In the February issue of the Scribe, I wrote about two days that by a quirk of the calendar fell on the same day this year and of all the days you could think of these two days would probably be the last two days you would put together: Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day. Well, I was wrong. There are two other days that by a quirk of the calendar fall on the same day this year and are the two days that are truly the last two days anyone would put together: Easter and April Fools’ Day. Back in February, I was totally preoccupied with Lent and didn’t really think about what it meant for Easter to fall on April 1. So now I find myself having to take back what I said about what two todays are the most unlikely to go together. Easter and April Fools’ Day beat Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day hands-down.
Or do they? Believe it or not, Easter and April Fools’ Day may go together better than Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day in fact do. No kidding.
And the reason they go so well together is because in the Greek Orthodox tradition believers celebrate Easter with jokes and laughter, even playing pranks on one another. They engage in what they call “holy hilarity” or “holy laughter.” The idea comes from theologians in the early church who considered the resurrection of Jesus to be God’s great joke on death and all who thought death had the last laugh, that death had won and was the end, the end of Christ, the defeat of God. But the resurrection proclaims that death did not win, that death is not the end, Christ lives, and it is God who has the last laugh. And so, to tell jokes, play pranks on others, and above all laugh, is to share in the resurrection and give life, not death, the last word.
Still, more than a few might be uncomfortable with such a notion. Some might think that laughter somehow detracts from the majesty of God or make light of the death of Jesus as well as the resurrection. Others might think that laughter is undignified in religious settings and is inappropriate in worship. Still others might think that laughter doesn’t treat death seriously enough and shows insensitivity to those who grieve. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Laughter is, in fact, good faith.
We may not realize it but laughter is there in Scripture, at the very heart of things. The psalmist tells us that God laughs. Abraham and Sarah name their child laughter (that’s what the name Isaac means) because they had laughed at the thought of having a child in their old age and laughed again when God kept his promise and did the impossible – they laughed the laughter of joy and faith. And many of the parables of Jesus are, in fact, “high and holy jokes,” as someone else has put it.
But not only is humor there in scripture, humor and laughter are vitally connected to religion and faith. Indeed, to divorce humor from religion “can be disastrous”, one author states, “because we rob ourselves of the lightness and freedom necessary to notice and then to adore God. It is the lightness that allows us to appreciate God; seriousness and heaviness tend to force us to concentrate on ourselves.
For Jesus, religion is meant to set us free and open us to the surprise and wonder of what God can do in and through us. Faith is meant to lift us and give us the confidence we need not to be defeated by all the overwhelming problems we face. Laughter helps accomplish this.
When we take ourselves and our religion with dead seriousness, instead of becoming more aware of God, we become only more aware of ourselves and are pulled down deeper and deeper into ourselves. To be able to laugh at ourselves is to get ourselves out of
the way and allow God to be God and give God some room to work a surprise or two.
Laughter can also help us deal with some of the absurdities of life – to laugh in the face of
some of the things that happen, to find humor in them, is to say that we will not be defeated by them. Humor and laughter give balance in a gloomy and deadly serious world, offer a perspective of hope, and open us to new creative opportunities. And it is laughter that often helps us in the midst of grief. To remember someone with both tears and
laughter is how that person continues to live within us, keeps coming alive to us, and what
finally gives us our lives back, raises us in hope, and declares that death will not have
the last word.
I don’t know, maybe we should establish April 1 as Easter so that every year we celebrate Easter as it should be celebrated: with the holy laughter that proclaims the
truth of the resurrection, the truth that the end is not death but life, now and forever.
God be with you,