Feast of Fools
We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor but we in disrepute. – 1 Corinthians 4:10 (NRSV)
In 1445, the theology faculty at the University of Paris wrote a letter in which they sought to “describe how much we abhor and how much we execrate a certain kind of ritual of merriment, which is called by its organizers the Feast of Fools.” (Quoted in Sacred Folly: A New History of the Feast of Fools by Max Harris.)
Historians disagree on just what that Feast of Fools looked like. Were there parodies of the Mass? Did they bring a donkey up to the altar (apparently not that uncommon in the Middle Ages)?
One thing they do agree on: the Feast of Fools was an inversion of hierarchy. It was the day the lowest clergy, the subdeacons, took charge.
And maybe they played games and sang silly songs like some say. But maybe they just delivered the gospel message as they heard it from the bottom rung of the ladder.
Maybe they dared to notice the disconnect between the power of the Church and the weakness of its savior. Between the honor accorded to bishops and popes and the disrepute in which Jesus was held.
Maybe they said something abhorrent and execrable like, “the first shall be last.” Church folks hate that kind of thing.
From our earliest days we’ve needed reminders like Paul’s: the world has it upside down. What it calls wise is foolish. What it calls strength is weakness. What it treats with deadly seriousness is silly.
Stand on your head. The kingdom of God is at hand.
Foolish One, fill your church with scandalous merriment.
Vince Amlin is co-pastor of Bethany UCC, Chicago, and co-planter of Gilead Church Chicago, forming now.