“Laugh in the Face of the Devil”

As our days of social distancing continue, how and on what are we to focus our daily journeys?

God will fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy.

Job 8:21

risus paschalis: when dust laughs

spring has ambushed winter,
and the dust of the earth is, yet again,
transfigured into wind-dancing laughter.

laughing dust? not here
in this graveyard of abandoned joys
where dead-ended dreams whisper
like violated ghosts among tombs of those
too-soon returned to the earth.

you just smile and sink your spade
into the sun-warmed sod, costly
corruptions composted, turned, turned
again until soil recognizes soil.

then you wink, just once, and the
remembered dust, tantalized by the
tickle of a new feast’s first thin blade,

Bright Week

This week is known in some Christian traditions as “Bright Week.” The week is considered “bright” because faith communities around the world have awakened on Easter Monday to continue to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection light.

In the Bright Week tradition, each day of the week following Easter Sunday carries the adjective “bright.” Bright Monday holds the additional distinction of being referred to by some as Risus Paschalis—Easter Laugh.

Early orthodox communities began a tradition of gathering on the Monday following Resurrection Sunday to tell jokes as a way of marking Easter as the ultimate joke God played on Satan by defeating death with life. Some observe the Easter Laugh by including jokes or humorous anecdotes in their Easter Sunday sermons. Others emphasize laughter on the second Sunday of Easter, sometimes called Holy Humor or Hilarity Sunday.

Now What?

In the wee hours of this particular Bright Monday, I pondered what may seem a mundane or even inappropriate (to some) question: “Now what?”

We in Christian communities have traveled Lenten roads by staying in place. These unexpected and unfamiliar Lenten traveling conditions have prompted impressive (to me) creativity. Theologies have been energized and deepened by religious leaders’ efforts to weave Lenten texts and liturgies together within the context of a pandemic.

I have listened to more Easter sermons and prayers than ever before in my life. These live-streamed and podcasted and Zoomed worship offerings have sparked for me new spiritual insights and invited renewed commitments to Gospel justice- and peace-making.

Yes, even in the midst of a pandemic, the Lenten journey has brought us to an empty tomb.

Still Journeying in Place

But the coronavirus crisis continues. We are still staying in place. And I wonder—now what? I hope to write a more extended blog about this in coming days.

For now, I invite us to ponder together. As our days of social distancing continue and with them uncertainties about jobs, stresses about illness, pressures to work and care for children—how and on what are we to focus our daily journeys?

What I hope is that Easter’s surprise—Easter’s reversal of all that we thought we knew and understood about life and faith and God and humanity—will keep dancing around and within us and motivating our thoughts and actions toward God’s love and grace.

The coronavirus has thrown into stark relief the realities of human fragility—the fragility of our bodies and the fragility and brokenness of many of our political, economic, and health institutions.

Coinciding with this, Easter reminds us—life has defeated and will continue to defeat death. This is the Gospel promise, a cosmic, beyond-human understanding promise that infuses even the most mundane dimensions of human life with radical hope.

This radical Resurrection hope that at times seems so absurd given the realities we witness all around us—this radical hope ignites laughter, the Easter laugh.

Let’s Laugh in the Face of the Devil

Sheila Hunter wrote a song about radical resurrection hope—“Laugh in the Face of the Devil.”

Is there a place deep inside you
that’s closed up like a tomb?

No light can get through to that dark place
for the Healer there is no room.

There’s no rock too big for God to move,
no night to dark to see God’s light.

So let’s join together and with God’s help
let’s push all our might—

Sheila Hunter—“Laugh in the Face of the Devil”

Resurrection life has defeated and will continue to defeat death. The promise is cosmic but infuses even the most mundane dimensions of human life. Together, empowered by God’s Spirit, we can roll away even the heaviest stones.

One of the most certain things about these days is that uncertainties will arise. When they do—when everyday trials make us want to give up, or when the going is tough and we are tempted to think the joke of life is on us, perhaps we can remember the contagious, life-giving gift of the Easter laugh.

So—on this Monday that may or may not seem bright to us, perhaps we can listen for the Easter laugh. Perhaps we can even join in—just a little—with Sarah who all of those years ago announced:

God has made me laugh. Everyone who hears will laugh with me.

Genesis 21:6

Lent 4: Laughing Matters

Red Doors

“Church is no laughing matter,” some may say. “Indeed, church is serious business.” And many of us might agree that the state of the world right now is no laughing matter. Too much violence. Too many troubles. Too much injustice. The season of Lent can’t last long enough for our introspection even to make a dent in this ole’ world’s difficulties much less to make us aware of the part we play in them.

