Didya hear the one about the preacher who dreamed he was preaching? Then he woke up and he was!
The Fellowship of Merry Christians has been playfully encouraging churches to celebrate Holy Humour Sunday on the Sunday after Easter. They’re trying to encourage Lutheran laughter, playful Presbyterians, amusing Anglicans, chortling Catholics—in short, chuckling Christians of all stripes.
The practice comes from an old Christian custom which celebrated Easter Monday as Bright Monday, a day to laugh and frolic, a day of special festivities, of picnics, pranks and practical jokes. We’re not exactly sure of the origin of this playful celebration, but it may have been inspired by a sermon preached by 4th century Greek theologian John Chrysostom. He pictured the risen Christ confronting the devil and laughing uproariously. God played a joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. Christians can laugh because God’s new life has been born in the world. The early theologians called this the “risus paschalis,” the Easter laugh.
G.K. Chesterton once wrote: “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly. Never forget that the devil fell by force of gravity. He who has the faith has the fun.” An old adage has it that the devil can’t stand the sound of laughter and slinks away from it.
Bright Monday was a day to laugh, to frolic and delight in the good news of resurrection life. In “The Easter Book”, Rev. Francis Weiser notes that “in early days of Christianity, all of Easter Week was one continuous feast, a week of intense happiness and spiritual joy.” These kinds of celebrations continued until they faded away in the last couple of centuries in increasingly secular societies.
The Fellowship of Merry Christians wants to revive the practice by transplanting the celebration to Holy Humour Sunday on the Sunday after Easter. It’s a day of holiness and laughter—two things we don’t often see side by side. In too many churches, Sunday morning worship is a serious and solemn time.
But here is an opportunity for us to rejoice. We’re supposed to be people who celebrate the good news of God’s presence in life. Paul calls us to rejoice always. It’s high time for worship to be marked by this kind of joy.
More and more churches are beginning to celebrate Holy Humour Sunday. Some ministers come dressed as a clown, embodying Paul’s notion of being “fools for Christ’s sake.” Others tell jokes in their sermons. Some invite people in the congregation to tell funny (clean!) stories. Some churches use balloons. Almost all report using joyful hymns, upbeat music, and lots of laughter in worship.
It’s a day for us to stop taking ourselves so seriously, and to remember that we worship a God of joy and healing. The Bible is filled with laughter. When Sarah is told she will give birth in Genesis 17, she is instructed to name her child Isaac, which means “he laughs”. Many of Jesus’ parables are filled with humour. Imagine a camel going through the eye of a needle. Imagine a party given for a kid who came home after wasting his half of the inheritance. Who ever heard of camels being swallowed easily by those who choked when trying to swallow a gnat?
But Jesus pokes at our pretensions, turns our world upside down, invites us to imagine a world where all people can enjoy life because it’s good for everyone. In a day when no one would ever think of eating with someone who wasn’t their social equal, Jesus was accused of being a glutton, someone who would eat with just anyone. The righteous folks clucked their tongues, tsk–tsking at this outrageous behaviour.
A story is told about Groucho Marx. As he was getting off an elevator, 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.”
It’s time to change that sad assessment of the church, don’t you think? It’s time to rejoice always.
May the laugh of Easter—the risus paschalis—be yours today and every day. Join us at Christ Church for Holy Humour Sunday this weekend, at 9:15 and 11 am.
Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook