Go back to normal view
I have been told by a parishioner in recent days, that the alternative greeting, H*P*Y E*S**R, ‘just won’t do’…
I am writing in mid-March and there is a lot to go, in a minister’s life at least, before we reach that bold acclamation and the celebration of Easter Day: the greatest festival of the Christian year; and this joyful Eastertide.
But come it will, and in 2018 it falls on 1st April - all fools day!
The Christian tradition of the holy fool, is a longstanding one, which began with the teaching and experience of the apostle Paul. He wrote of being a ‘fool for Christ's sake’, and he made repeated reference to the theme of holy folly in his letters and his dealings with the Christians at 1st century Corinth. He was told, again and again, that he was mad and his preaching of the resurrection was mocked by the wise and confident men of Athens. He recognized it did not fit with their own precious ideas of wisdom; but he pointed to a belief which had turned him around, revolutionized all that he understood: that Jesus who had died had been raised to new life, and that the crucified Christ became for him a deeper wisdom than that of any human philosopher. Though branded a fool by his sophisticated critics, his experience of the Risen Jesus led St Paul to believe that ‘the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength’.
The tradition has gone on, with reverence for the unreservedness and exuberance of the fool, who, alight with the love of God, sits lightly to human dignity and perversely draws our attention to more important values. The Russian Orthodox Church has a great history of appreciating the prophetic ‘fool’ in their midst. For my part, I know a nun (Sister Hilda Mary) who has a long experience of putting on the grease paint and baggy pants and entertaining and delighting her audience with Christian clowning.
This week, as I write, people in this country have been saddened by news of the deaths of two famous men: the physicist and writer, Stephen Hawking; and the comedian, and madcap performer, Ken Dodd. They have evoked words of warm admiration. Some of us have loved both these men!
In some ways they could not be further apart as individuals. The one, a totem of scientific rationality; the other, a beacon of playful silliness. And yet they offer an affectionate glimpse of the paradox of solemnity and exhilaration that becomes the story of resurrection.
Ken Dodd had a zest for life, and for entertaining with every breath and fibre of his body. I saw him once on the stage in Bournemouth as a youngster, and was so surprised by his zany vitality. The show, as was his habit, went on for an hour more than had been advertised. Crazy hair, wonky teeth, tickling sticks and coming on-stage in a mini car. Quite tattifilarious! Touchingly, this clown prince of the British stage married his partner (of 40 years), Lady Anne, just two days before his death.
I never saw Stephen Hawking in the flesh, but enjoyed many a radio interview of his and clips on television. I found the Eddie Redmayne portrayal of him in ‘The Theory of Everything’ enjoyable and impressive. Hawking has been a great mind in the world of physics; a powerful communicator (despite the obvious challenges that his motor neurone condition created); an effective evangelist for science; and a striking spokesperson for medical and ethical causes.
Here in these two, great Britons - of Cambridge and Knotty Ash - were life-affirming qualities which spoke to our hearts as well as our minds.
Truth, such as we celebrate at Easter, derives from qualities such as we have seen in these two men. Wisdom and engagement, warmth and depth. Yes, the resurrection remains ‘folly’ to the unbeliever; but foolishness has a strange way of becoming a living means of insight and understanding, as it challenges who we are and empowers whom we are becoming.
May the cross and resurrection of Christ speak to us anew this season, and lead us into life. And may foolishness and wisdom sup together, in the grace of the Risen Lord!
My love to you. Alleluia!