April 23, 2017 sermon, Easter 2
The Easter Laugh
Jesus was walking around heaven when he noticed a wizened, white–haired old man sitting in a corner, looking very sad.
“What’s wrong, old fellow?” asked Jesus kindly. “This is heaven. The sun is shining, everything you could ever want is right here—you’re supposed to be blissfully happy. What is it?”
“Well,” said the old man, “you see, I was a carpenter on earth and I lost my dearly beloved son at an early age. And I was hoping to find him here in heaven.”
Tears sprang to Jesus’ eyes. “Father!” he cried.
The old man sprang to his feet, bursting into tears, and shouted, “Pinocchio!”
For 12 years now, we have been celebrating the Easter laugh on the Sunday after Easter. The tradition seems to have begun in the 4th century with a golden–tongued preacher and bishop named John Chrysostom. In a sermon, he pictured the risen Christ confronting the devil and laughing because God played a joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. He encouraged his people to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection on the day after Easter with laughter and joy. He called it the risus paschalis, the Easter laugh. What better way to celebrate the triumph of life over death?
It’s a wonderful way of reminding ourselves that at its heart, our faith is a joyful thing … and even with all the bad jokes I tell, you look forward to it. I know you do.
After getting all of the Pope’s luggage loaded into the limo, the chauffeur notices that the Pope is still standing on the curb.
“Excuse me, Your Holiness,” says the chauffeur, “Would you please take your seat so we can leave?”
The Pope responds, “You know what? They never let me drive at the Vatican, and I’d really like to drive today.”
“I’m sorry but I can’t let you do that. I’d lose my job! What if something should happen?”
“There might be something extra in it for you,” says the Pope. Reluctantly, the chauffeur gets in the back as the Pope climbs in behind the wheel. The driver quickly regrets his decision when, after exiting the airport, the Pontiff floors it, accelerating the limo to 105 mph.
“Please slow down, Your Holiness!!!” pleads the worried chauffeur, but the Pope keeps the pedal to the metal until they hear sirens.
“Oh, dear God, I’m gonna lose my license,” moans the chauffeur.
The Pope pulls over and rolls down the window as the cop approaches, but the cop takes one look at him, goes back to his motorcycle, and gets on the radio. “I need to talk to the Chief.”
The Chief gets on the radio and the cop tells him that he’s stopped a limo going a hundred and five.
“So bust him,” says the Chief.
“I don’t think we want to do that, he’s really important,” said the cop.
The Chief exclaimed,” All the more reason!”
“No, I mean really important,” said the cop.
The Chief then asked, “Who ya got there, the Mayor?”
“The Prime Minister?” The Chief asked.
“Well,” said the Chief, “Who is it?”
“I think it’s God!” the cop exclaimed.
“What makes you think that?”
“Well for one thing, he’s got the Pope as a chauffeur.”
George Burns once said that the secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending—and to have the two of them as close together as possible.
Laughter is one of the hallmarks of a healthy life. It is also the sign of a healthy spirit. Desmond Tutu, one of my heroes, used laughter to make his point all the time. And whenever you see him, he’s always smiling, laughing, having a good time. Laughter is a tool to help us deal in a healthy way with the difficulties of life.
A reporter on CNN heard about a very old Jewish man who had been going to the Western Wall to pray, twice a day, every day, for a long, long time. She decided to check it out, and found him at the Western Wall, praying. After about 45 minutes, she approached him for an interview.
“Pardon me, sir. How long have you been coming to the Western Wall to pray?”
“For about 60 years.”
“60 years! That’s amazing! What do you pray for?”
“I pray for peace between Christians, Jews and Muslims. I pray for wars and hatred to come to an end. I pray for all our children to grow up safely as responsible adults and to love their fellow man. I pray that politicians tell us the truth and put the interests of the people ahead of their own interests.”
“How do you feel after doing this for 60 years?”
“Like I’m talking to a brick wall.”
The Bible also is full of laughter. When Abraham and Sarah have a son in their old age, they name him Isaac—which means “Son of Laughter”. Many of Jesus’ parables have situations which make us laugh out loud. Our Psalm this morning ends, “In your presence there is fullness of joy and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.”
This is our faith. We celebrate a story of life in all its fullness. It’s a story of goodness and wholeness, justice and peace, healing and new life.
A blond goes into the Post Office to buy some stamps for her Christmas cards. She says to the clerk “May I have 50 Christmas stamps please?”
The clerk says “What denomination?”
The blond says “God help us. Has it come to this?” In exasperation she says “Give me 22 Catholic, 12 Anglican, 10 Methodist and 6 Baptist.”
Donald Trump goes on a fact–finding visit to Israel. While he is on a tour of Jerusalem he suffers a heart attack and dies. The undertaker tells the American diplomats, “You can ship him home for $50,000, or you can bury him here in the Holy Land for just $100.”
The diplomats discuss this for a minute, and tell the undertaker that they want Trump shipped home.
The undertaker is puzzled and asks, “Why would you spend $50,000 to ship him home, when you could bury him here for only $100? With the money you save you could help pay back some of the deficit, help the homeless or help the elderly.”
The American diplomats replied, “Long ago a man died and was buried here; three days later he rose from the dead. We just can’t take the risk.”
I’ve told you before about my clinical depression. One of the things I learned when I finally came out of it was that I had forgotten how to laugh. Life had become a heavy burden, and it ground me into little bits. So for me, this kind of laughter is a powerful sign of good health, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
The laughter of faith comes when we know that we are living out of God’s abundance. If we are constantly pinching pennies, if we are worried, if we live in fear, if we live in anxiety, if we are never satisfied with our lives … we lose the ability to laugh. What a tragedy! Laughter says that we are content, that we know we are blessed, that we delight in life, that we are ravished by the beauty of the world, that we enjoy our lives and our world.
Someone once said, “What I have learned … is that the more you expect from life, the more your expectations will be fulfilled. By laughing, you do not use up your laughter, but increase your store of it. The more you love, the more you will be loved. The more you give, the more you will receive.”
Ain’t that the truth?
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.”
May the holy laughter of Easter fill your lives. May God’s healing love embrace you in every moment of your lives, and may the last laugh of Easter fill your lives with hope and delight. May you live in the light of the risus paschalis, the Easter laugh each day of your lives. Most importantly, may you, when you go out into the world, take the Easter laugh with you.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
April 23, 2017 (2nd Sunday of Easter)
John 20: 19–31
! Peter 1: 3–9
Acts 2: 22–32