Today is April Fools’ Day.
When I was growing up, April 1 was a day my brother and I looked forward to. We could tell lies and play pranks from sunup to sundown without getting in trouble—as long as we ended our jests with a shout of “April Fools!” and didn’t harm anyone.
It was also annoying.
We never knew whom we could trust on that day, as adults often joined in on the “fun.”
So how did this day get its beginning?
How did April Fools’ Day begin?
It has been celebrated on April 1 for several centuries by different cultures, but its origin remains a mystery.
Many historians believe it dates back to 1582 when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian one, as called for by the Council of Trent.
The new year for the Julian calendar began with the spring equinox around April 1.
Some people did not get the news of the new calendar or refused to recognize it and continued to celebrate the new year at the end of March through the beginning of April. They became the brunt of jokes and were called “April Fools.”
Other theories about the origin are tied to the vernal equinox or first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, when Mother Nature fooled people with changing, unpredictable weather, and to the festival Hilaria in ancient Rome, which was celebrated at the end of March.
However, since the tradition began, April Fools’ has provided a day for outrageous pranks by news media and businesses over the years, as well as innocent fibs and jests by individuals.
Many of us remember and believed media reports on April 1, 1996, that Taco Bell bought the landmark Liberty Bell and renamed it the Taco Liberty Bell.
A well-known burger chain announced its “left-handed Whopper” on April 1, 1998, and scores of customers rushed out to buy one only to find out it was a prank.
Jesus wasn’t joking
This year, April 1 falls during the most important week in Christendom.
Holy Week begins with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, then takes us through all the events leading up to the cross and culminates with his powerful resurrection.
And there’s one thing we can be sure of this April Fools’ Day: we don’t have to wonder if the events of this week are just a prank.
Jesus’ death by crucifixion was predicted in Scripture just the way it happened a thousand years before it happened. For more on this, see “What Does the Bible Say about Easter?” by Dr. Jim Denison.
Even Jesus told his disciples “This Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment” (Luke 22:27). He quoted Isaiah 53:12. The entire chapter predicts details about his death and burial, as does Psalm 22.
On this Thursday of Holy Week, Jesus spent time with his disciples preparing them for his death and assuring them of their future. But they did not understand all he was saying when he spoke of his death.
To them, it probably sounded much like an April Fools’ prank. Their response: “We do not know what he is talking about” (John 16:18).
Like the disciples, we may not understand the whys of Jesus’ death, but we can know the results.
What did Holy Week accomplish?
Jesus knew the thoughts of the disciples (vv. 19–24) and assured them they would come to know the Father as he did: “The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf, for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father” (vv. 25–28).
That’s what Holy Week did.
We have direct access to the Father because Jesus loved us enough to die on the cross for us and then defeat the grave.
He further assured his beloved disciples, and us, that “I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world” (v. 33).
Those words of assurance were followed by the most powerful prayer by our Messiah as he poured out his heart to his Father before facing the cross. It begins, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:1–3).
He prayed for the followers he was leaving behind, as well as the ones to come, and concluded: “O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them and I in them” (vv. 25–26).
Holy Week continued to the cross.
Then he stretched out his arms and died that we might know the Father as he did.
Easter is coming, and we live because he lives.
No mystery there . . . only love.