On the first of April children say, “There’s a bug in your hair,” and when the frantic victim begins to tear at their hair, they shout, “April Fool!” and burst out laughing. Adults, too, construct such scenarios, often elaborate; “April Fools’ Day” is a sort of international holiday for the practical joker. But what does it mean?
There is much speculation about the origin of this singular holiday. Much of it seems connected to the vernal equinox, and the lightheartedness that bubbles to the surface when people are emerging from a long dark winter into the expanding light and the new life of spring. But more generally, April Fools’ Day seems to poke fun at our penchant for taking ourselves too seriously. One charming tale in this vein concerns Kugel, a court jester for the fourth century emperor, Constantine. He and his fellow fools told the emperor that they could do a better job running the empire than he. The amused emperor allowed them to rule for a day, and Kugel proclaimed an edict that absurdity should be the law of the land for that day.
Two comments occur to me from a Christian faith perspective. The first is this: it is undeniable that we as Christians confront grave issues. Like all human beings, we wrestle with sickness, failure, broken relationships, dashed dreams and — ultimately — the last enemy, death. And the stirring responses of the Gospel to this sobering reality — grace, forgiveness, personal transformation and life everlasting — come cumbered with doubt. “For now we see as in a mirror, dimly…” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
It doesn’t help that often the “business” of church — meetings, budgets, negotiating differences — seems more like obligation than grace. But we have just experienced again the glory of Easter, which reminds us of God’s Double Grace: that we are created out of nothing to be the unique individuals and the stupendously diverse human family that we are, and that God does not let us go no matter how obstinate and perverse we are, but instead comes into our midst in Christ to bear away our guilt and shame and fit us for life everlasting in his presence. So I pray that we can allow this wondrous truth to embrace us, lighten our hearts and give us courage and perspective. Easter invites us to “lighten up” in the face of life’s absurdities and hard so-called truths, and to surrender ourselves to God’s loving embrace, like April Fools dancing in the sunshine after a hard winter.
My second thought is this: All who follow the self-giving, perpetually forgiving, always hopeful way of Christ will often seem to be fools in the world’s eyes. The Apostle Paul spoke these words to the little flock of Christians at Corinth, a great center of imperial power and commerce: “Do not deceive yourselves. If you think you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (1 Corinthians 3: 18–19). We do well to ponder the example of the new Pope of the Roman Church, who took the name “Francis” in honor of the 13th century saint who became a fool for Christ, and lived as a “little brother of the poor.”
Like the fourth century court jester Kugel, we too serve a king, but he is a king who entered his capital riding on a donkey, and who is pledged to “bring down the mighty from their thrones” (Luke 1:52). May we, even today, dare to be fools for Christ.
—Dr. David L. Wheeler