The Rector Writes April 2017
Dear sisters and brothers
The day of pranks and foolery is upon us as April Fools’ Day raises its head once again for another year. But what is the history behind this day, and why do we still adopt an attitude of tomfoolery and practical jokes in celebration of this day?
The origins of April Fools’ Day are uncertain, but one theory is that it began in 1582, when France adopted the Gregorian calendar. Before this time, New Year’s Day fell on March 25, rather than January 1. Those who continued to celebrate the old New Year at the beginning of April were called “fools” by their early adopting contemporaries. Even before this transition the New Year had long been associated with the term “fool.” In medieval France the Feast of Fools fell on January 1. At this popular festival hijinks abounded: Christian ritual was burlesquely imitated, a fake pope was elected, and high and low officials swapped jobs for a day. Feast of Fools was likely modeled after the similarly themed pagan festival Saturnalia.
As this French tradition died out during the 16th century, a new one sprung up in the form of April Fools’ Day, or All Fools’ Day. In France the fooled party is called the poisson d’avril, which literally means “April fish.” The customary prank involves pinning a paper fish, also called the poisson d’avril, to a friend’s back, said to symbolise a young, easily caught fish and a gullible person.
This is not the only April Fools’ custom involving paper and backs. In Scotland, April Fools’ Day is called Gowkie Day—gowk is another name for the cuckoo, which is a common symbol of the fool. The pranks continue into April 2, Taily Day, when friends traditionally attach a “kick me” sign to their friends’ backs.
But the tomfoolery of this April Fools’ Day will soon be forgotten by the 9th of the month, for that is when Holy Week begins, and thoughts turn to our Lord’s Passion. And central to the Passion is the ultimate fool, the evil court jester, the one who played, not a prank, but the ultimate betrayal of his loving friend and companion. This character is infamously known as Judas Iscariot.
But did Judas get a raw deal from those who wrote and compiled the Christian Bible? Has he been wrongly vilified by the Church, Christian historians and simple Christian folk alike through the ages, as someone who ultimately sent Jesus to the cross? Yes, it was he who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, but wasn’t that supposed to happen? Isn’t Judas just part of the prophesy that was laid down in ancient scripture, when it was written: ‘Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me (Psalm 41:9). In a strange way, aren’t Judas’ actions a fulfilment of the prophesy which led to the death and resurrection of God-made-man so that we may be redeemed? Surely then, what Judas did was to play a part in the salvation of humanity; and yet we see him as the ultimate villain, the fool whose actions resulted in what we now know as Good Friday.
At the time of the Last Supper Judas had already made his choice to betray Jesus when Satan entered him (Luke 22:3). Perhaps Satan’s hand in the betrayal was to tempt Judas into making the decision or perhaps to keep Judas from losing his nerve by entering him. This is an extremely unique event: Satan is never mentioned as ‘entering’ anyone else. Satan has become personally involved because the previous efforts to stop Jesus have failed.
Another angle here is: What did Satan stand to gain by getting Judas to betray Jesus? Why did Satan want to kill Jesus? He should have been able to understand that it would be Jesus’ death and resurrection that defeated him. Clearly Satan tried to stop him from going to the cross in the temptations, and tried to slow him down or stop him throughout his ministry, so why help him to the cross now? Perhaps he thought that if he could not stop Jesus in the world, he could stop him in death. Maybe he thought that he could hold Jesus in the grave.
Whatever the answer Judas eventually took his own life in the most graphic of ways. And yet, even though our Lord said of Judas: ‘…woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born (Matthew 26:24)’, it is without doubt that Jesus had forgiven him by the time of his Passion.
Lent and Easter are times for us to reflect on the Passion of our Lord, and on the things that are wrong in our lives, holding our relationships up to God and asking his forgiveness for all that we have done. We therefore must remember that if Christ can forgive and love those who betrayed him and sent him to the cross, he will surely forgive us our transgressions.