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All Fools' Day

This morning the RAF Music Service announced that in 2020 there was to be the first Space Parade and that several well-known marches were being adapted for the occasion. The announcement was made in a short film in which the RAF Regiment Band performed the RAF March Past arranged to include elements of major themes from the Star Wars films. This morning is, of course, the 1st April. It was a cleverly planned item of fake news in the best tradition of All Fools’ Day. The origins of this day are obscure: it is probably referenced in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (1392). Some suggest that it is a subversive parallel to All Saints’ Day and a version of the medieval Feast of Fools (mentioned in Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame) which was celebrated by the clergy, often on the 1st January. If this is correct then it forms part of a long tradition of carnival and jesters and which perhaps reached its zenith in the crowning of a boy bishop for the day. Although the Feast of Fools was condemned by both Protestants and Catholics, and severe penalties were imposed on those who celebrated it as early as 1431, there is evidence that it continued to be observed in Paris well into the 17th century.

But was this simply irreverent tom-foolery or is there something more serious that lies beneath the surface? Mikhail Bakhtin has done a lot of research on the role of the comedic jester and carnival in literature. He argues that the carnival and the jester both subvert the power structures of their day whilst simultaneously speaking truth to those in power. The court jester had unparalleled access to a king and through comedy could (and did) say things to challenge the king that no-one else would dare to say. I wonder if contemporary politics might be different if there was a court jester in Parliament.

In much of Jesus’ ministry he challenged the power structures of his day, and through numerous stories encouraged those who listened to him to look at the world from a different perspective. St Paul talks of the cross being a stumbling block to the worldly-wise because this instrument of shame is subverted to become a symbol of victory.

All Fools’ Day may not be part of the liturgical calendar of the church but let us not lose its challenge to look at the world and its power structures from a different perspective and dare, in the name of Jesus, to speak truth to those in power.

Fr Philip

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