Some jokes to start us off:
Funny signs: in a shoe repair store: We will heel you. We will save your sole. We will even dye for you.
In a Podiatrist’s office: Time wounds all heels.
On a Septic Tank Truck: Yesterday’s Meals on Wheels
At an Optometrist’s Office: If you don’t see what you’re looking for, You’ve come to the right place.
On a Plumber’s truck: We repair what your husband fixed.
On another Plumber’s truck: Don’t sleep with a drip. Call your plumber.
At a Tire Shop in Milwaukee: Invite us to your next blowout.
On an Electrician’s truck: Let us remove your shorts.
In a Non-smoking Area: If we see smoke, we will assume you are on fire and will take appropriate action.
At a Car Dealership: The best way to get back on your feet – miss a car payment.
Outside a Muffler Shop: No appointment necessary. We hear you coming.
In a Veterinarian’s waiting room: Be back in 5 minutes. Sit! Stay!
At the Electric Company: We would be delighted if you send in your payment on time. However, if you don’t, YOU will be de-lighted.
In a Restaurant window: Don’t stand there and be hungry; come on in and get fed up.
In the front yard of a Funeral Home: Drive carefully. We’ll wait.
In a Chicago Radiator Shop: Best place in town to take a leak.
As I’ve shared with you before, Christine Longhurst wrote, “Laughter Sunday (also known as Holy Humour Sunday, Hilarity Sunday, God’s Laughter Sunday, Bright Sunday or Holy Fools Sunday) has its roots in a number of different Christian traditions. Churches in 15th century Bavaria used to celebrate the Sunday after Easter as Risus Paschalis (‘God’s Joke,’ or ‘the Easter laugh’). Priests would deliberately include amusing stories and jokes in their sermons in an attempt to make the faithful laugh. After the service, people would gather together to play practical jokes on one another and tell funny stories. It was their way of celebrating the resurrection of Christ – the supreme joke God played on Satan by raising Jesus from the dead. However, the observance of Risus Paschalis was officially outlawed by Pope Clement X in the 17th century. Perhaps people were having too much fun. In 1988, the Fellowship of Merry Christians began encouraging churches to resurrect some of these Christian traditions—to celebrate the grace and mercy of God through the gift of laughter and joy. G.K. Chesterton once wrote: “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly. Never forget that the devil fell by force of gravity. He who has the faith has the fun.”
So that is the background of Humor Sunday. While the psalms we read encourage joy, and laughter is a good way to get there, it is more than that. There is also humor in the Bible. Some of the stories are joyful, but others are downright funny. Professor Hershey Friedman says that the different types of humor we find in scripture include, sarcasm, irony, wordplay, humorous names, humorous imagery, and humorous situations. An example of humorous names: Caleb, one of the 12 spies sent by Moses into Canaan, means “dog”. Ichabod, the grandson of Eli, means “no glory”. When the Israelites were fleeing Egypt, they used sarcasm in confronting Moses by saying, “was there a lack of graves in Egypt that you took us away to die in the wilderness?” An example of humorous imagery: In Samuel, Achish said to David, “Why did you bring him to me? Do I lack lunatics that you have brought this one to carry on insanely in my presence?” Jesus says, “”You are like a person who picks a fly out of his drink and then swallows a camel”. Additionally, God names Isaac “laughter” – the one who leads us forward, who is our ancestor in faith is named “laughter”.
Laughter is a gift from God in so many ways. Research shows that laughing actually has pain-reducing capacities, and it raises our pain threshold so we can tolerate pain better and we experience it less when we are laughing and for some time after a full, strong laugh. It helps us learn – we learn better after a good laugh. And it boosts our immune-enhancing capacities. When we laugh fully and completely, we are said to “lose” it. What we actually “lose” in those moments is our distraction of everything else – our distraction of our self-consciousness, our distractions of the stresses in our lives, we stop fleeing our stressing out and instead are completely present in the moment – and that moment, the NOW is where God is.
Laughter is often a sign of health, a sign of healing, a sign of resurrection. When a congregation is struggling, you can often tell the level of conflict in that congregation by whether or not people can laugh together. If they can’t, you know the conflict is very serious. If they can, it either is not so bad, or the congregation is on the way to healing. It is a sign of hope, a sign of life, and a sign of resurrection.
I love that God surprises us still, catches us still, in unexpected moments, with laughter. That it is the kind of gift that can surprise and sneak up on you, and remind you to not take things so very seriously. I want to tell you a story about Palm Sunday. I only had three little parts, but the first part, the most serious part I led was the opening prayer. As you know, we did Palm Sunday through zoom. So I was at home, sitting on my couch with my laptop computer on my lap. I began the prayer, and the cat jumped up on the couch next to me to try to climb onto the computer on my lap. David was right there and he grabbed hold of her to put her on his lap, but as I continued to speak, the cat became more and more determined to sit on my lap, and on the computer, during the prayer. About half-way through the prayer as I watched David struggling to keep this incredibly determined cat off my lap, I suddenly was hit with a fit of the giggles. Of course, we are taught from a very early age, that giggling during prayers is not appropriate. So, I was trying my hardest, as I continued the prayer, to stifle my giggle. But as often happens when we get giggly at inappropriate times, the attempts to control it often make it worse. I actually ended the prayer early because I knew I couldn’t hold the laughter in any longer.
