Many American churches are resurrecting an old Easter custom begun by the Greeks in the early centuries of Christianity — “Holy Humor Sunday.” It is known as Bright Sunday and is celebrated the Sunday after Easter.
For centuries in Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant countries, the week following Easter Sunday, including “Bright Sunday,” was observed by the faithful as “days of joy and laughter” with parties and picnics to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.
Churchgoers and pastors played practical jokes on each other, drenched each other with water, told jokes, sang, and danced. I’m telling a baptism story on Sunday, yes, a Methodist telling a Baptism story. I’m previewing Bright Sunday for the Trinity congregation!
The custom was rooted in the musings of early church theologians (like Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom) that God played a practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. “Risus paschalis — the Easter laugh,” the early theologians called it.
Holy Humor Sunday services not only give Christians an opportunity for ongoing celebrations of the greatest miracle in human history — Jesus’ resurrection — it also gives each of us an opportunity to celebrate, and give thanks for, our own smaller resurrections in our experience.
From time to time in our lives, many of us have been dead — from illness, depression, physical injuries, emotional wounds, the loss of loved ones, financial losses — and yet have come alive and endured while looking forward to the Great Resurrection.
I try to sneak a little humor in every sermon. What can you do in the face of resurrection joy but laugh, with a holy laughter?
Besides, I think it is a powerful antidote to the great killer of the Christian faith, boredom!
The preaching guru, Haddon Robinson once said, “I have come closer to being bored out of the Christian faith than being reasoned out of it. I think we underestimate the deadly gas of boredom.”
Mark Twain told the story of hearing Reverend Samuel Hawley speak in a church in Hartford.
“He gave us many instances of the heroism and devotion of the poor,” Twain said. “I remember he said, when a man with millions gives, we make a great deal of noise: but it is noise in the wrong place, for it is the widow’s mite that counts. Well, Hawley worked me up to a great pitch. I could hardly wait for him to get through. I had four hundred dollars in my pocket. I wanted to give that and borrow more to give. I looked around at my friends, and I could see greenbacks in every eye.
“But instead of the passing the plate then, Hawley kept on talking and talking, and as he talked it got hotter and hotter, and I got sleepier and sleepier. My enthusiasm went down, down, down … $100 at a clip … until finally when the plate did come around, I stole 10 cents out of it. It all goes to show how a little thing like this can lead to crime.”
It’s OK to laugh again!