Holy Humor Sunday!
This sermon was delivered at Cobleskill United Methodist Church on April 11, 2021
Holy Humor Sunday History
Sunday, April 11, 2021
Second Sunday After Easter
2 1-6 It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah. 7-10 Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.
Did you hear the one about the shortest sermon in history? It was titled: “Killing Jesus.” The content: “Didn’t work.” Amen
Happy Easter to all of you! Christ is Risen. Christ is Risen indeed!
We are having our first ever Holy Humor Sunday today and I want to take a few minutes to put our jokes and our laughs and our general silliness into theological context. Because as good as laughing is, it’s even better knowing there’s a great reason to do it in church, especially today.
You may think Holy Humor Sunday was something I just made up, but believe it or not the tradition of laughing and telling jokes the week after Easter goes back to the Middle Ages! For centuries in Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant countries, the week following Easter Sunday, culminated in “Bright Sunday.” People celebrated the entire week with “days of joy and laughter” having parties and picnics to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. And long before the Middle Ages, the origins of this tradition come from the early church theologians like Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom who mused that Easter was God’s way of playing a practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. These early theologians called it Risus paschalis- “the Easter Laugh.”
In the days leading up to Bright Sunday those jovial Medieval Christians would spend their time playing games, going on Emmaus walks in the country, having picnics, dancing, singing songs, telling jokes, playing pranks on each other, doing practical jokes and then there were the “drenching customs.” On Easter Monday, for example, boys drenched girls with water, and the girls retaliated by drenching the boys. Children would form parades dressed in wild costumes and the would travel from farm to farm reciting playful poems. And then, the story goes, they would splash water on the host family at each farm and the family would then give them Easter eggs and sweets. Another piece of lore says that people would go around spraying perfume at each other with friendly wishes for good health and happiness. Let’s all be thankful that neither water drenching nor perfume spraying is part of our celebration today.
Bright Sunday fell off in popularity during the last few centuries, (word is that some practical jokes got a little out of hand and the church leadership put a kibosh on it), fast forward to 1988 when a group of Christians, calling themselves the Fellowship of Merry Christians got together and decided to bring back the tradition, renaming it Holy Humor Sunday. Since then it has caught on widely with lots of churches around the United States. In some churches on the second Sunday of Easter you’ll see clowns, balloons, everyone’s wearing bright colors or Hawaiian shirts, and sometimes there are even practical jokes. Things to look forward to another year, right? The best part of all of it is that it’s a festive and bold way to declare that God has the last laugh.
The Fellowship of Merry Christians put out a publication called Joyful Noiseletter where I got a lot of this history from today. In one of their articles, the editor of the newsletter said this and why Holy Humor Sunday is so needed: “After all the pain of Holy Week – the crucifixion of Jesus and all the pain that led up to that – a lot of Christians feel that they should spend more time rallying around the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. A growing number of Christians feel that we should celebrate the joy of the resurrection for more than just one day.”
At another point I read this incredible quote: “Humor is not the opposite of seriousness. Humor is the opposite of despair” (Conrad Hyers). So on this Second Sunday of Easter, let’s embrace the God-given gift of humor as an antidote to our despair. As our scripture said this morning, God takes what is dead in our lives and replaces it with life in Christ. Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed!
And now a word from Suzanne Mazoff who has recently started volunteering with the Schoharie County Jail Ministry.
“The Jail Ministry idea was born in Schoharie County about two years ago, or that is when I first heard about it. Perhaps its idea was sprung before that, as many good ideas are. Its purpose was and is, to bring the Word of God, to the people of God, no matter where they reside, in an effort to help them to find God, and give themselves to Jesus Christ. The ministry was led by several clergy, from different churches, and It was introduced by a man who leads a similar ministry in Otsego County. Many of the churches in our county, including ours, were extended an invitation to be a part of this ministry team. Pastor Anna then extended the invitation to our church family, and those who responded with interest, received information about this ministry and were provided with contact information to move forward and meet with others who were called to this ministry.
After meeting a couple of times in prayer, filling out paperwork, and being supported by our pastors, the group was ready for their first of two trainings. Although training took place quite a while ago, we all met at the Calgary of God church, and spent some time together. We spent time in prayer, reading scripture, talking and learning about what the ministry's purpose was and what we should be able to provide to those we meet, once it began. I remember the feeling of hope that these meetings brought about.
While writing this blurb out, it reminded me of the story of the Apostle Paul, who spent two years in jail, in Rome. What was that experience like for him. and the other Christians that continued Jesus' practice in Rome after He ascended into Heaven? In Timothy 4:16, Paul states, "the first time I was brought before the judge, no one came with me. Everyone abandoned me. May it not be counted against them." I wonder how those that are placed in this space feel when they are called before the judge, waiting for the gavel to drop, not knowing what will happen to them.
We all from the Ministry Team, waited patiently for the jail to open, several dates, several alternative dates and finally the day was upon us. I cannot share the names of the women I have met here, in that Holy Space, but one of them in particular, was jailed way before she arrived at this destination. She shared that with me through the telling of her story, the sadness, the loss and the suffering that she has gone through in this earthly life, and doing things she came to regret, without knowing any other way out. She had been incarcerated within her heart, and her mind and knew no other way. I asked her if she had a belief in a power greater than herself, in a God of her understanding. She replied that she thinks that she used to know God but it had been so long since she spoke to Him or had been near to Him. The loss of her family, her marriage and her friends.
When the woman finished talking, she asked me to read the bible to her, as she was searching for a God she once knew, but could not remember. I read passages of scripture, about forgiveness, love and hope. John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him, shall not perish but have eternal life". Forgiveness "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you." Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." We even read some of the letters from the Apostle Paul to the Ephesians, whom Paul always greeted in love.
I asked her if she had been given a Bible and she replied she had not. I suggested that she request one, as the ministry team had delivered Bibles to this place where she now resides, and it will be offered to all who enter. The Team has also ordered Rosary Beads for the tenants of this residence, as they have requested, in the hope that they will meet Jesus there.
This Ministry Team, and this experience, has humbled me profoundly and I continue to wait to be called to this jail, by a woman that would like to meet with one of the ministry team, hoping that she will want to meet where she is at. I have been fortunate to be called there, and am grateful to God for the opportunity to learn and serve others.
The Ministry Team is on the first leg of this journey and they are hopeful that the community and their brothers and sisters in Christ will support these efforts.”
If you would like to give to the Schoharie County Jail Ministry, make a check out to Cobleskill UMC with "Jail Ministry" in the subject line.