It’s appropriate that Easter should fall on April Fools’ Day this year.
The message of Easter is that Jesus of Nazareth, a carpenter in ancient times, was crucified one Friday as a criminal but arose from the grave the following Sunday, and by these two deeds, delivered all those who believe in him into everlasting life, freed forever from their many sins.
This story is, on the face of it, ludicrous.
That’s not just my own opinion.
Two millennia ago, writing to the church at Corinth, even St. Paul called the tale of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection “foolishness,” and referred to himself and his companions who preached that story at enormous personal cost “fools for Christ’s sake.”
At the moment, folks staggeringly impressed with their own intelligence find it fashionable to mock those of us who believe. Atheism and agnosticism have become de rigueur these days among the cynical and worldly wise.
That’s fine, and it impedes me in no way whatever.
But what leaves me scratching my head is skeptics’ apparent assumption that those of us who buy the Easter story and other Christian teachings do so because we’re so guileless or dumb that it’s never occurred to us the stories don’t make sense.
“Uhm,” I want to say, “I’ve been doing this Christian thing for 40 years. I’m well educated, well read, well traveled. I’ve held my wife’s emaciated hand as she died after a five-year battle with cancer. Do you truly think I’ve never considered how illogical the gospel is? Do you think I can’t see the holes in the stories? Do you imagine I haven’t weighed the absurdities time and again, into the wee hours of the morning?”
IQ and college degrees really don’t determine whether someone embraces God. Slow people believe. Smart people believe. Average people believe.
Here’s how people come to faith.
Faith is a gift.
Right after Jesus’ execution, his disciples were left grief-stricken and terrified. They hid in locked rooms hoping to evade the authorities, fearing for their lives. Peter, one of the more prominent followers, had publicly cursed Jesus and sworn he didn’t know him.
Then the risen Jesus appeared in their midst. He forgave them. He imparted the Holy Spirit to them.
Soon, these cowering no-accounts were running through the streets of the same city where Jesus had just been killed, laughing and jumping and clapping their hands and proclaiming that he was, in fact, alive.
A few years later, Saul of Tarsus went about his malevolent business, trying to destroy the church and throwing Christians in prison.
Somewhere along the road to Damascus, a blinding light suddenly shone out of heaven and in it Saul beheld Jesus calling to him.
That quickly, Saul of Tarsus was transformed into St. Paul the apostle, who wrote half the New Testament, changed the world and died a martyr’s death for the very Lord he’d once persecuted.
On a humbler note, I knew a disillusioned young man in Kentucky who had set out to prove to his friends and family why God couldn’t possibly exist, why all their religious twaddle was a ridiculous delusion fostered by neurotics who only wanted to control others’ behavior and ruin everyone’s fun.
Then one night, instantaneously, unforeseen, like a bolt from beyond, this same God showed up in that boy’s room and illuminated the place like a pulsar and said, You’re wrong. Here I am. I’m real. And I love you.
Everything changed then. And it has kept changing. And it has stayed changed.
For me, that’s the glory of Easter and that’s the joke, too.
The glory and the joke are identical: I believe.
I believe in this story for fools, in a cosmic prank played on the naïve and the needy. I believe because there’s some power that enables me to believe what I couldn’t otherwise.
Perhaps you’ve experienced this, too. Many people have.
Across the centuries and across the continents, against all odds and all intellects, Jesus just keeps blasting right out of that same tomb, right past time itself and the limits of space, into the flinty hearts of knaves and nabobs and know-nothings such as you and I.
That bitter, agnostic college boy stands in the pulpit every Sunday preaching the good news. That junkie discovers the strength to free herself from drugs and learns to counsel other addicts. That abusive man finds a grace that melts his rage and becomes a loving husband and father.
Every time you start to think Jesus is dead and gone, he gets resurrected again in someone new.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.