“Holy Humor and Inner Resurrection” -Rev. Kit Billings

“Holy Humor Sundays” are an opportunity for ongoing celebrations of the greatest miracle in human history — Jesus’ resurrection — and they also give each of us an opportunity to celebrate, and give thanks for, our own smaller resurrections in this world and this life. 

From time to time in our earthly lives, many of us have been dead or felt dead—from illness, depression, physical injuries, emotional wounds, severe disappointments, the loss of loved ones, or even major financial losses.  And yet, miraculously we have come alive again and again, and endured our hardships, while looking forward to even greater blessings ahead.  These personal resurrections happen because the Lord continues regenerating us within the pattern of His glorification and resurrection, which came into being on that first Easter morn.

In True Christianity n. 99 our theology puts it in this clear light:

“During the battles or conflicts within us, the Lord carries out an individual act of redemption, much like the all-encompassing redemption he brought about while he was in the world. While he was in the world, the Lord glorified his human manifestation, that is, made it divine, through battles and inner conflict. In a similar way within us individually, the Lord fights for us while we are undergoing inner conflict and conquers the hellish spirits who are assaulting us. Afterward he ‘glorifies’ us, that is, makes us spiritual.”*

Now let me share with you a remarkable story from an anonymous, harried pastor in Alaska who was trying to bring together his fractured, divided church.  The church was in turmoil with a heavy, discouraged spirit.  For several years the pastor had tried everything, without success, to bring the various squabbling cliques together.  He finally decided to try a Holy Humor Sunday celebration on the Sunday after Easter in 2009.  The service was filled with joyful songs and hymns and inspiring Scripture readings celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Members were encouraged to tell their favorite jokes.  And practical jokes were played on the pastor and others.  And truly, you see, everybody had a lot of fun.

The entire congregation rallied around the resurrection of Jesus.  Their Holy Humor Sunday service brought everyone together in a spirit of good cheer and camaraderie.  “The response was overwhelmingly positive,” the pastor wrote.  “The congregation needed to know that they could come to worship and just ‘let go’ for an hour, and that it was possible to come to church and feel very good again.  People have been talking about the service all week.  And some, who said they had intended to leave the church and go to another church, said they had decided to stay. “The Holy Humor Sunday service was just what the doctor ordered for our church. It provided much-needed healing.”

For centuries in Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant countries, the week following Easter 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.  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 devils of hell by raising Jesus from the dead.  “Risus paschalis – the Easter laugh,” the early theologians called it, reminds us all during our Covid-19 pandemic that no matter how dark life appears at times, still we can count on the Lord rising up and stepping out of His tomb.  It is extremely likely that at various times in our own life journeys that we also will feel as if all hope is lost, forgetting that it was after the Lord’s severe and painful experience of the end of Holy Week, He wound up surprising our world with His resurrection into His fully glorified state of Being!

So, because our Lord was risen from His tomb, so are we meant to rise up again and again and again into spiritually high and glowing states of being when we choose not to give up on God’s power to make us truly live again!  The Lord’s Easter morning rising and walking out of His tomb was the greatest miracle of all, when God-in-Christ rose up and walked out of what had been seen as His tomb forevermore.  We sometimes may feel stunned and shocked at first when our lives plunge into hardship, loss and pain—just as the women and disciples were on that first Easter morning.  We too may try to hide behind “locked doors” within us.  But then, just as Jesus did with the eleven, He proves yet again that nothing can stop Him from reaching us with His love, glory and strength—and then even the “doubting Thomas” part of us will test the Lord, and upon hearing and feeling the Lord in His Divine-Humanity, we too can proclaim with all sincerity as Thomas did, “My Lord and my God!”

In The Easter Book (Harcourt Brace, 1954), written by the Rev. Francis Weiser, it is noted that Easter Monday was traditionally a holiday in Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant countries.  It was a day of special festivities: games, Emmaus walks in the country, picnics, pranks, practical jokes, and “drenching customs.”  On Easter Monday, for instance, boys drenched girls with water, and the girls retaliated by drenching the boys. Easter Monday is still observed as a holiday in 125 countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada, and the state of North Carolina.

Rev. Weiser also observed: “In the early days of Christianity, all of Easter Week was one continuous feast…a week of intense happiness and spiritual joy.”  Easter Week celebrations went on for centuries until they faded away in the last century in increasingly secularized societies.

Let me ask you to take another long look at the drawing of the Lord laughing on the front of our bulletin this morning.  When you meditate on and pray to your Lord and Savior, do you allow for Him to smile and laugh with you sometimes?  If not, then I heartily advise you to change your ways…immediately…because God’s Word is loaded with stories and illustrations of simple humor and laughter, as part of our journeys of life within God’s love.  The most obvious example of this to me is in the story of an elderly couple named Abraham and Sarah, who thought their dream of having a child to fulfill God’s promise of countless generations would never happen.  Then the Lord sent His angel messenger to inform them that soon they would conceive and bear a son—but when Sarah heard this good news, she laughed out loud.  And God knew that her laughter was natural and also He knew that His promise to them would come true, that one day their future generations would number like the stars in the night sky, 

It’s true my friends, love, humor and laughter together are part of God’s plan for us.  Social scientific research shows that when people laugh and play together, a feeling of deep, internal unity grows, reflecting the truth of our Old Testament reading today:  “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” (Ps. 133:1)**   Among many blessings I receive as your minister, whenever I get to spend time with you (in your homes, over lunch and during meetings), the vast majority of the time at some point during my time with you, we wind up laughing and giggling at something we have found humorous.  And you know what?  During and after our laughter and glee, then I feel the wisdom of Psalm 133, of how pleasant it truly is when God’s people dwell together in unity—in the unity and bonding that flows from being good and useful together, and being willing together to ride the wave of some humor and laughter, in the Lord’s Spirit of unity.

Indeed friends, how good it is when God’s people dwell together in unity, especially within the new life of Jesus Christ Risen and Glorified, whose Divine-Humanity changed the course of life on Earth and in Heaven, FOREVER, for the better. 

*Swedenborg, Emanuel. True Christianity. Translated by Jonathan S. Rose. West Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 2010.

**New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Rev. Kit Billings, his wife Penny, and their daughter Julia moved to LaPorte, Indiana in 2012, where he is Pastor of the LaPorte New Church, a historic Swedenborgian sacred space.Kit enjoys ministering with people of all ages, and supporting others in their journey of growth with the Lord.

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