Holy Humor - Reflections 4-4-18

It was a couple of weeks after the Resurrection when someone approached Joseph of Arimathea articulating their surprise at him allowing Jesus to be buried in Joseph’s newly hand-hewn stone tomb. Joseph simply shrugged his shoulders and said, “He only needed it for the weekend!”

 I don’t tell many jokes. I don’t get the story straight, miss the punch line, and it just doesn’t end up funny.

Almost 25 years ago, I was taking medical treatment that made me feel awful. I was gloomy and grumpy and made myself, and those around me, miserable. We started borrowing some video tapes (I did mention it was 25 years ago) of a TV show that my husband’s friend watched: Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K). Two robots and a guy were on stuck on a space station and had to watch really bad B movies – you know, low budget, little plot, terrible acting…really terrible acting. These robots and the guy made comments or sang short songs as they watched the movie. I was quite skeptical about watching these, but trying to be nice, I agreed. Oh my gosh, I laughed and laughed through so many of those episodes. They were a delightful distraction. But more than that, with each “laugh session” – maybe a couple a week – I started to feel genuinely less gloomy and grumpy. I could almost feel a shroud being pulled off me. While the treatment still caused a lot of discomfort, my reaction to it was transformed.

The children were lined up for a Lutheran potluck. At the head of the table was a large tray of apples. A deacon lettered a note and posted it on the apple tray: "Take only ONE. God is watching."  Moving along the line, at the other end was a large tray of chocolate chip cookies. A girl wrote a note, which she put next to the tray of cookies, "Take all you want. God is watching the apples."

This Sunday at Gloria Dei we’ve decided to celebrate our first Holy Humor Sunday. It is tradition that goes way back to the earliest Greek churches with a lot of different titles: Laughter Sunday, Hilarity Sunday, Bright Sunday or Holy Fools Sunday. Participants told jokes, pulled pranks, partied, danced, and wore their brightest clothes during the first week after Easter. Early theologians eventually explained this behavior as perfectly understandable because God had the last laugh over the devil when Jesus was raised. In other words, God played the best joke ever on Satan when he raised Jesus. There is, of course, a Latin term for it: Risus Paschalis - God’s joke or Easter laugh.

On Sunday April 8, a couple of our natural comedians will break into the service now and then, to bring that special view of the world – the silly/funny one – to our worship. It may or may not actually “work”. We’ll see. But I do know that when we met to plan it, I felt that same transformation of my spirit as 25 years ago. 

An inexperienced preacher was to hold a graveside burial service at a pauper's cemetery for an indigent man with no family or friends. Not knowing where the cemetery was, he made several wrong turns and got lost. When he eventually arrived an hour late, the hearse was nowhere in sight, the backhoe was next to the open hole, and the workmen were sitting under a tree eating lunch. The diligent young pastor went to the open grave and found the vault lid already in place. Feeling guilty because of his tardiness, he preached an impassioned and lengthy service, sending the deceased to the great beyond in style. As he returned to his car, he overheard one of the workman say to the other, "I've been putting in septic tanks for twenty years and I ain't never seen anything like that."

That is what Easter does - transforms the way one sees the world. The ultimate punchline is God’s. Through that holy laughter, the shroud is pulled off, fear and despair drop away. Compassion and hope step in.

I imagine that is why those early Christians and theologians so delightfully reveled, laughed, and just generally acted goofy right after Easter.
The world was brand new.

My final joke is dedicated to 30 years of confirmation students: 

On the final test, a confirmation student was asked to list the Ten Commandments in any order. 
The student wrote, "3,6,1,8,4,5,9,2,10,7."

How to Find Us

Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

123 E Market Street
Iowa City, IA 52245