Bible Readings Acts 2:14a, 22-28 & 1 Peter 1:3-9
When I was young I would walk around to my Nana and Pops place and sit and talk to my Pop for long periods of time. Above the bed in their room there were two printed and framed images.
One of Jesus’ mother Mary – her hand together as in prayer, eyes lifted upward to heaven.
The other was of Jesus – blue eyes, curly long blonde hair, robes of white and blue, two fingers raised in a gesture of blessing, a slightly gloomy thoughtful face and an open chest with heart exposed and a crown of thorns piercing it and making it bleed.
It’s a picture that stays with me – fifty years later. It is certainly not a picture for ‘Holy Hilarity Sunday’ – which is also called ‘Bright Sunday’ and ‘Holy Humour Sunday’ and celebrated around the world in many churches today – the week after Easter and the resurrection.
From the very early centuries of the Greek Church, it developed in Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant countries as a time to be observed by the faithful as ‘days of joy and laughter’ – often going on for several weeks. Church- goers and priests alike played practical jokes on each other, sang and danced and laughed.
Early Church theologians such as Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa and John Chrysostom, talked about ‘Risus paschalis’ – the ‘Easter laugh’ that following their understanding that God had played a practical joke on the devil that left him disempowered and speechless when God raised Jesus from the dead.
Since 1988 the Fellowship of Merry Christians has begun in earnest encouraging churches to ‘resurrect’ the tradition and call it ‘Holy Humour Sunday’ with the theme – ‘Jesus is the LIFE of the party’.
I think these are also some of the ways we should visualise Jesus in his life but especially in his post resurrection depictions.
Personally, I have had an experience of this laughing Jesus, in this very church last year – and I would be happy to share it with you at the back of the altar after the service.
There are nearly 300 references in the Bible to joy, gladness, merriment, rejoicing, laughing and similar words.
We could think of some of these references:
|Ecclesiastes 3:4||There is a time to weep and a time to laugh|
|Psalm 2:4||The one whose throne is in Heaven, sits laughing.|
|Luke 6:21||Happy are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.|
|John 16:33||Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.|
Our common lectionary readings for this week also express joy and gladness and laughter.
In 1 Peter 1:8 we read ‘ Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy’.
What does that look like for you.
In Acts 2, Dr Luke, gives us an even better sense:
In verse 28, ‘You will fill me with joy in your presence’. While in verse 26, ‘my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices, my body will also live in hope.’
Laughter and joy are often whole body experiences – involving the eyes, the mouth, the voice and the body itself.
Laughter is the visual expression of a positive emotional state or to put it another way, it is an outward expression of an inward feeling of joy.
It would have been like that for Lazarus – raised from the dead by Jesus.
An old tradition in early Eastern Christianity says that Lazarus, raised from the dead by Jesus laughed heartily for years afterwards that the Lazarus’ home in Bethany was called ‘the house of laughter’.
How much more then, Jesus’ joy, and ours, in response when his Father raised him from the dead.
Easter is God’s great joke on death. A joke, by definition, is something that turns the tables on the expected or the predictable. The empty tomb is the ‘banana peel’ of the Christian faith and at Easter, God pulled the rug out from under the powers of darkness and death.
We can imagine God laughing out loud on Easter morning and we can laugh too. We can laugh at all the things that try to hold us back, things that try to snuff out our joy. We can even look death in the face now and laugh – because it has lost its sting – no power over us any more.
Laughing is good medicine, as many therapists and medicos are now beginning to realise, but its not to be forced – and as Easter Christians we really have something to laugh about and to be joyous in.
St Francis of Assisi advised Christ followers, many centuries ago, ‘Leave sadness to the devil. The devil has reason to be sad. We don’t.’
We don’t serve a gloomy Messiah. Because of the resurrection, Jesus is the LIFE of the party and God has the last laugh.