First Congregational Church
April 28, 2019
Holy Humor Sunday
“Perplexities, Humor and Other Venues of Truth”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Author Jack Kornfield once said, “If you can sit quietly after difficult news, if in financial downturns you remain perfectly calm, if you can see your neighbors travel to fantastic places without a twinge of jealousy, if you can happily eat whatever is put on your plate, and fall asleep after a day of running around without a drink or a pill,…if you can always find contentment just where you are, you are probably a dog.” I love this quote, not just because it’s cute, but there is a theological underpinning that is so good.
For those who have been wondering, here’s the deal. During the 15th century, Bavarian churches celebrated Risus Paschalis, a Latin term which translates as God’s Joke, or the Easter laugh. The medieval church believed that Satan could absolutely not stand laughter. At least not genuine laughter. If you laugh at the evil one, the evil one has no power over you.
Sometimes called Bright Sunday, it is said that originally, priests would sit around on the day after Easter, smoking cigars, drinking cognac, and laughing at God’s final joke on death, evil and Satan in the resurrection of Christ. Embracing the idea from the great Danish theologian, Søren Kierkegaard, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”, we celebrate Holy Humor Sunday on odd numbered years - because who wants to get into a rut? Since smoking is prohibited in public places, it would hardly seem worth the effort to celebrate communion with cognac today, she said tongue-in-cheek.
We have so many goofy expressions in our American language, from raining cats and dogs to barking up the wrong tree to not judging a book by its cover. No one is really sure of how it came to be, but I’m guessing that “pulling my leg” was not a phrase used by the ancient Greeks or Hebrews, in terms of scriptures usage. But perhaps there is a bit of “being fooled or teased” exaggeration in this morning’s scripture passage.
Jesus Appears to His Disciples
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Jesus Appears to Thomas
24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
The Purpose of John’s Gospel
30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Thank you, Mary. There is so much good stuff in this passage, we could spend a month of Sundays exploring them. But in light of today’s grand celebration, if the ancients had the term, I can easily see people, not in that locked room, hearing about Jesus showing up, and those folks responding with a “stop pulling my leg.” Or hearing about Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit on them, and the listeners responding with a “Holy Halitosis, Dude!” Or hearing about Thomas’ encounter with the risen Christ and responding with gales of laughter, thinking it was a joke or that maybe Thomas had a little more Passover wine that usual.
If nothing else, this first Sunday in Easter offers us an opportunity to take a look at our human behaviors and bring them into the light of levity, reality and Christ’s resurrection. It reminds us that even though we have a written account that has no need for doubt - as for Thomas - our human nature is rather doubtful and desirous of wanting or thinking we need to see and experience life our own selves. Living life vicariously through others is often just not good enough, especially if those others are long gone.
The reality is, however, that we don’t live in the time where the political chaos, just outside the walls of that room, were so explosive that the disciples weren’t just having a little get-together, they were hiding, in sorrow and fear for their lives because of their association with Jesus. We live in a time where we know that Christ triumphed over the grave, and yet, in all our humanity, we forget that sorrow and grief and the hard parts of life don’t have the last say. Or sadder still, sometimes we know the truth of the resurrection, but choose to stay in hopeless valleys of darkness.
This morning, this day that the Lord has made, is one in which we can step out of any such valleys into the light of healing and life. In this time, we get to sit in the joy of the Lord, in the gratitude of being able to see the humor of life, even if it is for such a short time. And when we leave today, we have the opportunity to be conscious of that light going with us into the coming week, to add the spice of our Christian witness in the living of Godly joy.
Besides, it wasn’t only 15th century monks, but the Bible itself tells us that there is a time for everything under heaven, including a time to weep and a time to laugh. 13th century St. Thomas Aquinas said that there is a time for “playful deeds and jokes.” The great Martin Luther said, “You have as much laughter as you have faith.” and the Reformation’s John Calvin pointed out that “we are nowhere forbidden to laugh.” The Methodist forefather, John Wesley made the point that “A sour religion is the devil’s religion.” Perhaps the greatest of all theologians, the great comic strip writer of Peanuts, Charles Schultz told us that “Humor is proof that everything is going to be alright with God nevertheless.”
“A hot air balloon was floating over the countryside when suddenly the people onboard realized they were lost. Below them they saw two people walking along a road so they lowered the balloon close enough to the ground to yell out to them. “Do you know where we are?” asked the balloonist to those on the ground. One of the two folks on the ground looked up and yelled back, “You are up in a balloon, in the air!” And with that, the wind caught the balloon and they sailed back into the sky.
A little later, after getting back on track, the balloonist told the passengers, “That person on the ground, he was a Congregational pastor.” “How do you know that?” asked the passengers.” “Well,” said the balloonist, “two reasons. First, what he said was absolutely true and, second, what he said was not helpful at all!”
A little boy opened the big family bible. He was fascinated as he fingered through the old pages. Suddenly, something fell out of the Bible. He picked up the object and looked at it. What he saw was an old leaf that had been pressed in between the pages. "Mama, look what I found", the boy called out. "What have you got there, dear?" With astonishment in the young boy's voice, he answered, "I think it's Adam's underwear!”
A pastor was speaking to a group of children about the resurrection of Jesus when one of the children asked, “what did Jesus say when he came out of the grave?” The pastor started to answer when one of the other children became very excited and said, “I know, I know what he said: He said, ‘Tahdah!’”
A nine-year-old theologian once explained that, “Despite the fact that Jesus preached to some Germans on the Mount, the Republicans and all those guys still put Jesus on trial before Pontius the Pilot, and they killed him. But he came back to life again, went up to Heaven, and will be back at the end of the Aluminum. In the meantime, we’re supposed to be kind to strangers because you never know when you might be entertaining angels in their underwear.”
A woman arrived at the Gates of Heaven. While she was waiting for Saint Peter to greet her, she peeked through the gates. She saw a beautiful banquet table. Sitting all around were her parents and all the other people she had loved and who had died before her. They saw her and began calling greetings to her "Hello - How are you! We've been waiting for you! Good to see you."
When Saint Peter came by, the woman said to him, "This is such a wonderful place! How do I get in?" "You have to spell a word," Saint Peter told her. "Which word?" the woman asked. “Love." The woman correctly spelled "Love" and Saint Peter welcomed her into Heaven.
About a year later, Saint Peter came to the woman and asked her to watch the Gates of Heaven for him that day. While the woman was guarding the Gates of Heaven, her husband arrived. "I'm surprised to see you," the woman said. "How have you been?"
"Oh, I've been doing pretty well since you died," her husband told her. "I married the beautiful young nurse who took care of you while you were ill. And then I won the multi-state lottery. I sold the little house you and I lived in and bought a huge mansion. And my wife and I traveled all around the world. We were on vacation in Cancun and I went water skiing today. I fell and hit my head, and here I am. What a bummer! How do I get in?” "You have to spell a word," the woman told him. "Which word?" her husband asked. “Czechoslovakia.” So should we all pray.
God of Joy and Sorrow and all our days, we are truly grateful for all the gifts you give us, and certainly for the gift of laughter. Thank you for the cause of any of our laughter - your triumph over death and sin. When it seems that those negative forces are winning the day, help us to remember that none of them have the final say in life - especially in the world to come. Help us to find the balance of genuine joy while acknowledging the brokenness of the world. Remind us that we don’t have to be a dog to find contentment in this world, that you are our peace and our stay. As the great Peter Marshall said, “Let’s not live another day as if Christ were dead.” And all your grateful people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.