There are a lot of words we use to describe God: Creator, Omnipotent (All-Powerful), Lord, Loving, Present, All-Knowing (Omnipresent), All-Seeing (Omniscient), Ruler, Amazing, Victorious, Wonderful, and the list goes on. Many of them come from our understanding of God revealed in the stories of Scripture, and of course our own experiences of the divine. And yet, with an immense vocabulary and wealth of resources, there is one word I think we don’t often include in our list of acclamations for who God is: funny. If such an adjective strikes you as odd, you’re probably asking “does God have a sense of humor?” If so, what does that even mean? Our image of God tends to be more serious, more stoic, more dignified that a God who rolls around giggling. And yet, over and over again, scripture tells us about a God who sends God’s people out with shouts of joy and jubilation. To be filled with such joy must mean that there is also a brightness and lightheartedness to God. And given the immense playfulness of the works of God’s hand, I would argue God has got a funny bone or two. Take a look at creation. From the aardvark to a colorful array of flowers, God has a creative touch that crosses over into whimsy or even ridiculousness. Given God’s interaction with people throughout the biblical narrative, I would also argue that God has to have a good sense of humor in order to put up with the ridiculousness that humankind has created.
Our text from Genesis is a perfect example. Following a beautiful display of hospitality, three strange visitors in the night announce that Sarah, well beyond child-bearing years, will have a son. It is a laughable proposition, impossible you might even say. The only thing to do when hearing such an outlandish assertion is to laugh, which, of course, is what Sarah does. God enters the scene to confirm this news from the messengers, and calls attention to this response. After all, is anything too wonderful for God? God reminds Abraham and Sarah that with God, even the impossible is possible. Sarah resists a bit more, denying her laughter in fear. But God has heard it and won’t let it slide. “Oh yes, you did laugh.” I don’t think God was so much reprimanding her for laughter, but rather recognizing that sometimes the mysterious works of God are so beyond our comprehension that we have nothing left to do but laugh. And with that, in the holy presence of accompaniment, I imagine that God laughs with us. Perhaps it’s more of a knowing chuckle, a pat on the head, an “oh, if you only knew what I know” kind of laughter, but it reflects the gentleness with which God holds us that can guide us into a future where dreams indeed can become reality.
Laughter has the power to move our lives forward even in the midst of difficult times. In the story of Sarah, it is laughter that paves the way . . . to a son she names Isaac, which means “he laughs.” I wonder if the same can be said about the Easter story. Last week, we explored the curious and abrupt original ending of Mark’s gospel, which leaves us hanging in verse 8 as the women leave the tomb, not telling anyone anything because they are afraid. I wonder what broke their silence? What helped them overcome their fear?
Could it have been something like laughter? Comedian Stephen Colbert is quite open about his Catholic faith and the role it plays in his life, and in an interview in 2015, he connects the role of joy and laughter to our lives of faith in a compelling way. Take a look:
Salt and Light TV’s full interview with Stephen Colbert can be seen at www.saltandlighttv.org/witness/colbert Premieres Sunday, September 13, 2015 at 8pm ET #ColbertWitness]
Laughter, then, is a holy act that connects us to one another and to God. Have you ever stood with family and friends, mourning the loss of a loved one? My experience is that, almost without fail, stories will start to be shared that erupt into laughter, which breaks through the tension of grief and opens the way to remembrance. Just a few years ago, I remember going through my grandfather’s house with my family, particularly a box of things he had saved as mementos from my life. There were pictures, of course, birthday cards and school projects I had sent him, and then, tucked into the corner next to my wedding program was a little organza bag that held our wedding favors from a candy bar for our guests, which may have been my grandfather’s favorite part of our wedding. As I pulled it out, smiling that he’d kept the little bag, I quickly did a double-take, noting that it was still filled with candy, and took it to show the rest of my family. Suddenly, in the midst of grief, laughter erupted mingled with tears that we are once both sad and joyful.
It had to have been the joy of the good news of the resurrection, that spilled out and gave the women and disciples the courage to speak the unfathomable truth that the one who was crucified now lived, even as they struggled with their own intense grief. Such moments reminded them that they were not alone, and the appearances of the risen Christ recorded in other gospels provide additional help to move their story, our story, forward. This Sunday is marked with Holy Humor because we need to remember that on Easter morning, God was laughing. Laughing at those who thought death could contain Jesus Christ. Laughing at sin and evil in the world’s attempts to control it. On Easter morning, God declares that God will always have the last laugh. The greatest reversal ever – resurrection – has been accomplished. It’s worth some laughter, because it borders on the ridiculous and absurd. And yet, at the same time, it’s true. It is the bedrock of our faith, the hope to which we cling.
We, like the women at the tomb, like the disciples, like Thomas, whose story in John’s gospel is typically read on this Sunday after Easter, are caught between the tension of a story that is unbelievable and yet the one in which we ground our belief. It is good and right that we should laugh at the very idea of it. Not because we think it’s stupid, but because our laughter is the only way we can overcome our fear of what if it is true after all. Just like Sarah, laughter allows us to breathe into the possibility for just a moment and experience the raw joy it presents. And in our laughter, God shows up, with that chuckle and nod that reminds us that with God, all things are possible. And we laugh again, because it all seems too good to be true. The news of resurrection – the promise of eternal life and unmerited grace – it overwhelms us with joy and laughter, a deep, resounding laughter that ripples throughout our whole body. That joy is what leads us to praise and rejoicing, to worship, to a deeper love of God who created us and spun this whole crazy world into being.
So this morning, we laugh, a little or a lot, in hopes of catching on to some of that divine joy that fills the empty tomb. And to remind ourselves, even when things get difficult or seem impossible, that God is with us, and God is still laughing at the face of that which would otherwise bind us. What good news of great joy, indeed! Amen.
~Rev. Elizabeth Lovell Milford
April 8, 2018
What is “Holy Humor Sunday”? On this day we celebrate the unbridled joy of the good news of Christ’s resurrection! It is “Holy Humor” Sunday, a tradition extending to some of the earliest Christian theologians who noted that God played a practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. Easter was “God’s supreme joke played on death.” So the Sunday after Easter became a “bright Sunday” filled with joy and laughter as people played jokes on each other, sang, danced, told jokes and had fun. Our service this week features a lighthearted feel with a sprinkling of jokes, all geared to help us experience joy more fully as we worship God together!