One of our beloved pastors regularly laughs with his congregation. Laughter is important in life. Laughter is also important as a church.
Each year on the Sunday after Easter, Jon Carlisle emphasizes laughter in church on what he calls “Holy Humor Sunday”. In 2001, when Jon started serving The Presbyterian Church in Coshocton these are some of the words of wisdom that he offered:
HOLY HUMOR SUNDAY – by Rev. Jonathan T. Carlisle – Pastor, The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, Ohio, since 2001.
Did Jesus ever smile? Did God ever laugh? Early Christian traditions practiced “Bright Sunday” after the long Lenten season of repentance. Theologians called it the “holy laugh” from the joke God played on the devil by bringing Jesus back to life on Easter. People needed to have their spirits lifted.
We take ourselves too seriously. We all know of people who are very self-centered – for a variety of reasons. Have you noticed that people who need to prove they are right cannot laugh or smile? When you are a “holy fool” you’ve stopped trying to look like something more than you really are. In 1988 the Fellowship of Merry Christians encouraged congregations to have “Holy Humor Sundays.” Patch Adams (do you remember the 1998 movie starring Robin Williams?) was on the founding Board of Directors.
Isn’t it pretty hilarious that an all-powerful, King of Kings and Lord of Lords would choose to come to earth, become human as a crying baby in an animal barn that smells like manure and be greeted by the lowly shepherds?
Jesus used Near Eastern exaggeration in his sermons. He talked about a camel going through the eye of a needle to get across his point about how hard it is for rich people to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:24). He talked about cutting off an arm that causes you do sin to make the point about the radical steps necessary to avoid sin (Matthew 5:30). God is recorded once in Scripture as laughing. “The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them” (Psalm 2:4). Abraham laughed when God told him he was going to have a family at age 100 (Genesis 17:17). And when Sarah found out she was to be pregnant at 99, “So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, ‘After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?’” (Genesis 18:12).
“Holy Humor Sunday services not only give Christians an opportunity for ongoing celebrations of the greatest miracle in human history – Jesus’ resurrection – it also gives each of us an opportunity to celebrate, and give thanks for, our own smaller resurrections in this world and this life. From time to time in our earthly lives, many of us have been dead – from illness, depression, physical injuries, emotional wounds, the loss of loved ones, financial losses – and yet have come alive and endured while looking forward to the Great Resurrection.”
How did we at The Presbyterian Church celebrate “Holy Humor Sunday” on April 8th? Each year we have the “Passing of the Laugh” in place of “Passing of the Peace of Christ.” We share bulletin inserts reprinting religious cartoons (with permission) from Family Circus and other cartoonists. Our organists come up with more humorous music (we have a strange stop on our pipe organ that causes smiles). Our liturgist for the Sunday begins worship with a joke or two. In our hallway where visitors enter we have a large framed picture of Jesus laughing “The Risen Christ by the Sea” by artist Jack Jewell. Copies are available from the joyfulnoiseletter web site. One year we handed out wallet-sized copies of Jesus laughing for people to share with their friends.
Did Jesus ever laugh? No, it’s not recorded in Scripture, but since he was fully human, of course he laughed. What about when he was playing with all those children? His disciples wanted to send them away, but Jesus was enjoying himself and rebuked them (Mark 10:13-16). One person said “Of course Jesus had a sense of humor. Why else would he have chosen twelve men to be disciples?” And if you didn’t laugh at that, what does that say about your attitude towards women? Humor gets us to look at life differently – and more humbly.
A minister once said to Groucho Marx, “Groucho, I want to shake your hand for all the joy you have brought into the world.” Groucho responded, “Thank you. And I want to shake your hand for all the joy you have taken out of the world.” ? The world is a very serious place. Yet God calls us to take ourselves and others a little more lightly. Give ourselves and others a break.
I really appreciate what Paolo Freire says about humor. “Humor is a way of loving.” Remember, what some people call humor actually wounds and mocks others. That is not humor. Ethnic jokes are not humor. Humor that attacks another person personally or for a unique character trait is not humor. Those are all weapons meant to hurt, not to heal. Humor heals and is a way of loving. And the best humor points us back to God. And that’s what I hope will happen for you on a Holy Humor Sunday!