Preaching: Pastor Rebecca Henry
Date Presented: Sunday, April 23, 2017
Scripture Reference: John 21:1-14
Sermon: Holy Humor Sunday
When Forest Gump died, he stood in front of St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter said, “Welcome, Forest. We’ve heard a lot about you.”
He continued, “Unfortunately, it’s getting pretty crowded up here and we find that we now have to give people an entrance examination before we let them in.”
“Okay,” said Forest. “I hope it’s not too hard. I’ve already been through a test. My momma used to say, ‘Life is like a final exam. It’s hard.’”
“Yes, Forest, I know. But this test is only three questions. Here they are.”
1) Which two days of the week begin with the letter ‘T’?
2) How many seconds are in a year?
3? What is God’s first name?”
“Well, sir,” said Forest, “The first one is easy. Which two days of the week begin with the letter ‘T’? Today and Tomorrow.”
St. Peter looked surprised and said, “Well, that wasn’t the answer I was looking for, but you have a point. I give you credit for that answer.”
“The next question,” said Forest, “How many seconds are in a year? Twelve.”
“Twelve?” said St. Peter, surprised and confused.
“Yes, sir. January 2nd, February 2nd, March 2nd. . .”
St. Peter interrupted him. “I see what you mean. I’ll have to give you credit for that one, too.”
“And the last question,” said Forest, “What is God’s first name? It’s Andy.”
“Andy?” said St. Peter, in shock. “How did you come up with ‘Andy’?”
“I learned it in church. We used to sing about it.” Forest broke into song, “Andy walks with me, Andy talks with me, Andy tells me I am His own.”
St. Peter opened the gate to heaven and said, “Run, Forest, Run!”
That’s the thing about jokes – they make us laugh because they bring an element of surprise, the unexpected, to us. That’s why I like this image of the Risen Christ that is on your bulletin; it captures the unexpected in today’s reading from John. Jesus I the last person the disciples are expecting to see when they are out fishing. It’s true they have heard Jesus is alive. They have even seen him when he appeared in the upper room, but there was nothing said about seeing Jesus again anytime soon. One has to wonder how much all of this is even sinking in for them, but here on the shoreline Jesus surprises his friends. Just think about times when you have surprised someone in your family or a friend, how you felt in that moment. There is such excitement and anticipation at how they will react, and joy in the delight we bring. This image helps us to see and feel the joy Jesus must have been experiencing at surprising the disciples.
And Peter, of course, reciprocates. I can remember this last Christmas when we drove over to my sister’s. As we turned onto their street Jacob was starting to bounce in his seat with anticipation, giggling and squealing because he was going to see Joshua. Before the car was even turned off he was leaping out the door and running to the house as Joshua flung open the door to run and meet him. Now I don’t know if Peter was laughing or giggling, but maybe he was, maybe he was bouncing around a big as he put on his clothes and then went diving into the water because he couldn’t wait a second longer to be with Jesus. I can just imagine Jesus laughing in delight at watching Peter, as I had done when seeing Jacob and Joshua. There was joy and celebration in the resurrection, of Jesus being alive and seeing his friends again, and this image of Jesus helps us to see that, to feel it.
After all, that is the point, the reason for celebrating the resurrection – Jesus rising from the dead was the last thing anyone expected. It is a huge reason to be full of joy and laughing. After all, God played the biggest practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead.
The early church certainly understood this. The Greeks in the church began the custom of having a full week called “days of joy and laughter” to celebrate the resurrection. They had parties and picnics. They sang and danced, and of course played practical jokes on one another because God had played a joke on the devil. There was reason, good reason, to celebrate.
But as a modern church have we lost that joy, that focus on the resurrection? We easily identify with the sufferings of Jesus as we contemplate our own struggles and ways we feel we are dying – whether it be physical illness, divorce, depression, loss of job, death of a loved one, but what about the joy of the Risen Christ, the joy we see in this picture? Several years ago many were praising Mel Gibson for his portrayal of Christ’s suffering in The Passion of the Christ, but no one seemed interested or concerned that Gibson gave barely 60 seconds to show Christ about to emerge from the tomb. I know for myself based on comments made in seminary class I have to watch in my preaching that I don’t spend too much time on our problems, our struggles, that I miss sharing the good news. While sitting in a Nazi prison, theologian Jurgen Moltmann asked, “Where is the laughter of the redeemed?” Similarly, one could ask when looking out at the congregation when singing Easter hymns, “Why are there such long faces in church? After all, Christ is alive! The Gospel is not a tragedy, but do we reflect that joy, that reason for laughter?
Reverend Chris Anderson has shared the story of Groucho Marx. “One day Groucho Marx was getting off an elevator and he happened to meet a clergyman. The clergyman came up to him, put out his hand and said, “I want to thank you for all the joy you’ve put into the world.” Groucho shook hands and replied, “Thank you, Reverend. I want to thank you for all the joy you’ve taken out of it.”
This story should give us pause. If this is how people perceive us, experience us as Christians, then we have not only lost our witness, we have lost the way to live, the power of the resurrection. It is true life can be very hard. There are horrible, unimaginable things that happen in the world and, sadly, at times in our personal lives, but the resurrection is what helps us face them. It’s knowing what God can do, what God has done, that helps us not be overcome with fear and anguish, but keep living, to move through it. Even as Jesus was preparing to experience betrayal, physical suffering, death on the cross, he said to his disciples right before his arrest, “I say these things to you so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full, “ (John 15:11). And even before he rose from the dead, Jesus said in John 16:33, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world, “because he knew there were already signs of new life: the blind could see, the lame were walking, Lazarus was raised from the dead. There were already reasons for joy, reasons to celebrate and give thanks, and Jesus did. That’s why people were drawn to him. They wanted to share in that joy.
Don’t we all? Recently I was talking with a person who was lamenting the loss of a friend. It wasn’t someone who died, but someone who was always so negative, complaining and whining all the time. She said, “I tried to be there for her, to keep listening, but I just couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t afford to be around her anymore because her negativity just brought me down. I didn’t want that in my life.” Isn’t that true for all of us? Ask yourself: “Who are the people you are drawn to? Who are the people you want to get to know and be around?”
If we as Christians aren’t laughing and smiling, if we aren’t radiating the joy of the resurrection, why are we so surprised that people aren’t drawn to our community, the church? Today, this Easter season, is a chance to reclaim that joy, to let the resurrection shape how we see the world, how we live in this world with all its pains and ugliness.
One of the things I am often told about myself, by even some of you, is that I have a hearty laugh. People know when I am around. My family doesn’t seem to always agree, but many have said my laughter is a welcome relief in meetings or time of work. I think it has always been true of me, for when I was a youth I was given a pin that said, “She who laughs, lasts.” I decided I liked that; I would even welcome these words on my gravestone, not just as a description of me, but a witness. That was the witness I wanted to offer, that even death could not take my joy and laughter away; there was always a blessing from God to be seen and celebrated. Of course, I, like anyone else, have down times, times when I am really struggling, but don’t let me stay there. Call me on it; don’t let me lose sight of what God has done, the resurrection. That is what we should be doing for one another, the witness we offer. Maybe that is the reason Jesus keeps reappearing, to remind the disciples of the joy, of what has happened. Maybe he keeps reappearing to fill them with the same joy he has, to bring laughter and smiles again so they can go on and be his witnesses.
Let that be the image you remember – the joy of Christ who has risen from the dead, who sees his friends again. Let that image carry you forward this week with joy and laughter, for as we now celebrate the resurrection, everything we see is through the lens of the good news: Christ Is Alive!