Easter Fools

It is a two weeks until Easter. This year Easter falls on April Fools’ Day, and all of the atheists and skeptics fall on the ground laughing. Rightly they should. Indeed, more Christians ought to do the same. There is something supremely absurd about Easter. It is the absurdity of saying that the world was created twice, exactly what Christians say that Easter is about. We are fools to believe it. And yet, God’s absurdity beats all of our reasonableness, and “the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom.”

In a real sense, Easter is God’s greatest joke. The resurrection of Jesus is the uproarious laughter of God that rolls away stones and knocks guards to the ground. In folk religions devils are tricksters, but in Christianity God one-upped them all. For there is something incredibly amusing about the way the resurrection played out. It was a joke at Satan’s expense, for one. The hosts of hell were undoubtedly thrilled at their major victory. The Messiah, God’s Son, was dead. Israel was doomed to curse and and endless spiritual exile. The Gentiles would never even hear of hope. No doubt that, as dawn approached that Sunday morning, demons danced and leprechauns laughed.

It was also a joke at the Jewish leaders’ expense. The smug compromisers were undoubtedly relieved when they awoke. The rabble-rousing Rabbi was defeated. They no longer had anything to fear from a heretical, imposter Messiah. Things could go back to the way they were, the same people in charge with the same old dreams for Israel’s future.

Even the disciples were ready to become a joke. Their situation is more ironic than anyone else’s because they had been told that Jesus was to return. Yet instead they were in shock, thinking about how to return to a previous life, dealing with the collective disappointment that either God had abandoned His Chosen or that they had been wrong all along.

Meanwhile, God was snickering from His throne. The time had come to raise Jesus from the dead. So He did. Satan’s hordes were in a nightmare as dark as their souls, the Jewish leaders found their wrongful victory righted, and the disciples all became fools for their obtuseness. But out of them all, only the disciples could laugh at the joke. They were fools, but they were happy fools, fooled by God with the miracle of a new creation and a new covenant. The most impossible absurdity had happened—the great resurrection began early with a crucified Messiah!—but it was the absurdity of God. So they spent the rest of their lives retelling the divine joke, sharing it with everyone who would listen. They didn’t expect everyone to believe it, foolishness as it is, but they loved it.

Even today, with Jesus’ resurrection being 2000 years old, the Good News still sounds foolish. In our scientific age, we are supposed to know that people don’t come back from the dead (the joke’s on us: the ancients knew that, too, probably better than we do). In our postmodern pessimism, no one really believes that there can be a new creation which actually rescues everything good from the old. In our modern optimism, it seems ridiculous that we even need a new creation to save us when progress is always on the march. For both the alt-right and the social justice left, the idea that all kinds of people could find new life in the resurrection of one particular man of one particular gender from one particular race and be formed into His one body is a fool’s fantasy.

But if the Gospel is foolishness, it is foolishness to those who are perishing. For we fools who believe, it is true wisdom. If the world laughs at us, God laughs first and last. So we revel in the life-giving laughter of God. And this means that we, too, can laugh this Easter.

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Why I favor dressing up for church

Feel free to dress casually.

From what I’ve seen, most church websites and bulletins these days are very sure to include something like this somewhere noticeable. They want it to be clear: we’re not a stuffy old church that insists you dress like businessmen and Victorian ladies if you want to experience the presence of God. We know God as living in a personal relationship. So come as you are and enjoy fellowship among equals all in this together!

For what it’s worth, I appreciate that. The legalism which had built up in vast swaths of the Western church over the centuries about what to wear was stifling and unbiblical. Even now, you occasionally hear horror stories from old Baptist congregations: an usher scolds some single mother for her choice of attire, and she misses what might have been a redemptive moment. Such nonsense is a shame in the strongest and most condemning sense of the word.

Nonetheless, in our efforts to remove legalism and open welcoming doors to outsiders, I fear it’s easy to miss some of the good from the old tradition. The impulse that led people to dress up for church was deep. It definitely goes beyond the generic answered reason of “giving God your [culturally relative] best.” I think there are actually two areas of theological significance which can give the practice real meaning.

First, there is the idea of the sacred. In church, we are not members of a club. We don’t gather for some mere earthly thing we have in common, whether politics, hobbies, careers, or family relationships. We gather to worship God the Father Almighty, the transcendent One who is infinitely different from and superior to us. We come in the name of Jesus, His beloved Son who mysteriously unites human and divine natures in Himself in order to bring us to God. We unite in the power of the Holy Spirit, the very personal presence and power of the God who made everything and everyone. This puts us on holy ground. When we gather as a church (not, I should specify, just “in” a church), we are entering the presence of a Holiness which is set apart from anything else we know.

So when we dress differently than we do elsewhere, it can serve as a sign, especially when done freely and not legalistically. It can symbolize and point to the fact that Body of Christ is not just another function of human life, but is the point where the radically different life of God meets us. This, of course, doesn’t bind us to any particular kind of clothing. But when we, by our clothes and other, more important things (you know, like love for each other and praise of God), mark out church as sacred time and space before God, we testify to the world that we’re dealing with something, or better Someone, different than everything else. (As a side note, this idea is not compatible with our “Sunday best” simply being the same as our business clothes, or formal wear, or any other category. It sets itself apart, even perhaps undermining the traditional ideas of what special clothes make sense to wear for church.)

The other possible Christian significance to dressing up at church has to do with our identity. As a people born again, we live in hope of a resurrection to glory. We are now, and one day will be more fully, members of a new creation. Everything will be made better. Redemption will extend to every nook and cranny of creation, including our bodies. All will be beautified and perfected. When Jesus comes back for us, we will all be our best selves both inside and out.

To dress up, then, also serves as a sign of the new creation. No one can deny that, culturally relative as it may be, dressing up makes people look nice. In all but the rarest instances, we look our best when we dress our best. And while our looks aren’t the point, they can be a sign for ourselves in the world: we look like our best selves now in anticipation of how we will become our best selves when Christ returns, and in fact we are already our best selves hidden in Him. The visible points us to what is now invisible so that we can remember and witness to what Jesus has done and will do.

Of course, none of this is meant to construct a new legalism where we must dress up at church to make theological points. The beauty of the sign is at least in part in its freedom, showing that we have been freed by Christ into new creation, not forced. We must not submit to any yoke of slavery. But my point is rather not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The legalism and formalism of yesterday’s “dress your best” church is and deserves to be dead, but that doesn’t mean we need to give up on the dress up altogether. We still have power to be signs if we want, or even to be signs by some other method. In any case, let each render to God according to his own conscience for God’s glory.