Sermon for Easter Sunday
Sunday 24 April 2011
An Easter Laugh
I have a bad reputation. No it’s true. I have a bad reputation for telling terrible jokes. But this morning, Easter morning, I’m going to defend myself! Because I believe in the vital importance of laughter. Aristotle called humans the “laughing animal” and there are, are there not, many types of laughter. It’s on a kind of sliding scale. At the low end you start with a chuckle, then a titter, then, maybe, a giggle. Perhaps a little higher up comes a chortle. A snigger is usually a bit cruel. What could come next? A snort, perhaps. Now we’re getting into straightforward laughter territory. Some people, of course, go in for the guffaw. Then there are those who hoot with laughter, and those who cackle. From here on things get more serious, or should I say less serious? We talk about hilarity, belly laughter, about laughing our heads off, being convulsed, having hysterics, splitting our sides, being creased up. The list could go on. And, of course, we laugh for all sorts of reasons. Many people laugh when they are embarrassed, as a means of defence. But laughter can also be a means of attack, when we laugh at someone. Much laughter falls into these two categories. The laughter of defence is a kind of denial or distraction when we wish that reality were not so demanding and dangerous. In the laughter of attack, on the other hand, our aim is to have the last word, make the other guy look small, win the verbal war, humiliate anyone who threatens us. The first kind says, life is too much for me, I want to hide or pretend. The other says, life is a war and if I don’t lash out I’ll get crushed. Most defensive laughter is responsive, as in the case of the nervous giggle, but the attacker will often use jokes or humour to try to hit his target. I can’t resist telling this one about the night former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher took all 25 of her cabinet out for dinner. The waiter said, “What would you like to order, madam?” Mrs. Thatcher said, “Steak, please.” And the vegetables?” said the waiter. “They’ll have steak too,” said Mrs. Thatcher.
It’s sometimes argued that religion in general and Jesus in particular isn’t very funny. Some Christians have been very po-faced. It used to be said that in some churches there was a right and a wrong way to look if you were involved in leading the service. The right way was to look slightly bored. I remember reading someone who said that he went to an Anglo-Catholic church years ago and the head server looked as if his best friend had recently died. The wrong way was to smile broadly. Laughter, well that was out of the question. Christians were afraid of laughter. A large part of the plot of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose which was turned into a film with Sean Connery revolves around the idea that for centuries monks concealed a book on Laughter by the great classical philosopher Aristotle. They did so because they felt the church would be undermined if laughter was seen as anything other than pernicious, even diabolical.
It is true that Jesus didn’t tell many jokes. But he held out the promise of laughter. In one of his sayings he said, “Blessed are you who weep and mourn, for one day you will laugh.” On Good Friday Jesus and his followers wept and mourned. On Easter Day they laughed for joy. There was a transformation. Perhaps that’s why many vicars say that to get the most out of Easter you must not neglect Good Friday. What they mean is that the laughter of today is the laughter of complete change, of a total turnaround of affairs, the laughter that comes when things have been going wrong, but suddenly everything comes good. Easter Day was a day of transformation. It transformed Jesus and it transformed his disciples. It ought to change us still. It ought to put a smile on our face, a spring in our step, a laugh in our mouth. But the effect of Easter Day was not just to make the disciples laugh for joy. They were eager to share their mirth with others, to share good news, to bring joy to the world. That is exactly what they did as within a generation they had spread the gospel throughout the known world. But it didn’t end with them. It continues today. I hope you’re all happy today, that you’re having a good laugh. But there are many in our world today who are still weeping and mourning. Many facing poverty and disease, many facing tragedies of a variety of different kinds. Easter should fill us with joy, but it should also change us and make us enthusiastic about bringing laughter to a weeping world. There are many concrete things we can do. Helping others, contributing something to society, getting involved. For example we will soon have the privilege of being involved in Christian Aid Week as a collector, a fundraiser, a donator. As the old saying goes, “don’t just sit there, do something!” Today as we celebrate the laughter of Easter let us also resolve to find ways in which we can share it with others and turn into a reality the vision of Jesus that those who weep and mourn, one day soon will laugh!
Easter Sunday | Sunday 24 April 2011