Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
It’s an odd year my friends. It’s an odd year. We preachers have been confronted with two book-ended dilemmas for Lent and Easter in 2018:
- Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, landed on February 14th, a.k.a. Valentine’s Day.
- Easter has landed on April 1st, a.k.a. April Fool’s Day.
As I noted in my Ash Wednesday sermon, we preachers have, with great angst, wrestled over whether to address the calendar oddities of these secular celebrations falling on Christian Holy Days, or to just ignore them all together. As I confronted my fears head-on on Ash Wednesday and spoke of Valentine’s Day, I feel compelled to do so again on Easter and speak about April Fool’s Day.
According to Wikipedia,” April Fools' Day, (sometimes called All Fools' Day) is an annual celebration in some European and Western countries commemorated on April 1 by playing practical jokes and spreading hoaxes. The jokes and their victims are called April fools. People playing April Fool jokes often expose their prank by shouting "April Fool" at the unfortunate victim(s). Some newspapers, magazines and other published media report fake stories, which are usually explained the next day or below the news section in smaller letters. Although popular since the 19th century, the day is not a public holiday in any country.”
I’m not really big on playing pranks, but I do like having fun with words and double entendres, and which limericks do well. In the spirit of April Fool’s Day, here’s an Easter limerick written by Christopher Brunelle:
“Here’s the question that Eastertide begs
Is it all about candy and eggs?
No, the point to be praised
Is that Christ has been raised
And death taken down a few pegs." 
As [the women]’ entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, 'Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.'
"No, the point to be praised
Is that Christ has been raised
And death taken down a few pegs.”
Days prior to the discovery of the empty tomb on that first Good Friday, as Jesus’ beaten and bloodied body was taken down from the cross and laid in a tomb, it appeared to all who were involved (both Jesus’s followers and his adversaries) that death had won the victory. For his followers all hope was gone. This man whom they called Messiah, who had given them such hope as he proclaimed radical love for all people and a way of life so different, so full of hope from what the world had ever known, was dead. Despair, gloom and abject fear hung like a shroud over the remnant of Jesus’s disciples, who barricaded themselves behind locked doors in the upper room or had fled for their lives into the countryside.
Death, on the other hand, was doing a dance of joy as it once again celebrated that it had the last laugh in human life. As it danced, Death reveled in what it believed was the ultimate truth: that it and its minions of despair, cynicism, hopelessness, and fear were always the eventual victors in all things.
On that first Easter morn, this incomprehensible event of the empty tomb and the resurrection announced by the angel: “He has been raised. He is not here.”
In this very moment of the angel’s announcement at the empty tomb, Easter and April Fool’s Day meet. Based on this meeting I would postulate that the resurrection of Jesus from the grave is the greatest April Fool’s joke in the history of the world, a joke played by God on death itself. “Hey Death, “Easter proclaims, “You thought you won the battle? April Fool’s! Gotcha, the joke’s on you. He has been raised, he is not here! So much for your dancing that victory jig.”
As the second verse of that great Easter hymn, “The strife is o’er” proclaims, “The powers of death have done their worst, but Christ their legions hath dispersed.”
In the face of Death’s apparent victory of hopelessness, despair, and fear, God brings new life. April Fool’s, Death! Love and life win! Oh, what a grand prank that is!
Are you familiar with the BBC show Call the Midwife? This period drama series focuses on a group of nurse midwives working in London’s East End of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. This midwifery is a ministry of an order of Anglican nuns, (yes, Anglican nuns!) from the order of St. John the Divine, which was founded in 1849 as a nursing order. The program’s were comprised of life-professed nuns and lay women. Their home is St. Nonnatus House in the Poplar district of East London. By the way, Nonnatus is a saint from Catalonia in Spain. His name refers to his birth by Caesarean section, his mother having died while giving birth to him.
I love Call the Midwife for a number of reasons, especially the outstanding acting, character development and plot lines. This is not your run-of-the mill treacly British costume melodrama (although I like those too). The program depicts the day-to-day lives of the midwives and their neighbors in Poplar. The plot lines poignantly and honestly portray real-life situations: still-birth, thalidomide babies, pregnancy termination, infertility, Down’s syndrome, abusive relationships, abandoned mothers and babies, poverty, single motherhood, rape, a father left to care for children after his wife dies in childbirth, violence, serious illness, racism, bigotry, senility, loss of all kinds, and death.
Based on these topics Call the Midwife sounds like a real downer, right? Talk about depressing! “Gee, great way to the end the weekend on Sunday nights on PBS, Peter! What other scintillating recommendations do you have for us this lovely Easter morning?”
Death should be dancing a jig of joy in Call the Midwife as people’s lives are harshly impacted by these painful and heart-rending life-events. Only cynicism, despair and hopelessness can be the end-product of all this human misery, pain, loss and death. But the truth is, Call the Midwife is not a downer and not in the least bit depressing. In fact, Call the Midwife is filled with hope, optimism, joy, and new life. And it so filled because of one reason: Love.
The program’s midwives and other main characters are filled with Christ-like love. Whether all of them would describe it that way or not is not important. What is important is that they are filled with Jesus’ love. Despite the challenges and the burdens they encounter, they always bring gentle, compassionate, non-judgmental and hopeful love to every person they encounter, regardless of the circumstances. More often than not, they bring this radical love when they themselves are heavily burdened. Their faith in the value and dignity of every human being is palpable. They see Christ in all, loving all their neighbors as themselves.They live and breathe resurrection lives.
Like that first Easter morning, it’s as if the plot line of life gets to the point where you believe life is hopelessly irredeemable and where Death is ready to declare the victory. Your fear is so great that you want to go and barricade yourself in a room or flee for the hills. The Nonnatus sisters and midwives then come along and roll away the stone from the grave, shouting to Death, “April Fool’s, love and life win!”
This is exactly what Jesus’ Resurrection does for us.
After the Resurrection, the fear that initially gripped Jesus’ early followers was transformed into absolute and resolute faith that the new commandment that Jesus had given them to love one another as I have loved you, would yield resurrection new life. St. Paul states in his letter to the Romans that they were “convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
We need to hold onto this truth in this current climate of apparent hopelessness and despair. There is resurrection life beyond our current dire circumstances regardless of what they may be. Easter guarantees that. No force was an obstacle to the disciples proclaiming this good news of Jesus’ love to give new life. And neither is there for us.
Call the Midwife models how the early disciples came to lead their lives with wanton love and how they gained new life in the midst of the worst that death could ever throw at them. Call the Midwife reminds us that when we live resurrection lives of love, resurrection happens.
My sisters and brothers, live resurrection lives of love. That’s our gift from Jesus this Easter and every day. In that certainty, when death seems to be ready to do a little two-step on us, we can shout “April Fool’s, Death. Life and love win!“
Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
 Brunelle, Christopher. The Church Year in Limericks, (MorningStar) Printed in the Christian Century, February 28, 2018, p. 3.