Word for Word 4/29/20

Rev. Laura Gentry
Rev. Laura Gentry

When’s the last time you had a good laugh?

In the midst of this pandemic, laughter is probably the last thing on your mind. Our world has been hit hard by the coronavirus, even here in our corner of Northeast Iowa. We probably feel more like crying or screaming than laughing.

And yet it is the Easter season - traditionally a time of great joy. Christians everywhere celebrate the good news that Christ is risen.

Now it didn’t look like good news at first. As we commemorated on Good Friday, Jesus died and was sealed into a tomb. Had the forces of evil triumphed? No, they hadn’t. For suddenly Christ arose. Like the punchline of a joke, the surprise of his resurrection makes us laugh with delight.

That’s why Christians throughout history have observed this holy time with humor.

There is the Bavarian practice that has the faithful gathering back in church on Easter afternoon for a time of storytelling and practical joking. There is the early Orthodox tradition where the priest tells jokes throughout the Easter sermon and then the members gather on the Monday after Easter to tell jokes to each other. To this day in Slavic regions, Christians gather the day after Easter for folk dancing and feasting in the churchyard. It’s a great party.

Here in North America, Christians of many denominations have embraced the tradition of “Holy Hilarity”, which is usually commemorated with a light-hearted worship service on the Sunday after Easter.

At Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Lansing, where I am pastor, we started our own custom of Holy Hilarity back in 2007. Worship-goers are encouraged to wear bright colors, funny hats and costumes. We laugh, dance, sing and pray to ponder the incredible, laugh-out-loud good news that Christ is risen. After all, the bible says: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.” (Psalm 98:4:)

Of course, this year we were not able to gather in our sanctuary for worship on Holy Hilarity Sunday. Instead, we produced a film of joyful worship with video clips of our members telling jokes and reading joyful scripture verses. We brought it all together with the celebratory music of jazz pianist, Tom Bourcier, our former church musician.

“My fiancé and I watched the Holy Hilarity service and we laughed through the whole thing! Everything was so funny, especially the laughing goat. It just made my day!” Said Melony Orr, who now lives in Rochester, Minnesota but remains connected to our congregation.

Gary and Shirley Mulford of DeSoto, Wisconsin first visited our congregation on Holy Hilarity Sunday a few years back. They explained: “After our move to the area, we were looking for a church family so we visited Our Savior’s. We didn’t know anyone and the congregation was all in costume! We really wanted to turn and go back out the front door. Thankfully, we didn’t and we now have a wonderful church family.”

It is an incredibly difficult Easter season for all of us because of the social distancing and fears surrounding the pandemic, but I noticed how the humor of making this film really brought our congregation together and lifted our spirits. This Easter - more than ever before - we need to laugh.

So let me encourage you to focus on the joy of your faith. Christ is risen and he brings new life to us all! Give yourself permission to lighten up even a little bit. As the ancient wisdom tells us: “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22) Tell jokes, watch comedies, call up your funny friends and laugh together. You’ll be glad you did.

You can watch our Holy Hilarity service at LansingLutherans.org.

Rev. Laura Gentry
Our Savior’s Lutheran Church ELCA, Lansing


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