And yet, this Sunday, March 15, is the fourth Sunday in Lent, called in some traditions “Laetare Sunday” or Laughter Sunday.  Laetare means “rejoice.” To some, this may sound peculiar. Why is there a “Rejoicing Sunday” in the midst of Lenten introspection, fasting, and austerity? The exact midpoint of Lent is the Thursday of the third week of Lent; thus, the fourth Sunday of Lent was viewed throughout much of Christian history as a day of celebration. Linked to an ancient mid-March Roman festivals called the hilaria (related to the word “hilarious”), Christians viewed Laetare Sunday as a day when the somber disciplines of Lent were lessened. Laetare is also known in some places as Refreshment Sunday or Holy Humor Day and liturgies include moments for recalling the joy of the Lord in the midst of Lenten penitential pilgrimages. Some churches that observe Holy Humor Sunday even begin the worship service by telling jokes to invoke and perhaps provoke laughter.

Now I, for one, have never been much for jokes. I forget the punchline when I tell jokes, and I often don’t “get” the punchline when others tell jokes. Perhaps that is my problem with Holy Hilarity Sunday. I have not yet gotten in the marrow of my bones the sheer hilarity of God’s liberating creativity that is working even when we don’t “get” it to create a world of radical carnival. And that may just be what we can laugh about even in the midst of Lenten times that seem to stretch beyond Lent’s official 40 days. God breaks in, breaks open, and breaks forth into the world in unexpected, even peculiar, ways that can, if we are paying attention, make us giggle like children or guffaw out loud as we proclaim: “You’re kidding!” Or “that’s too funny!” Or “how hilarious!”

God’s Gospel story turns the world on its head and can turn our lives upside down. Our response? When we allow the peculiar promises of the Gospel to get inside of our bones, perhaps the best response is to laugh, to release, if but for a moment, our lament into God’s cosmic and ironic rendering of a world redeemed. But wait. The world’s a mess. How can we laugh?

A response emerged—or erupted—at church one Sunday during the “moment with children.” Three-year old Michael is not an introvert. His mouth was moving as fast as his feet as he ran to the front of the sanctuary with the other children. The leader sat on the floor with Michael and the others and began to talk about birthday parties. “What do you like about birthday parties?” she asked. “Cake,” Michael said as his hand shot into the air. “Balloons,” Rhonda said. The children all had answers—and one said the magic answer: “Presents!” That was the leader’s signal to ask the second question—the one that she was headed for to make her point. “And what do you say when someone gives you a gift and you unwrap it?”

Now—I cannot read the minds of folks in church, but I suspect that every adult in worship that day had an answer to this question scurry to the tips of their tongues. And then, just when I was ready to smile at the nice work the leader had done to teach the children about gratitude, Michael prophesied. He witnessed. He proclaimed. Well—he blurted out the answer that rose up out of his young heart. “What do you say when someone gives you a gift and you unwrap it?” “Oohhh!” Michael said.

And we all laughed, that “caught-off-guard” laughter of those made wiser by a child’s prophetic insight. “What is the second thing you say?” the leader then asked. But now the children were in sync with each other and with the dancing of God’s spirit in our midst. “What is the second thing you say?” “Wow!” Rhonda exclaimed and giggled.

Church continued on its usual course that day, but my heart and mind had been invited down another road by the children’s wise exclamations. What if—what if this is where we begin to fashion communities that transform lives—that offer justice and hope and healing. What do I mean? Michael’s response to the imagined birthday present was not the polite response of one schooled in gift-receiving etiquette. Rhonda’s response was not based on whether or not the birthday wrappings contained the long-desired or asked for expected gift. Their responses bubbled up out of the possibilities of gift-giving and receiving and their authentic expectation of delight.

And we laughed. Perhaps that is the point of the Gospel after all. God’s response to the world’s pain and brokenness is not at all what we expect. Jesus is not what people expect. Jesus’ responses to the world’s suffering and cruelty are not what people expect. But here and there, now and then, we get it. Something happens to release us from the too often oppressive limits of expected religious etiquette, and we laugh, not at the world and its hurting people but with each other because we care about and trust each other. We laugh that caught-off-guard kind of laugh that surprises us and sets us free to join God in God’s peculiar, if not, hilarious plan to redeem the world.