April Fools

Two years ago, Easter Day fell on April 1. And so the story line was right there, ready to go: It was the sad end to the saddest week. The gentlest, purest, wisest man who ever lived, was betrayed, given a mock trial, beaten, and then tortured to death. They put his body in a tomb. They put a huge stone over the entrance to the tomb. Darkness and sadness covered the earth, and then on Sunday morning . . . April fools!
    The angels dance and sing as the devil slinks away.
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    In the divine alphabet, F has to be for Friend, but we should also remember Foolishness. Saint Paul claims “the foolishness of God is wiser than men” (1 Cor. 1:25). What can this mean?
    One might take it to mean there’s a wisdom-continuum, something like a number line. First you have the human range: from human foolishness up to human wisdom. And then there’s the divine range, from divine foolishness way up to divine wisdom. Paul might mean that no matter how wise we are, we never achieve even the (low) level of divine foolishness—much less a higher level of divine wisdom.
    But that is a false picture, because there is no “range” in God’s wisdom. God just is wise, and his wisdom is just himself. There’s no continuum that goes from a human range to a divine range. (Ditto for God’s strength and God’s goodness.)
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    I think it better to say that God’s foolishness is the same thing as God’s wisdom. We call his wisdom “foolishness” when we don’t understand it. The preeminent example of this is the Cross. It makes no human sense to die like that, to give in to powers that you could have overwhelmed, to let wickedness carry the day. It is foolishness to us.
    But in fact it is the wisest action ever done in the history of the human race.
    And we know it is wise (even if we can’t see its wisdom) because in fact Jesus’ dying for us was the seal of his friendship for us.
    When Easter falls on April 3, Good Friday is April Fools’ Day. (Children, that will happen next in 2067.)
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    But this year, this sad year of the Virus, of fear, of distance, of suffering and indeed death, who are the fools this year? Seldom have so many had so much overturned so quickly! There are always individuals who fall into the fool’s trap: He built bigger barns to hold his great wealth; he told himself he was set for life; but then he heard the voice: “Fool!” He heard that his soul would be required that night, and after his death, whose would his wealth be?
    Individuals are foolish every day. But this season so many of us find ourselves, all at once, having gone on, month after season after year after decade, making plans, forgetting to our cost something we should always acknowledge, forgetting four simple words. They are in James 4:13-15: “Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain . . . Ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.” If the Lord will: four words, and here we are, a whole country, a whole humanity, humbled into remembrance of what we would rather forget.
    This year, April Fools is all of us.

 

 

Open and Vulnerable

There was a young adult at my previous parish—a very smart “coastal” guy—who had done well in finance but found it empty. So he sold his furniture and packed up and flew one February to some place in France and walked the Camino. He was alone for the first part of his walk, but as he came into Spain and warmer weather and drew closer to Santiago, he found more people.
    He then moved to New York, started a new career, and loved Jesus.
    I asked him once, as I was getting the itch for making the Camino, where the route starts. I know many start in Spain, but he had talked about France, and I was confused.
    He said: You know, Father, the Camino starts wherever you are.
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    Well, truth is, I didn’t know. I hadn’t thought of that. But his words were instantly clear. A pilgrimage begins when you start to get ready for a pilgrimage.
    I suppose I started getting ready in a slight sense when I first learned that my rector’s wife, back in New York, had taken off for six weeks and made this pilgrimage. Then when I was widowed, it became a possibility for me. I wrote it down as a spiritual goal once, giving it a date and a purpose: “within five years, for health of soul and body, to draw closer to Jesus who has walked before me.” From time to time the thought would recur, but it is hard to plan to be away for six weeks from home, from work, from friends. A year passed. I moved to Texas. Another year. No Camino.
    Finally, about 15 months ago I decided to get serious, and I put it on the calendar. My bishop was enthusiastic, as was my rector. I laid out all my plans and worked on Spanish (muy poco) and walking (mucho) and getting gear (mas). And, dear reader, you know where this is going, don’t you?
    Spain is closed. No Camino. I’ll have to plan this out again.
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    But my parishioner, that young adult, his words have stuck with me: The Camino for me has already started. I’ve been on it for several years already.
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    Each Christian is a pilgrim. You are on a journey to God. The secret of your life is that it is a pilgrimage. You make plans, you prepare yourself, you move along. Then, as we all know, things change, and what we thought we were doing turns out to be different and to take us elsewhere.
    A couple of months ago, a friend posed this question: “What are you looking for on the Camino?” My answer was, “to be open and vulnerable.”
    Fellow pilgrims, this is the spiritual gift of the present time. We are experiencing together what it means to be open and vulnerable.
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    On the Web. Father John Sundara had a conversation with me about how fasting makes us weaker, and how that’s a good thing. We had a good time—so much so, that our conversation took two weeks! (Only about 17 minutes per week.) You can see and hear us here: https://incarnation.org/article/fridays-in-lent-march-13/
    The New Atlantis is an interesting source of cultural and scientific thinking. I recently read a review there, “Do We Want Dystopia?” of three novels that are (in the reviewer’s judgment) not altogether successful and yet helpfully probe the oddness of our technological moment. The novels are about (1) driverless cars that have been hacked, with people on the Internet voting which car (and passenger) will escape destruction and death; (2) a robot who looks human and can pass as human and quickly learns emotions like jealousy; and (3) a world in which we are saved from contingency, danger, and struggle, and the result seems to be that we are dead. I don’t know if I will read them, but I do recommend the review: https://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/do-we-want-dystopia

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The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."