“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” – Matthew 20:16
The Feast of Fools began approximately 800 years ago in Northern France. On this day clergy would turn the church hierarchy on its head. The lowest clergy person would become the bishop for a day. This bishop would interact with the people of the community and lead services. Clergy would conduct liturgies with little tweaks here and there. They would satirize some aspects of church life and the clerical vocation that felt overly strict, odd, or perhaps even unjust. During this one-day festival power was inverted and the flaws of the power structure were exposed.
The Feast of Fools was built on a few ideas found in the scriptures:
- Jesus’ teaching about the reversal of the first and the last in Matthew 20
- The Apostle Paul’s teaching, “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise” – 1 Corinthians 1:27
Unfortunately, in time this, topsy-turvy day went from festive to raucous. The Feast of Fools became an “anything goes” day and the initial intentions were lost. In the 15th century the leaders of the church condemned the annual event. The church lost a great possibility when the Feast of Fools went off the rails.
The Feast of Fool’s was an opportunity for the church to learn and grow. It was an opportunity to demonstrate humility by showing the world it can laugh at itself. It was an opportunity to elevate fresh voices and new ideas from leaders who had yet to establish well worn patterns of behavior. It was an opportunity for the body of Christ to flex its God-given creative muscles.
Today is April Fool’s Day. A day when we are encouraged to try and trick others into doing, saying, or believing something foolhardy. It’s about making someone else feel foolish. On the other hand, the Feast of Fools invited us to be honest with ourselves and not take ourselves so seriously. At its best, it encouraged us to not be afraid of our own idiosyncrasies or quirks. As individuals, the ability to laugh at ourself is a sign of confidence. As a community, the church’s ability to own its peculiarities (and address its odd or unjust habits) is a sign of being secure that our identity comes from God.
Time and again, the scriptures remind us of the centrality of humility and its role as a core characteristic of God. We may no longer have the Feast of Fools as a way to check our pride but I am confident that God will give us other ways to practice humility.