April 8, 2018
Today in the church world is often called Low Sunday because of the generally low attendance. After all, everyone came last week and heard the biggest story of all! So church can be crossed off the to-do list for a while.
Have you heard the joke about the man who came out of church on Easter and the minister pulled him aside and said, "You need to join the Army of the Lord!" The man replied, "I'm already in the Army of the Lord." The minister questioned, “Then how come I don't see you except at Christmas and Easter?" The man whispered back, "I'm in the secret service."
I recently heard a name for today that I much prefer to Low Sunday - Holy Humor Sunday. Apparently, the early church had a tradition of observing the week following Easter Sunday as "days of joy and laughter" with parties and picnics to celebrate Jesus' resurrection. And so there is a (small but growing) groundswell calling for a return to this fun tradition.
What a great idea! (Especially since John isn’t here so I didn't have to sell it to anyone!)
Easter Sunday always feels magical - the room is full, triumphant hymns are sung loudly, everyone is hyped up on sugar — you can feel the joy. But Easter season lasts 50 days. So how can we get that joy to last? A little humor cant hurt!
How do you like John Stewart’s take on Easter: A guy comes down to earth, takes your sins, dies, and comes back three days later. If you believe in him you go to heaven forever. How do you get from that to Hide-The-Eggs? Did Jesus have a problem with eggs? Did he go, “When I come back, if I see any eggs, the whole salvation thing is off.”
It seems especially appropriate this year to bring some humor to church. After all, Lent began with Ash Wednesday on Valentine’s Day and ended with Easter on April Fool’s Day. A ridiculous and rare occurrence that hasn't happened since 1956.
So this year you could make Ash Wednesday a date night, and the choir could trick everyone on Easter by starting with a Christmas hymn. (That happened last week at the 10:30 service, if you haven't heard. They definitely fooled me.)
But the truth is, Easter probably belongs on April Fool’s Day. Easter’s resurrection stories are like crazy jokes and we barely understand the punchline.
So - a girl and her mother ran into their priest at the store. The girl told the priest they were getting ready for Easter. Seeing a teaching opportunity, the priest replied ,“Oh really? Do you know what Easter’s all about?” The girl looked a little offended. “Of course I do. It’s when Jesus went to Jerusalem on a donkey and he got in trouble and they nailed him on a cross and then he died. They put him in a tomb with a big rock in front of it. But three days later the rock was rolled away.” “That’s great!” said the priest, pleased to know the Sunday School program worked so well. “But that’s not all,” said the girl.“When the rock gets rolled back, Jesus steps out and looks around, and so on Easter if he sees his shadow there’s six more weeks of winter.”
Early church theologians described Easter as a practical joke that God played on the devil. They saw the resurrection as mocking the powers that killed Jesus.
Some of those church fathers were jokesters themselves. Like St. Augustine of Hippo, who in the 4th century prayed, “Lord, give me chastity ... but not yet.”
The disciples were sure thankful to be let in on the joke in our story today. Jesus shows up in the room - a room locked with fearful people whose leader has just been executed - and fills them with joy.
Have you seen the cartoon that shows Jesus looking at his Twitter account: ”Hey, look! I’ve got 12 followers!”
Unfortunately, one of the 12, Thomas, was missing from the locked room that night. And so he thought the whole “Jesus is risen” thing was a practical joke. He didn't believe it for a minute. We get this same reading every year this first Sunday after Easter. Every year we feel sorry for poor doubting Thomas, whose name lives on in infamy. Thomas was missing from that locked room that fateful day. He completely missed the punchline. And so poor Thomas became the butt of the joke.
A disciple excitedly runs up to Thomas to share the good news: “He is risen!” the disciple cries. “I don’t know,” Thomas says. “Sounds like fake news to me.”
Thankfully, Thomas was there the next week, and this time he got the joke.
So all is well that ends well. He never loses the unfortunate nickname, but Doubting Thomas goes on to a distinguished career of spreading the Gospel to India.
One version of his story even has him as the only witness to the Virgin Mary’s assumption into heaven, where she apparently dropped her girdle for him to show the other disciples as evidence.
(Believe it or not, that girdle part isn't even a joke, though it was denounced as heresy by some ancient church council.)
Sometimes proper religious people can be awfully serious. We assume that God can’t have a sense of humor, that the Bible is a respectable document, that Christians are supposed to be somber. But look closer!
All kinds ridiculous situations take place in the Bible. Ancient women have babies constantly. People turn into salt and get swallowed by giant fish. And did you know that in the first book of Samuel God afflicts the Philistines with hemorrhoids when they steal the Ark of the Covenant? And in 1 Kings Elijah suggests that the reason the pagan gods aren't showing up to take care of the people is because the pagan gods are defecating?
And then there are all those camels!
Three camels try to board Noah´s Ark. Noah stops them: “Hey, only two of each animal allowed. One of you will have to stay ashore.” The 1st camel says: “Not me. I’m the camel so many people swallow while straining the gnat from their soup.” The 2nd camel says: “And I´m the camel whose back is broken by the last straw.” The 3rd camel says: “And I´m the camel who shall pass through the eye of a needle sooner than the rich man shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” So Noah, deciding the Bible wouldn’t make any sense without them, lets them all come aboard.
God’s gotta have a great sense of humor to put up with us.
As Anne Lamott jokes, If you want to make God laugh, just tell her your plans.
But God doesn't just put up with us, God delights in us! And laughter is front and center of some of God’s most beautiful promises for us. In Isaiah the people are promised “a place full of exuberance and laughter.” And Jeremiah promises a time when “laughter will spill through the doors” and God will “turn their weeping into laughter.”
Joe asked God, "How much is a penny worth in heaven?"
God replied, "$1 million dollars."
Joe asked, "How long is a minute in heaven?"
God said, "One million years."
Joe asked for a penny.
God said, “Oh, sure. Just give me a minute.”
Stephen Colbert says he sees getting people to laugh as his ministry because if you are laughing, you can’t be fearful. Fear can make our options seem more limited than they really are. If you are laughing, you can rise above whatever overwhelming, frightening, painful thing confronts you.
A good joke can help us to see the difference between the world as it is and as it could be. It can help us see the gap between who we are and who we want to be. And maybe laughter can help us to bridge the distance.
So you’ve seen those bracelets with the letters “WWJD” inscribed on them - meaning: What would Jesus do? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to have a bracelets inscribed “JWPNHGHITSITFP” - meaning: Jesus would probably not have gotten himself into this situation in the first place.
Thankfully, we can laugh and be filled with joy not because life is without struggle, but because Easter assures us that God has the final say.
As Frederick Beuchner says, ”Blessed are those that get the joke."
May we all get the joke, this Easter and beyond. Amen.