But as I thought about it afterwards, I felt that God had intervened for me that day. God had reminded me not only to not take myself and my leadership so seriously, but that also, God is the God of joy and laughter. When we are so serious all the time, we miss the gifts right in front of us. We are called to praise God every day. To rejoice in God everyday. Sunday is not more holy. And that hour of worship should not necessarily be more serious. When we take ourselves too seriously, when we forget our own humanity and fail to be humble, God will find a way to remind us, even if it is just through an attack of the giggles.
I remember reading a story about a pastor who had a small interaction with a parishioner right before service. He forgot that his mic was turned on and as he walked away he said something inappropriate in the mic about the parishioner. He then went into the bathroom, and all heard his business through the mic. He could have recovered from this, he could have, if he had had the humility to laugh at himself. We all make mistakes, all of us do. And when we can own them and laugh at them, usually others can forgive us and laugh with us too. Unfortunately this particular pastor was so embarrassed that he chose to resign instead. What a sad commentary on our inability to laugh.
Today we hear the story of the road to Emmaus. And it starts in tragedy, in sorrow. People had hoped for Jesus to be the one to redeem Israel: to save Israel from the Roman oppression. Not only did he not do that, but he was killed in a most horrible manner. The hopes of the people were dashed. Additionally, they heard strange rumors that he was resurrected, but they hadn’t seen him. They were confused, devastated, didn’t know what to believe. They were upset, they were devastated, they were “downcast.” But then they learn that Jesus has been resurrected. They experience him, they see him, they break bread with him. Do you not think they laughed with joy when they recognized Christ in their midst? Do you not think that they broke into peels of delighted laughter when they realized how blind and unseeing they had been? I can’t imagine it happening any other way!
But then one has to ask. Did that mean that hope had returned for them? Joy has returned for them. But Jesus still was not what they had wanted. He still didn’t overturn the oppression of the Romans. He still was not a military leader who will take back what belongs to the people. He still was not “in your face” with those who were harming the people. He came, and he disappeared. He showed up, but he didn’t stick around. No, instead he called the disciples to continue his work, to be the voice of hope and love and grace for the community. But he still did not take away free will, change their world in the way that they wanted or hoped. And so, I ask the question, Does God have the last laugh?
Yes. God laughs at our ideas of what a “king” should be. God laughs at our ideas of what God should be. God laughs at death. God laughs at fear. God laughs at every expectation that is out there.
But that’s not to say that God’s laughter is unkind. God laughs because we don’t understand. Our vision is too small, our understanding is too limited. Our wants and even our hopes are just too small. And so God laughs. But it is the laughter of a parent who sees a newborn child delight at peek-a-boo as they learn “object permanence” and that a disappearing parent still exists, still returns, still loves them. It is the laughter of a parent when the child laughs at paper being torn to shreds: I sent all of you that wonderful YouTube video of the baby laughing hysterically at paper ripping. And the parent was laughing too. All of us were laughing – you can’t help it. The baby’s delight and laughter are so infectious that you can’t help but laugh along with him. It is the laughter of a person when a chimpanzee sees a magic trick and cracks up because they don’t understand how the quarter could have disappeared.
We are invited to laugh too: to not take ourselves so very seriously that we can’t enjoy this precious, wondrous, amazing life that God has given to us. We are invited to let go of our expectations of ourselves that life will go a certain way, that we will do everything right, that things will be smooth or easy. We are invited to let go of the idea that we have to “know” everything and instead to delight at our own lack of knowing, at our own surprise at the way life happens, at our own attempts to do everything right, knowing that we won’t get it right, but that grace is there for us even so. We are invited to LAUGH.
And this takes us back to the story of the road to Emmaus. You notice, they did not recognize him on the road. He was only recognized after they invited him to come and eat with them. Once again we see that God, that Jesus, that Christ never forces himself or God-self on any of us. Jesus was present, but he was only known to the disciples when the disciples CHOSE to invite him in. We have choice. We have agency. Do we allow God and God’s presence and God’s gifts into our lives? Do we allow the gifts of laughter into our hearts, and the joy that follows into our lives? It is a choice we can make.
As I wrote this, I found myself reflecting on when my kids were very young. At one point we met another young mother who was anti-silliness. She felt it was undignified and stifled anything that bordered on laughter in herself and especially in her young child. And I found myself thinking, often, what an incredible tragedy that was that she rejected this life-giving, joy-giving, healing gift of God.
In our home we laugh a lot. There is a great deal of silliness in our house, enough so that my kids sometimes wonder if other parents could ever be as silly as I am. We have faces we make that our unique to our family, we have silly things we do with our voices and with specific songs. We play. My greatest memories are the times of laughter with my kids. I wish that for you as well. Not jokes, necessarily: but just pure, sheer silliness. You’ve seen symptoms of that for those of you who’ve been to our home: googly eyes on the fridge, a toy that sits on my desk that is a laughing stuffed “pill”, my choosing one Humor Sunday to dress as a Leprachaun, etc.
Anne Lamott said it this way: “Laughter is carbonated holiness”. Laughter is carbonated holiness!
One of my favorite images is of a laughing Jesus. I love that image because it reminds us that part of what it is to be human is laughter. Laughter is a gift from God. Not something to be avoided when it comes to religion. We are often nervous putting laughter and religion together. But they should go hand in hand. After all, who created laughter? How gave us this wonderful gift of humor that calls us to not take ourselves or anything so very seriously?
And to end with some more jokes:
For Lent, I gave up fast food, pizza, ice cream, and …obviously… not lying.
A priest ,a rabbit and a minister walk into a bar. The bartender asks the rabbit, “What will you have?” The rabbit shakes his head and answers, “I have no idea, the only reason that I am here is because of Autocorrect.”