For Christians around the globe, this week is the culmination of a six-week journey called Lent. It commenced on Ash Wednesday with ashes in the shape of a cross on the foreheads of Christ-followers. It concludes this Sunday with the singing of hymns and a verbalized affirmation of “Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed.”
But this Lenten season is bracketed in a rather unusual way. This year Ash Wednesday fell on Valentine’s Day while Easter Sunday falls on April Fool’s Day. While some find the coincidence unfortunate, I find it incredibly significant.
After all, the essence of Valentine’s Day is love. It calls for tangible expressions of affection between those engaged in a loving relationship. In our culture those tokens have historically included Hallmark cards, candy, fancy dinners and flowers. These symbols remind the recipient of the depth of the lover’s devotion.
The Lenten season recalls another relationship defined by love. It calls to mind the Creator’s love for His creation. It recalls the depth God went to communicate His unconditional love to the human species. Because Christians believe that Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God, they understand his suffering and death to be a tangible expression of self-giving love.
Likewise, the six weeks of Lent provide Jesus-followers an opportunity to express their love in return. It is a journey of self-examination, repentance and reflection. Often the gifts of love offered by Christians consist of self-denial, fasting and concentrated prayer. The depth of one’s devotion is validated through an observance that has a price tag. That all tends to make sense to me.
But what about celebrating Easter Sunday on April Fool’s Day? Are you kidding me? How can the holiest day on the Christian calendar be seriously observed when sugar bowls are being secretly filled with salt?
As one who has studied theology and read Scripture for half a century, I’m not put off by Resurrection Sunday falling on a day defined by practical jokes. Would it surprise you to hear me claim that Easter is the ultimate practical joke?
The truth for which it stands caught the original disciples of Jesus off guard. They were blindsided with the unexpected. A less-than-good Friday found their leader executed in brutal first century Roman fashion. Crucifixion was Caesar’s version of capital punishment. And an innocent man who claimed to be God was the victim. No, Good Friday was not good at all for Jesus.
But then came Sunday. An unquestioned corpse was observed doing questionable things. Jesus was seen walking, talking and eating.
Just when his friends had begun to make peace with the fact that their rabbi was dead and gone, Jesus sabotages their presuppositions. In the midst of their crying, Jesus appears to have the last laugh. It’s as though he shouts “April Fools!
I love how this year’s Lenten journey progresses. A Valentine’s Day Ash Wednesday to an April Fool’s Easter. What begins in the heart of a loving God concludes in an empty grave. It’s an itinerary that moves from love to life.
Even when dreams are dashed and hopes seemed hijacked, love eventually finds a way to win the day.
Rev. Greg Asimakoupoulos is the full-time chaplain at Covenant Shores Retirement Community on Mercer Island. He is the faith and values columnist for the Mercer Island Reporter and contributes original poetry each Blue Friday to KOMO news radio.