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The real divine “prank” is not the Resurrection.

This Holy Week, hundreds of frazzled preachers around the world have undoubtedly heaved a sigh of relief. Instead of having to fret over what illustration to use on Easter Sunday morning to capture their listeners’ attention, they can simply seize the opportunity the calendar has handed them.

This year, Easter falls on April Fools’ Day, which means that countless sermons will be able to employ some version of the following introduction: “On Easter Sunday, we Christians celebrate the fact that a dead man came back to life. This might seem like the ultimate prank—dead people just don’t climb out of their graves, period—but this year, it turns out, God’s April Fools’ joke is actually true!” (More adventurous preachers might even try reviving the old “fish hook” theory of the atonement. According to that ancient model, in the ultimate April Fools’-style prank, God dupes Satan by enticing him to kill Jesus—only thereby to ensnare the devil and win a victory at his expense.)

Were I to occupy a pulpit this year, I too would happily take advantage of this fortuitous convergence of holidays. But I’m not sure the real divine April Fools’ prank is quite what many preachers will say it is.

The Scandal of the Cross

It’s true, of course, that Jesus’ resurrection came as a shock to his first followers. And one of them, famously, did, in fact, view it as a hoax. “Doubting Thomas,” as he’s usually called, was like me when I was a child. Every April 1, I determined that this would be the year I’d avoid being taken in by the jokes my family and friends were sure to be peddling. Thomas, likewise, having had his hopes shattered …

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