GSC – Easter Sunday 2019
As you leave Church today, you will be given a term card with the dates on for the summer. Among them, you will see the date for the Fete - be sure to get in your diaries Saturday 6th July. A highlight for many is the opportunity to throw wet sponges at the clergy and one of the great things about having a curate once again as we will by then, God willing, is that Fr Rimmer will be able to help bear the load of this, along with Fr Beer and me. (I think I may have forgotten to mention this to Fr Rimmer when he came to interview…). People of course do such foolish things for Comic Relief and for charitable events and maybe you too would like to do something sponsored and foolish for church funds or children’s work within the parish or for whatever it might be.
But even if we’re willing to do silly things for God we don’t like to be called fools and yet here in this evening’s Gospel is the risen Jesus doing exactly that: “You foolish men!” he says to Cleopas and the other, unnamed disciple as they travel to Emmaus together. Jesus is risen from the dead, He’s conquered death and hell and is now forming these men and women into the church and His chosen apostles into the first bishops of that church so that the flock for whom He was willing to die might be nourished and kept on the ways of truth and righteousness. It doesn’t seem very nice to call them foolish. What was their stupidity?
Well, Jesus goes on to explain that they are foolish because they are “slow to believe the full message of the prophets.” The argument goes that they had been told that the Messiah would come and suffer and Jesus had warned that if the Temple was destroyed that it would be rebuilt three days later and that the Temple He was speaking of was His Body (John 2:19-20). The disciples just didn’t get it. But we are all too often a bit slow on the uptake, thinking we’ve got something conquered and we have actually only scratched the surface.
It’s a term Paul also uses elsewhere of those to whom he writes. He writes to the Galatians: “You foolish Galatians! … It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified! … Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the Flesh?” (Galatians 3:1-3) It’s not a fault particularly reserved to the Galatians: Paul admits that he himself was once foolish in his letter to Titus (3:3) and declares himself indebted to fools in his letter to the Romans (1:14). What is this foolishness?
Well, again it seems to be linked to the Cross, hence Paul reminds the Galatians about the highly visible act of the Crucifixion, and he then links it to their lack of ability or desire to put it into action, for it to take root in their lives. The foolishness of this is perhaps conjured up by the pantomime line: “It’s behind you!” Classically, the dame in pantomimes asks the audience to tell her when the baddie is coming up behind her and so everyone has to shout, “It’s behind you!” There’s a danger that the dame will miss it because she is looking in the wrong direction. “It’s behind you!”
The danger St Paul is trying to point out to his ‘audience,’ as it were, the people of Galatia, is that they will miss the Lord and their lives will continue without due reference to Him. It was right in front of you! And this is true for us as well as we gather on this Easter Sunday to celebrate the paschal triumph of Jesus over sin and death: He died, He was buried and He is risen again. Alleluia! It’s right there before our eyes. I know both in my own life and in the lives of others I hear the words “You fool” because we repeat the same mistakes, or the lukewarmth of our discipleship is all too obvious. The irony in these situations is that we are not being foolish for Christ, we’re being foolish in thinking we can keep ourselves tied to this world and yet have life everlasting.
Ask yourself what would you be doing if you weren’t here. What would we be doing if we weren’t Christians worshipping God Almighty? A good definition of foolishness is upsetting the norms, disturbing other people’s logic and expectations and preventing the world’s notions from prevailing in our lives. There are stark examples of this: the prophet Isaiah walked around naked for three years to be a sign of what was to happen (Isaiah 20:2-4). John the Baptist must have appeared utterly foolish when he appeared wearing camel skin eating only wild honey and telling everyone to stop sinning (Matthew 3:1-5). But they were willing to be foolish for Christ’s sake, to have God’s thinking in their minds and not the world’s.
I want to tell you about the guy who recently did some work on the main bell at St Mary’s. I’d never met him before and he was an ordinary guy who was a builder. He gave me huge encouragement in the power of Christ at work in the world. We were arranging when he could come and do the work he needed to do and I was saying about when it would be good for the diary at St Mary’s. And we were talking about this week as a possibility and he said, “No, it won’t be the first week of Easter because we have a Divine Mercy chaplet (which is a gathering for prayer every day in the run up to the second Sunday of Easter) we have this at my church and so I’ve got to be there every day at 4pm.” I thought he was bonkers because you just so rarely hear that sort of commitment, but my goodness, he was giving glory to God in His life by saying that.
Because the wisdom of the world is that faith fits in when we have time, not that we make time for faith and everything else can go hang. Another example for us of being fools for Christ is the destruction of Notre Dame. It was terrible what happened as the beautiful Cathedral was burned down. But the most important things were saved: a priest rushed in to get the Blessed Sacrament from the tabernacle, yes, it didn’t get much cover on the news but he dashed in and he dashed in to get the crown of thorns as well. These two things are perhaps quite low down other people’s priorities but they are definitely to be our priorities: not the art works, undoubtedly beautiful as they are; not the architecture, though undoubtedly significant in the life of France it is. The Church is more than just the gathering of people because Christ is its head and without Him, the Body would be incomplete. As Paul writes to the Corinthians: “The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (I Corinthians 3:19).
Let us be fools, then for Christ my friends. This doesn’t mean being inane or not taking our faith seriously but it will mean not taking ourselves and our own plans too seriously. When you fall in love, it is said you do foolish things to woo your belovèd and because your priorities are changed. That’s why we are to be fools for the Risen Christ, willing to have our worlds turned upside down because we love Him so, in return for the death-defying love He shows us. Amen.