to stand with him as he hangs there helplessly in the midday sun, his hands and feet pierced, pain coursing through his body and life draining from him;
…waiting and watching;
…and then, in life’s final, excruciating moments, to hear him say to them – and to us…
“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Such utter foolishness, what happened this night, so tragic and so egregious; but oh, what amazing love!
Tonight, beloved, we come to be reminded that we were there when they crucified our Lord; and also that given our own blindness and fear, our all-too easy willingness to give allegiance to sin and death over life and light, it was, in fact, our faithlessness that led to God’s foolishness…
… but it is precisely for that foolishness, that amazing act of self-sacrifice that provides us everything we can ever hope for, that gift of redemption that’s promised and bestowed upon every broken heart that would come to his cross, that we come to this table tonight;
…to remember him here in the breaking of bread and the sharing of the cup;
…and as the cross looms very near, for us to humbly and prayerfully say… thanks be to God.
AMEN and AMEN.
c. 2014 Rev. Michael W. Lowry