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Monday, April 4, 2016

Holy Joy, Holy Laughter

Psalm 150
Surprises give us the twin gift of joy and laughter, and today is a day for surprises. The Easter story is full of surprises, and as the weeks after Easter unfold, additional surprises pile up. Now, we don’t always like surprises, do we? It seems a few weeks back we might have talked about some of the kinds of surprises that we don’t really care for. But the revelations of Easter are the good kind of surprises, and they often bring the kind of joy and laughter as this story I heard last week:
Perhaps you’ve heard about the elderly woman who had just returned home from an evening of church services when she was startled by an intruder. She caught the man in the act of robbing her home of its valuables and yelled, "Stop! Acts 2:38!"
(Which reads, “Repent and be baptized, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven.”)
The burglar stopped in his tracks. The woman calmly called the police and explained what she had done. As the officer cuffed the man to take him in, he asked the burglar, "Why did you just stand there? All the old lady did was yell a scripture to you."
"Scripture?" replied the burglar. "She said she had an ax and two 38's!"
Ba Da Boom. Welcome to Holy Humor Sunday!
I have another story for you:
There was a woman who was doing some baking for her Easter dinner on Holy Saturday. There was a knock at the door. She went to find a man, dressed in shabby clothes, and looking for some odd jobs. He asked her if there was anything he could do. She said, "Can you paint?" 
"Yes," he said. "I’m a rather good painter." 
"Well," she said, "Go into my shed - there are two gallons of green paint there and a brush, and there’s a porch out back that needs to be painted. Please do a good job. I’ll pay you what the job is worth."
He said, "That’s great. I will be done quickly."
She went back to her baking and did not think much more about it until there was a knock at the door. She went, and it was obvious he had been painting for he had it on his clothes. She asked, "Did you finish the job?"
He said, "Yes."
She said, "Did you do a GOOD job?" 
He said, "Yes. But lady, there’s one thing I would like to point out to you. That is not a Porsche back there. That is a Mercedes."
It was only last year that I heard about Holy Humor Sunday, this particular designation for the Second Sunday of Easter.
When I first heard about it—I honestly thought it was a modern, creative solution to the after-Easter blues - For that “low” Sunday after Easter when the once full sanctuary is back to the regular crew, minus a few, who are on vacation; when the pastor, the organist, and the lay leaders are all beat from the activities of Lent, Holy Week and Easter, and people are just coming out of a chocolate Easter bunny coma…
I thought Holy Humor Sunday was another Easter surprise, a new way to lighten things up a bit, focus on something other than the Thomas story we hear every year, a way to remember the joy, exuberance and laughter with which we have greeted the Easter Good News:
                                      Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
                                                He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Well, I was wrong; At least about the ‘modern’ part.
It turns out that the Greeks started Holy Humor celebrations in the early centuries of Christianity, celebrations now being resurrected—pun intended—in American congregations.
For centuries in Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant countries, the week following Easter was observed as "days of joy and laughter" with parties and picnics to celebrate Jesus' resurrection.
For hundreds of years, churchgoers and pastors played practical jokes on each other during this week and on this Sunday, drenching each other with water, telling jokes even if nowhere near April Fool’s Day, singing and dancing.
The custom was rooted in the musings of early church theologians like Augustine who argued 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.
So, one more time…..
A Sunday school teacher was teaching the Ten Commandments to her five and six year olds.
After explaining the commandment to ‘honor thy father and thy mother’, she asked, ‘is there a commandment that teaches us how to treat our brothers and sisters?”
One little boy shouted, “Thou shall not kill”
There you go, a taste of Holy Humor on this Sunday—to honor and celebrate the gift of joy and delight God has given to God’s people and, in the words of Augustine, a day to give thanks for the great joke God played on the devil when God raised Jesus from the dead.         
While we often turn to scripture with great seriousness and holy respect, both of which are appropriate, it’s also true that the scriptures proclaim and encourage joy and laughter and singing and dancing. Take our psalm reading from this morning, for instance.
