50 What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ 55 ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:50-57, NRSV
It was the first time I ever played an April Fools’ prank on anyone. I was seven years old, maybe… and my older sister and I (in our grand collective wisdom) decided to play an April Fools’ prank on my mom. Now my mom, at the time, liked to start off her day with a bowl of cereal – cornflakes or bran flakes or something boring like that – but sprinkled with some sugar on top. That April Fools’ Day, my sister and I pulled a little switcheroo. Early that morning, we crept into the kitchen and put the sugar in the salt shaker and the salt in the sugar bowl. Brilliant, right? We were masterminds. Later that same April Fools’ morning, my mom came into the kitchen, poured herself a bowl of boring flakes and milk, sprinkled them with “sugar,” and took a bite.
And that’s how my first-ever April Fools’ prank became my last-ever April Fools’ prank. Mom wasn’t amused. She wasn’t feeling the spirit of April Fools’. In our defense, we tried to explain that we had talked to Dad beforehand, and that we told him we were planning to play this particular prank, and that he said it was okay. Turns out… that piece of information did not improve matters.
So I’m not what one would call an “April Fools’ enthusiast. I’ve never played another April Fools’ prank. But on this April Fools’ Day, with Easter only a week and a half away, I might just get into the spirit… or rather, the Spirit. See, there’s an old tradition in our Christian faith — and when I say “old,” I mean like fourth-century “old” — that the resurrection is a prank. But it’s not a prank that God plays on us. It’s a prank that God plays on evil and death: Oh, you think he’s staying dead? You think you’ve won? You think darkness and evil are victorious? Ha! Gotcha! He’s up! Joke’s on you! In this tradition, theological giants no less than Augustine of Hippo, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom called it the risus paschalis – “the Easter laugh.”
At one point in the scripture reading for today, for this April Fools’ Day, we find the apostle Paul quoting the words of the prophet Hosea, saying, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55, NRSV). It’s a good translation, of course… but I do think it loses something in that particular passage. I think it loses a little bit of the swagger.
Oh yes, there is swagger there. Let’s see how this translation strikes us: “Hey, Death! What happened to your big win? Hey, Death! What happened to your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55, The Voice). Or maybe: “Who got the last word, oh, Death? Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?” (1 Corinthians 15:55, The Message). Paul is… almost taunting death here. Paul’s got some theological swagger.
Now, if you’re at all superstitious, that feels risky. You don’t taunt death… not when death seems so final, so ultimate, so powerful. You certainly don’t taunt death in this time of coronavirus, when we’re hearing projections of mortality rates in the hundreds of thousands. Death seems… pretty powerful at the moment. And yet, our most fundamental Christian proclamation reminds us: death does not have the last word.
So taunt away. You, Death, are not, and have never been, final, irreversible, untouchable, or ultimate. You, Death, are not the greatest power. You don’t have the power to scare us, and you don’t have the power to hurt us, because you didn’t have the power to hold him. “Who got the last word, oh, Death? Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?” (1 Corinthians 15:55, The Message).
We get to say all that, with swagger and bravado and confidence and joy, not because we’re so powerful, but because Christ is, and we’re his.
We are the church. We are Easter people… not just on Easter Sunday, but every day, including April Fools’ Day. So Happy April Fools’ Day, church! Death… joke’s on you.
Remember who has the true power and the last word, friends:
Our God is bigger than coronavirus.
Our vision is bigger than coronavirus, too.
We are people blessing people.
We are Wesley Church.
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