It feels like an unusual number of calendar dates have been pulling double duty this year. Christmas Eve fell on a Sunday, which meant worship in the morning, early evening and late night. Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day doubled up for the first time in almost 75 years. And now Easter and April Fool’s Day will be sharing the spotlight on April 1. Typically, the Sunday after Easter is referred to as Holy Humor Sunday. More than a gimmick to fill the pews on one of the least attended Sundays of the year, Holy Humor Sunday actually boasts a longstanding tradition in some denominations. For centuries in Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant countries, one day was deemed insufficient to celebrate the joyous resurrection of the Lord. So, the week following Easter Sunday was observed by the faithful as “days of joy and laughter” with parties and picnics to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. Churchgoers and pastors played practical jokes on each other, drenched each other with water, told jokes, sang, and danced.
Holy Humor is also grounded in some solid theology. The custom was rooted in the musings of early church theologians (like Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom) that, just when the Devil thought he had triumphed over God by seeing that Jesus was crucified, God played a practical joke on the Devil by raising Jesus from the dead. “Risus paschalis – the Easter laugh,” the early theologians called it.
All this suggests that April Fool’s Day might actually be the perfect day of the year to celebrate Easter. If there is one word that personifies April Fool’s Day, it would have to be “unpredictable.” And if the Resurrection was anything, it certainly was unpredictable.