Holy Humor

  • April 15, 2015

10365800_10152332112046832_2449419449034335546_nJohn 20:19-31

Sometimes the church forgets to have fun.

Christians are not generally known for our upbeat nature; for our sense of humor; for being the life of the party. On the contrary. Depending on who you ask, you may find that Christians are known for being dour and serious; judgmental and hateful; or simply that we have bad music, and kitschy gear. I don’t think I have ever heard this: “I knew she was a Christian, because she laughed a lot.”

Our gospel reading today is a case in point. At this post-Easter gathering, the disciples are hardly in a festive mood. They are locked away from their friends and neighbors, paralyzed with fear. Jesus, the resurrected Christ, comes to wish them peace, to breathe the Holy Spirit upon them, to commission them in ministry; but they are still afraid.

Of course, it shouldn’t surprise us that these disciples are afraid; their leader has just been executed. The resurrection was amazing, yes, but it didn’t take away the rest of the story. 21st century Christians have plenty things to be afraid of, too: poverty, climate change, racism, cancer. They say that if you’re not worried, you’re not paying attention. There’s a reason we’re sometimes so serious.

And yet. And yet, it is the Sunday after Easter, and we’ve just been reminded of some of the best news the world has ever heard. And yet our Creator has given us just this one, precious life. Don’t you think she wants us to enjoy it?

In psalm 16, we hear: “In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.” And the great events of the New Testament mention joy, too. The baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy in the presence of Christ. The Magi are filled with joy when they see that the star has stopped over the place where the baby lays. The angels say to the shepherds: “Do not be afraid: I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people.”

When we follow the story farther, the disciples praise God joyfully with loud voices for all the deeds of power they see Jesus carry out. Jesus himself says, before he leaves them: “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” And when dawn breaks on Easter, the women leave the empty tomb with fear but also great joy, running to share the news of resurrection.

It’s only natural to lock the doors, to be paralyzed by fear. If we’re not worried, we’re probably not paying attention. But we need to find ways to break out of that fear and worry, too.

It turns out that there are many traditions that try to help us do better with joy by lengthening the Easter celebration – in small ways, sometimes in silly ways. Some folks have celebrated Easter Monday, also known as Bright Monday or Dingus Day. In celebration of the resurrection, people participate in egg rolling competitions, polka dancing, parties and picnics. All that sounds like more fun than the other traditional entertainments: dumping water over each other’s heads and hitting each other’s legs with willow branches.

In other times and places, folks have celebrated “Bright week.” According to a 7th century church council in Constantinople: “for a whole week the faithful in the holy churches should continually be repeating psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, rejoicing and celebrating Christ; attending to the reading of the Divine Scriptures and delighting in the Holy Mysteries.” This may have sounded like a good time to the bishops at the council, but apparently it was hard to enforce among the faithful. To make sure people were devoting their free time to Jesus that week, horse races had to be cancelled, and taverns were closed.

Still another set of traditions started in the 15th century in Bavaria, celebrating the Sunday after Easter (today!) as the Risus Paschalis (God’s joke, or the Easter laugh). The idea is that God played a practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead; so we should be joking too. I’m not sure exactly what they did, but apparently those Bavarians had a little too much fun, because the observance of this day was officially outlawed by Pope Clement X in the 17th century.

Here in the US in 2015, Holy Humor Sunday has begun to be celebrated by more and more churches on the Sunday after Easter. I did pause to wonder whether the popularity of this observance had something to do with the sheer exhaustion Pastors experience after Holy Week, leaving them a bit slap happy. It did also cross my mind that pastors might be drawn to Holy Humor Sunday as a way of getting a break from preaching on this passage about Thomas from the gospel of John, which is in our lectionary every single year. But I’m sure that Holy Humor Sunday has grown mostly because more and more people have wanted to bring back ancient traditions of playfulness, and brightness, and joy in our Easter season.

So — I wondered if we might try it. But when I looked up some of the crazy stuff churches get up to on this day, I wasn’t sure we could carry it off. I have to confess that your pastor really isn’t good at stand-up comedy. I’m sure to some of you that’s a relief. And I didn’t want to give you too many reasons not to welcome me back after my maternity leave (though – I have to confess – if there hadn’t been a shipping problem you would be holding kazoos right now).

I don’t want to pretend that silliness is the same as joy. But I do think humor, laughter, has a place in our Christian life, and in our churches. It has a way of easing us out of fear, and towards the joy we are called to. That modern saint Stephen Colbert, who you may know is a very serious Catholic, said in a recent interview that he was drawn to comedy in part because it was impossible to laugh and be afraid at the same time. So I’d like to ask for your support in adding just a moderate amount of silliness to our second Sunday of Easter – remembering that so many of our forbearers have done this as well. I propose a madlib to finish up the sermon.

(Here is the madlib we came up with!)

An Unforgettable Service at WCUC

We arrived at (noon) at the church. We were dressed in (hot) (shoes) and brought (pickles) to honor the Lord. Pastor Hannah was there to greet us with a hearty “(Yo)!”

We made our way past the  (geese) and the (snakes) and took our seats on the (hot dog). There were people everywhere, and everyone was (running). I guess that is how they share their (anguish).

The service started with an invigorating (jump). Then Jim played a rousing rendition of (Call Me Maybe) and the choir began to (swim).

Hannah told a story about (Moses) and preached on an obscure text about (candles). I looked at my watch and it was (450) minutes since she started. I was worried because I needed to pick up some (pulpits) at the (5 and 10) before lunch. It was hard to tell exactly what her point was, but I think she wanted us to know that God was (sticky) and we should (skate) (chandeliers).

My favorite part of the service was when the (choir) started playing (archery) while (Sunday Fellowship) shouted (Hallelujah)!

All in all it was a (smoky) day. Praise (Zeus)!

Risen Christ, there are too many Good Fridays in this world. Help us to acknowledge and mourn them, to hope for healing, and to work for justice. But help us also not to forget that your news is good; that you call us to fullness of joy — and probably, at least a little bit of silliness, too. Amen.