This year April Fools Day came early in the week leading up to Easter. The connection between the most solemn week of the Christian year and the day when jokers are let loose is thought provoking.
Jokes are also part of the Easter story. They are not harmless, but are bitter mockery. After Jesus is sentenced he is mocked by the bored soldiers guarding him. He claimed to be a king, so they threw purple rags on him and a crown of thorns on his head. As he hangs writhing on the cross, the bystanders and he local authorities also mock him because he claimed to be the Son of God. They tell him to come down from the cross if he is for real.
The Christian Gospel writers could include these bitter jokes because they believed that within three days the joke was on the jokers. In Matthew’s story the soldiers guarding Jesus are knocked senseless when radiant angels appear by the empty tomb. The Easter joke is that the worst efforts of solemn minded and practical human beings to ridicule, kill, discredit and isolate a person who represents truth and love are futile. Life and forgiveness will burst out of the apparently nailed down tomb.
April Fools Day does not need to be deplored. Serious people do not need to take seriously jokes against them; mockery will always mock the mocker. When love is stronger than death, faith and politics can alike be the subject of laughter.
That message speaks to this Easter time. Our national life is deadly earnest. Jokes are gaffes, polls are honoured as Gods, and any disrespect for economic orthodoxy and acquisitiveness is smartly corrected. And we demonstrate our seriousness by locking up children. In the face of this unrelenting and deadly earnestness we need April Fools Day.
The events of Easter are about compassion. They allow tears for those whose lives are precious but are treated as expendable. These include many young people with whom we work at Jesuit Social Services who are put at risk of exclusion from society by being deprived of benefits and opportunities, and by the emphasis on punishment in the justice system.
Easter says that we are all deeply loved, and that life and love will triumph over the most egregious forms of idiocy. So it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.