It’s as if God knew we would too often take ourselves too seriously, and would need to be reminded from time to time, to let go, let God, and lighten up.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the words of Psalm 150, where the imperative is given to faithfully reflect God’s desire for joy and praise and adoration. – Hallel u Yah! Praise God!
This psalm draws the entire psalter to its conclusion –– through a dramatic call to praise that is unambiguous: it summons “everyone who breathes” to praise God.
Coming just a week after Easter Sunday, with the glorious sound of brass and bells and voices raised in song and “alleluia” refrains still fresh in our minds, Psalm 150 reminds us that the effects of the resurrection of Jesus remain and continue.
What joy this good news brings to us. Our gospel lesson assures us that Easter was not just a dream; the risen Jesus appears to his disciples and assures them that he has conquered death through his resurrection, and is still with them.
Jesus assuages the doubts of all of them, and finally of Thomas, that it really, truly is he, Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, who stands before them, still bearing the wounds of his crucifixion.
On this Sunday, Psalm 150, with its imperative to praise God, is paired together with that old story of doubt and faith while the unmistakable intention of God rings out over and over again through the repetition of this command at each the start of every line of the psalm: Praise God!
Praise God in his sanctuary; but not only in this sanctuary; Praise God in the mighty firmaments! The “firmaments” include everything under the dome of the sky for the Hebrew people – in other words, Praise God from every place throughout the entire universe!
The psalm plays out in four parts –
WHO is to be praised? God is to be praised.
WHY God is to be praised? Because God is mighty and God is of unsurpassing greatness.
HOW is God to be praised?
With unsurpassing brilliance of sound – from trumpet all the way to clashing cymbals, with every instrument then known to humankind, with great cacophony of sound, with enthusiasm and even with dance; God is to be praised. With our whole voice, body, brain, being, God is to be praised!
WHO is to DO the praising? The Scriptures reflect the Hebrew idea of completion here – the entire creation, for all that breathes, God is to be praised.
          Psalm 150 begins and ends with Hallel u Yah (in Hebrew, Praise YHWH). So, we remember that this praise is not about us – it is about God.
          Today we come together to praise God who is Creator, Comforter, Savior, and Sovereign. For that is how we experience this God whom we praise and glorify.
          For the beauty which surrounds us this day, the flowering trees, the greening grass, the singing birds, the rain-soaked fields, the deep, broad ocean, the vastness of the sky; we praise God who is Creator.
          For those of us who have experienced the unbearable loss of a child or a spouse, or a parent or relationship; for those who are facing medical or financial challenges yet cope by grace they cannot fully comprehend, God the Sustainer and Comforter is known and experienced in the deep dark night of doubt and fear. Ever-present, ever-sustaining God be praised.
          For all those times we have fallen short, have felt mired in failure, have known that on our own we can never “know enough” or “do enough” – and yet are loved to worthiness by Jesus, we praise God the Savior.
          And for the broad experience of our lives and of our world, for the gifts of creation, salvation, love and mercy, joy and laughter, we praise God as Sovereign over our lives and all that blesses us and besets us. 
Old Testament scholar and teacher Walter Brueggemann, reflecting on this psalm, writes, “the expectation of the Old Testament is not finally obedience but adoration.”

So it is that on this Holy Humor Sunday, in the lightness of our hearts, in the midst of laughter and joy reflected in our alleluias –we are invited to raise our praise and adoration to the eternally surprising God, the mighty and blessed one, who defeats evil and death, and reconciles the world to Godself through scarred and holy hands and feet, an empty tomb, and the message of the ages – Praise God.
We are invited to laugh at what once held us bound, knowing that in Christ we are now set free.
Each Sunday, our Easter celebration continues as we bask in the truth of the resurrection and we Praise God, knowing that the Good News of this day comes in the form of the ever-living God we can trust, who is faithful and just, who is the loving and redeeming Lord of all creation. Hallelu Yah! Hallelu Yah! Hallelu Yah!
The beauty of Psalm 150 -- which calls everyone and everything that breathes to praise God with trumpet, cymbals, and dance, in any and every way possible -- is that it frees one to praise loudly, with clanging and clashing, both in times of triumph and in the day-to-day challenges of life.
In humor and laughter, in joy and song, let the Easter refrain play on, for Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!


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