A Laughing Matter

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“What’s wrong, Bubba?” asked the pastor.
“I need you to pray for my hearing,” said Bubba.
The pastor put his hands on Bubba’s ears and prayed.
When he was done, he asked,
“So how’s your hearing?”
“I don’t know,” said Bubba.
“It ain’t ‘til next Tuesday
down at the courthouse.”

A priest and a pastor
are standing by the side of a road
holding up 
a sign that reads
“The end is near!
Turn around now before it’s too late!”
A passing driver yells, “You guys are nuts!”
and speeds past them.
From around the curve,
they hear screeching tires—
then a big splash.
The priest turns to the pastor and says,
“Hey, do you think we oughta just
put up a sign that says ‘Bridge Out’
instead?”

A burglar breaks into a house.
He starts shining his light around looking for valuables.
Some nice things catch his eye,
and as he reaches for them,
he hears, “Jesus is watching you.”
Startled, the burglar looks for the speaker.
Seeing no one, he keeps putting things in his bag,
again, he hears, “Jesus is watching you.”
This time, he sees a parrot.
“Who are you?” the burglar asks.
“Moses,” the bird replied.
“Who the heck would name a bird Moses?” the man laughed.
“I dunno,” Moses answered,
“Probably the same kind of people
who would name a Rottweiler Jesus.”

*     *     *

In the Eastern Orthodox Church
they tell jokes during Eastertide.

Why? Because Easter is all about
the surprise ending,
the unexpected twist.

Easter is about how God takes
the most serious thing in the world
and turns it into a laughing matter.

I once even heard somewhere
that in some Eastern Orthodox traditions,
they used to go out to the graveyard on Easter morning
and laugh at an open grave.

This is exactly why
if you come to St. Anne’s on Easter morning—
especially to our Great Vigil of Easter—
you’ll find that we get sort of silly.

After we baptize people,
we fling holy water,
we hoop and holler,
we laugh our heads off,
all as we shout beyond restraint,
“Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!”

*     *     *

So it is no mistake
that we hear again today
the story of Jesus’ first appearance
to the disciples.

We heard it last week
through the perspective
of doubting Thomas,
but just to make sure we really get the joke,
we hear it again today from Luke.

You see, you and I have come here to laugh:
to laugh at the greatest joke ever told,
and today it has three parts.

*     *     *

Part one.
“Jesus himself stood among the disciples,” Luke says,
“and [he] said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’
They were startled and terrified,
and thought they were seeing a ghost.” [1]

Every joke has a serious setup,
and this one’s no different.
Luke has spent pages and pages
to ensure that both we and the disciples
understand that Jesus. is. dead.
Period. Full stop.

This weekend my family and I had the pleasure
of seeing the Wizard of Oz
performed by the local community theater
up in Perry, Georgia.
(Terry and Janelle Taylor’s daughter Jessi played
a terrific Wicked Witch of the West.)

There’s one scene that always makes me laugh
in the Wizard of Oz, and this time was no different.

As all the little munchkins
gather around the house
that fell upon the Wicked Witch of the East,
they look at one another and say:

“But we’ve got to verify it legally
to see—
to see—
if she—
if she
is morally, ethically
spiritually, physically
positively, absolutely
undeniably and reliably
dead.

This is exactly what Luke has been doing
for chapters and chapters.
He is making clear to us
that Jesus is
positively, absolutely
undeniably, crucifiably (sorry)
dead.

As the Coroner from Munchkinland would say,
“He’s not only merely dead,
he’s really most sincerely dead.”

So it is no surprise that when the disciples see him,
they are filled with disbelieving and wondering,
and think for sure that they are seeing a ghost.

*     *     *

If that’s the setup to the joke,
then comes the punch line.

“Touch me and see,” Jesus says,
“for a ghost does not have
flesh and bones.
But I do!” [2]
Then he looks at them and says,
“Hey, y’all got anything to eat around here?” [3]
to which they give him some fish,
and he eats in their presence.

I think we often overlook this part.
Maybe it doesn’t seem strange to you
that Jesus would eat a piece of fish,
but it’s definitely strange if you think he’s a ghost.

But that’s not all that makes this a punch line.
If you think about it,
the setup doesn’t just go back to the death of Jesus.
It doesn’t just go back to the crucifixion.
No, it goes all the way back
to the Garden of Eden,
where Sin and Death were introduced to us . . .
how? . . .
by the eating of a piece of food.

Adam and Eve—
who were so
morally, ethically
spiritually, physically
undeniably and reliably
ALIVE—
lost it all
when they took that fated bite
given them by the serpent.

But here Jesus is,
turning the joke around.
When he says,
“Do you guys have anything to eat?”
he is reversing thousands of years worth
of a really bad joke,
and turning it into a great one.

He who was dead
is now
morally, ethically
spiritually, physically
undeniably and reliably
ALIVE—
and so are we.
That ought to make us laugh
from now ‘til all eternity.

*     *     *

So today, brothers and sisters,
we come here to laugh.
We come here to sing.
We come to shout,
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O grave, is your sting?” [4]

And we come here to relish
in the greatest, truest joke
ever told:

Christ had died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.

HA!

And amen.

[1] Luke 24:36-37
[2] Luke 24:39
[3] Luke 24:41
[4] 1 Corinthians 15:55