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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

It's No Joke!

I started a joke
which started
the whole world crying
But I didn't see
that the joke was on me

I started to cry
which started
the whole world laughing
Oh if I'd only seen
that the joke was on me
~ The Bee Gees
This old Bee Gees song somehow seems appropriate on April Fools ’ Day in the middle of Holy Week.  As a colleague reminded me once, Palm Sunday, or Christ’s Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem, as we Christians so humbly refer to it, is the beginning of the ultimate set up for the quintessential April Fools’ joke.

The whole story is saturated with irony pointing out that Jesus just may not be who people think he is. And he just may not be doing what he does for the reasons we think.

The way we read and celebrate the story one would think that Jesus is coming to Jerusalem to overthrow the entire system of Temple corruption and Roman rule.  The people surely think this as they shout “Hosanna!” which literally means, “Save Us, Now!”

Once in Jerusalem he systematically confronts and offends the Temple power structure and in doing so creates the kind of local unrest that Roman governors could not tolerate. Jesus stealth fully goes into the city during the day mingling with those who wish to kill him and at night goes back out to the suburbs where friends safely surround him. Things, like the colt on which he rides into Jerusalem, the room where he observes Passover with his disciples, and a vulnerable stroll in a garden in the dangerous dark of night all appear to be planned and pre-arranged.

Again, one would think that either Jesus does plan to overthrow the power structure or he was actually trying to get killed. But why would he do this? Why would he play to the hilt the role of conquering hero only to give himself up for execution?

Perhaps a more accurate way to ask this question would be: How could he not? Jesus has spent his entire ministry teaching and living a way of life he calls the Kingdom of God. It is a life where everything gets turned on its head.  The rich are poor, the poor are rich, the first are last and the last are first. The least of humanity are exulted and the proud humbled. 

If Jesus life were to have any integrity at all the story could be told no other way – and also told in the style Jesus would have used – that of leading us along and setting us up with Hosannas that become "Crucify him!"

The story becomes the ultimate allegory of a central teaching of Jesus: One must loose life in order to gain it. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says in the classic theological treatise “The Cost of Discipleship”, "When Christ calls a [person], he bids [them] come and die…”  When Jesus says “pick up your cross and follow me,” it sounds a lot like he’s showing us the way, not doing it for us.

That song I began with has another verse that goes like this:

Till I finally died
which started
the whole world living
Oh if I'd only seen
that the joke was on me

Happy April Fools’ Day!

Note: Today's blog is from a sermon I gave a few years ago when April Fool's day was on Palm Sunday. You can listen to it here.  Just scroll down the page a bit.  

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