Holy Humor Sunday
Scripture Reading: John 20:19-31
The Resurrection of Jesus
Jesus Appears to the Disciples
19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Jesus and Thomas
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin[a]), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
The Purpose of This Book
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe[b] that Jesus is the Messiah,[c] the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
- John 20:24 Gk Didymus
- John 20:31 Other ancient authorities read may continue to believe
- John 20:31 Or the Christ
Sermon: “Working the Room”
A man and a woman who had been friends for many years died and went to heaven. They told St. Peter that they wanted to be married.
“Take your time and think about it,” said St. Peter, “you have eternity, so take fifty years and see me then.”
Fifty years later, the couple came back and told St. Peter that they still wanted to be married. “Well,” said St. Peter, “take another fifty years, and if we don’t have a preacher up here by then, I’ll marry you myself.”
Easter is a time of surprises. That certainly was the case for the women who came to Jesus’ tomb the first Easter morning. It was no less the case for the disciples in this morning’s Scripture lesson.
For some reason, this has always struck me as a funny scene.
“Peace be with you,” Jesus says—as his followers either faint dead away, bolt for the stairs, or jump out the nearest window.
If it was an Easter prank on Jesus’ part, it was a darned good one. It straight away drove out the one thing keeping Jesus’ followers behind those locked doors—fear.
Gina Barecca, writing in Psychology Today, says that, today, “Fear does everything except go out and buy the groceries.”
“So what can we do?” she asks.
We can use humor to put our fears into perspective…Humor, of course, is the one thing that fear cannot abide: Laughter banishes anxiety, and is a testament to courage…and courage is stronger than fear.
Once we put our fears in perspective and see them for what they are, they often turn out to be not nearly as scary as we thought. This clip is a good example.
Maybe we can’t pop our fears like an old balloon, but we can use laughter and humor to keep them in their place.
Remember, the authorities criticized Jesus and his disciples for not being serious enough. “The Son of Man came eating and drinking,” Jesus said, “and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard!’”
Father James Martin, whose work we’ll talk about shortly, thinks that the gospel writers wrote the story of Jesus’ life and ministry, they left out much of his humor and enjoyment of life. They wanted to present a suitably serious Savior to the world.
If they did, it’s too bad. Humor, faith, and joy all get along together just fine. The theologian Reinhold Niebuhr even said, “Humor is a prelude to faith, and laughter is the beginning of prayer.”
“What’s funny about ourselves is precisely that we take ourselves too seriously,” Niebuhr went on. “The less we’re able to laugh at ourselves, the more it becomes necessary and inevitable that others laugh at us.”
For Niebuhr, humor was a prelude to faith. For Father James Martin, humor is the heart of faith, or so he says in his book, Between Heaven and Mirth—Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life.
Does being joyful mean that we’re supposed to be happy all the time?
Of course not, Father Martin says. Sadness comes naturally in the face of pain, suffering, and tragedy. If we don’t feel sad sometimes, we aren’t human. We can guess that Jesus smiled and laughed. We know that Jesus wept, because scripture makes a point of telling us so.
The idea that if Christians just have enough faith, they’ll always be happy, is a deep pile of spiritual manure. So is the so-called “prosperity gospel,” which tells people that if they really believe in Jesus Christ, their lives will always be successful.
Tell that to the apostles. Did Peter, who was crucified upside down, not have enough faith? I don’t think so. Suffering, whether mental, emotional, or physical, comes to all faithful people.
Consider the case of a Catholic priest, a Baptist preacher, and a rabbi who all served as chaplains at a college in the Midwest. The three friends would get together several times a week for coffee.
One of them commented that it didn’t take much to preach to college students who slept through chapel services. They should try preaching to a bear, he said. Now there was a challenge!
They all agreed to give it a try. A week later, they got back together to see how things went.
Father Flannery went first. He had his arm in a sling, was on crutches, and had bandages on his face. “Well,” he said, “I went into the woods, found a bear, and began reading the Catechism to him.
“That bear wanted nothing to do with me, and started pushing me around. So I grabbed my holy water and baptized him, and he became as gentle as a lamb. The bishop is coming out next week to give him First Communion and to confirm him.”
Reverend Smith spoke next. He was in a wheelchair, and had one arm and both legs in casts. “Well, brothers, I went out and found a bear as well. And then I began to read to him from God’s Holy Word. But that bear wouldn’t listen. So I took hold of him, and we began to wrestle.
“We wrestled up one hill, down another, and then fell into a creek. I baptized that old bear in the water, right then and there. And just like you said, Father, he became as gentle as a lamb. We spent the rest of the day praising Jesus.”
The priest and the preacher then turned to their friend Rabbi Stein, who was in a full body cast and on a stretcher. “Looking back on it now,” the rabbi said, “maybe the best place to start wasn’t with circumcision.”
We’ll all end up wrestling our share of bears in life. That doesn’t mean we have to go out of our way looking for them.
Happiness is an act of will as much as it is of spirit. We can choose to focus on what makes us happy and connects us to joy, or we can decide instead to focus on life’s negatives. If we do, just as surely as there are bears in the woods, we’ll find them.
“Overall,” Father Martin says, “believers will be happy and sad at different points in their lives, but joy is possible in the midst of tragedy, since joy depends on faith and confidence in God.”
What can we do at those times and places where joy is hard to find?
For starters, remember that our environment doesn’t define us. That’s true even if we live or work with what Father Martin calls “joy vampires,” people, words, ideas, or even headlines that suck the joy right out of the room.
If you’re in such a joyless place, he asks, why not do something about it? Be the joy bringer, the mood lightener, the one who reminds people that there’s still joy in the world as well as in each of our lives.
In one of his parables, Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a pinch of yeast that a woman kneads into her dough. That small pinch makes the whole batch rise. Be the leaven, the pinch of joy or burst of laughter that raises spirits and brings hope.
You might be surprised what happens. After all, Easter is a time of surprises.
“The Son of Man came eating and drinking,” Jesus said, “and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard!’” Let’s keep Jesus’ party going, sharing the laughter and the joy that are ours as Easter people.