In Celebration of Laughter
I remember as a child going to the Washington Zoo, and laughing at the monkeys’ antics. My mother turned to me and said “Anyone who thinks God doesn’t have a sense of humor has never watched monkeys for very long.” My Dad laughed and said, “Or people, either!”
This coming Sunday we will celebrate “Holy Hilarity” Sunday at my church — a great idea that reaches back to a very old Orthodox tradition of gathering to tell jokes after Easter. The modern repackaging of the idea comes from Cal Samra, the founder of the Fellowship of Merry Christians, a group that has long promoted the healing spiritual power of laughter.
Sadly, there has always been a segment of the religious world that has been deceived into thinking of God only as a humorless, grim taskmaster, a group that only allows solemn and serious representations of Jesus. These folks seem to believe in a God that is modeled more on an abusive parent than the God of the Bible! But this is the Savior who turned water into wine, who made fun of the Pharisees: “You who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” This is the God who named Abraham’s son “Laughter!”
Laughter is good for you, it’s a gift of God. Scientific research has proved in recent years that a good belly laugh creates all kinds of healthful benefits, affirming the writer of Proverbs: “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” The best laughter, both spiritually and mentally, is when we can laugh at ourselves. That’s when we can accept our foibles, our human weaknesses and see the funny side of them rather than letting guilt and remorse “dry up our bones.” I can’t be around humorless people too long, for they seem to suck some of the oxygen out of the air and the Spirit out of life.
The laughter of bullies, the laughter which seeks to make fun at others’ expense, is not the laughter we’re talking about. It is the contagious laughter of joy, the rejoicing of a happy heart bubbling forth. This laughter happens best when we are together, when we are in a group of friends whom we trust and care about – that should tell us something! We don’t laugh at God, we laugh instead at ourselves when we are foolish and we laugh with joy at the wonderful things that God has given us. If we take ourselves too seriously, if we take the human side of our institution to seriously, then we are in grave danger of not taking God seriously enough!
One person who loved this tradition was Bruce Harrison. Bruce showed up every Sunday with a new joke, always and without fail. He refused to let a stroke destroy his sense of humor or his enjoyment of a good joke. Or a bad pun, either! Bruce is one we all miss.
Another whom we miss is Jeanne Carter, who passed into the more immediate presence of the Savior last year. Jeanne was dying of advanced COPD, struggling for every breath — but still she loved to laugh! During the last weeks of her life, she had been bedridden in the care of our local hospice. But she was not going to miss Holy Hilarity Sunday, even if it was the last thing she did. She called her doctor, and told him in no uncertain terms that he had to make whatever arrangements were needed for her to be at church one last time — and it had to be on Holy Hilarity Sunday. And when the organ prelude began, (a variation on the Looney Tunes theme) there she was, seated in her regular pew — albeit in pajamas and with her oxygen mask — but she was there, and she enjoyed the bejeebers out of the jokes. It was the last thing that she was able to do outside of hospice.
I hope you have fond memories of some people like Jeanne and Bruce who have brought laughter and joy into your life. The best thing we can do in their memory is tell a good joke or a bad pun, and enjoy a belly laugh in their honor!