The Passion of April Fools
There are two tendencies that do not seem balanced to me. Some spiritual leaders have focused strongly on the torturous nature of Christ’s death at Calvary. Listening to their sermons is about as graphic as watching some crime scene investigation movie. The focus on the intricate details of Christ’s death actually distract from, the theme of Christ’s atonement at Calvary.
I think their motive is to use guilt to make people reach out to God. While the desire to see people developing a close bond with God is good, this approach has come back to haunt churches. Guilt is a not good long-term motivator. Using guilt as a foundation for a quality, long-term relationship, is about like building a $1 million home on quicksand.
Other pastors neglect the passion of Christ. One reason for trying to side-step talking about Calvary is to try to step away from guilt-oriented and guilt-motivated religion. We can discuss the passion of Christ without being consumed by guilt.
The epistle reading from Philippians talks about the passion of Christ, without a heavy emphasis on the revolting details of His death. Paul seems to place things in better perspective than many of our contemporary pastors.
During Lent, some people give up things in which they find delight, as they feel that frees them to respond to God. They may give up things like chocolate, fine wine, or an especially enjoyable leisure activity.
I like to see people give up things for Lent that involve far more sacrifice, the kind of sacrifice that is life changing. And I am not convinced giving up a few things we enjoy for the season of Lent is as life changing as it is to give up some of the unhealthy things around which we’ve built our lives.
I recall challenging a group of queer Christians to give up some of the following things for Lent:
Changing your world view, changing how you see yourself and others is hard work. You need guts to change the picture you have of yourself and others. Justin Trudeau is the son of the former Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Trudeau. Recently, Justin Trudeau spoke at a public forum about leadership in uncertain times. While Justin was not talking about sacrificing things at Lent, I think one comment he made in his speech can be applied to having the courage to sacrifice the very things that have caused us to be less than we can be, less than God created us to be. In his speech, Justin said, “ . . . we either go forward or remain helpless, paralyzed by fear.”3
Perhaps you did not make the personal sacrifice it takes to be able to really change your life. That is not a problem. While Lent is over, at any time of the year, God will gladly accept an offering where you dump all of your should or must thinking, your attempts to buy what cannot be purchased, your self-hate, and your internalized fears and anger. I cannot think of a better time to let go of those things than during the Easter season, a time when we celebrate life emerging from gloom and death, good triumphing over evil. Knowing good triumphs over evil gives us the courage to change things that really hold us back.
April 1 is commonly known as April Fools’ Day. This year Passion Sunday falls on April Fools. One commentator notes that April first was considered New Year’s Day in many parts of the world. April 1 was New Year’s Day, because in the northern hemisphere it marked the new life spring brings.4
Larry Gillick is with Creighton University’s Center for Ignatian Spirituality. He comments some on the April 1 being Passion Sunday. He mentions that “Jesus’ life can be seen as an act of foolishness.” He continues by comparing love and foolishness. He notes, “Love is foolish at times and does strange things and goes beyond the usual, the socially acceptable.”5
The Trinitarian perspective holds that Jesus is God the Son. Within the Trinitarian perspective Creator, Redeemer, and Comforter are all God. What this means is that God was prepared to look foolish, to give up all of the perks a powerful God has to show you that you are loved. Part of the text in this week’s liturgical reading really makes my point better than I can. Reading about Jesus Christ from Today’s New International Version. Philippians 2:6-8.
Being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Looking at this text, we can see two things. One is the love of God. The other is a vibrant example of how to have the Passion of April Fools. We can hear God say, “You are worthy of love to the uttermost depth of your queer soul, to the your little straight soul. I love you this much.” Once we understand how much we are loved, we are able to have the courage to love foolishly, to love beyond what is socially acceptable, to love until lives are not just touched, but changed by God’s love flowing through us.
I have not used many of Larry Gillick’s thoughts in this sermon, but I want to conclude this sermon with his concluding prayer. “Thank You, foolish Lover of us all.”6
1 “Palm (Passion) Sunday - C: Bible Study.” St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church. (Internet web site URL: http://www.scborromeo.org/biblestu/c_palm.pdf).
2“Palm (Passion) Sunday - C: Bible Study.” (Internet web site URL: http://www.scborromeo.org/biblestu/c_palm.pdf) says “Our lenten preparations have been focused on improving our response to God’s call . . .”
3J-C Couture. “Justin Trudeau Speaks on Leadership in Uncertain Times.” The ATA News. Vol. 41(14):4, March 27, 2007.
4Larry Gillick. “Preparing for Sunday Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion C.” The Center for Liturgy. (Internet web site URL: http://liturgy.slu.edu/PassionC040107/theword_gillick.html, 2007).
5 Larry Gillick. “Preparing for Sunday Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion C.” The Center for Liturgy. (Internet web site URL: http://liturgy.slu.edu/PassionC040107/theword_gillick.html, 2007).
6Gillick. (Internet web site URL: http://liturgy.slu.edu/PassionC040107/theword_gillick.html, 2007).