Wageningen And God Laughs
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; April 24, 2022
2nd Sunday of Easter
Ecclesiastes 3:1-4; Psalm 2
By the time I had reached my junior year of high school, it would be an understatement to say that I was a serious student. My grandmother had passed away the year before and I had returned to live with my father in Tennessee with one goal in mind—study hard, get a good education, and gain independence! So, I studied, and I studied. I had little time for anything else. My girlfriends, however, had other things on their minds—mostly boys. They sat by the phone at night (you know, back when phones were still attached to the wall), and they dated on the weekends, and in between they re-told each drama in grand detail. I was, oh I don’t know how to say it—bored to tears by the whole process. Rolling my eyes, I would extricate myself from the romantic tragedies being played out before me as soon as I possibly could with my inner dialogue going something like this: “Are you kidding me? I’ve got better things to do than wait around on some foolish boy.”
But things took a different turn when this fellow named Kinney Hollingshead asked me out for a date. We knew each other—or at least, of each other. I recall the summer before I had told a friend how cute I thought he was—how kind he seemed—how I loved to hear him sing… So, Kinney asked me out on a date, and I agreed to go. We went to dinner and a movie—seemed harmless enough. We hit it off, right away. Maybe that’s why I felt compelled to make something crystal clear. I wasn’t interested in a boyfriend. I was a serious student taking two science courses per semester plus Latin, plus anything else that would get me the scholarship I badly needed. I had plans for medical school—big plans. Marriage…kids…all that stuff would have to wait. Kinney listened intently. Kinney agreed wholeheartedly. Kinney, oh I don’t know how to say this—the boy lied! At the end of our first date, he dropped by his friend’s house and when Lance asked him how the date went, Kinney answered, “Great! I’m going to marry that girl!”
I had plans—serious plans. I wasn’t going to get married—but I was one of the first of my group of friends to do so. I wasn’t going to have children—not anytime soon. I had four—two while doing my undergraduate studies. I was going to be a doctor. Well, it’s true, you can call me Dr. Hollingshead, but I have yet to order my first EKG or chemistry profile on a patient. Oh, the mighty plans we make!
Through Psalms, the Hebrew book of prayer, we are invited to a life of prayer and meditation. In Psalm 1 we read that those who meditate on the law of the Lord are like trees planted by streams of water—they bear fruit—their leaves do not wither—everything they do prospers. But by the second Psalm meditation on the law has turned to planning against the law of the Lord. The nations conspire. The peoples plot against God and his anointed. And God who sits in the heavens laughs! Really, what could be more absurd than God’s created beings waving their little fists and planning some sort of coup? Oh, the mighty plans we make—some good—others not so good. All our plotting and planning—how it must make God laugh.
A few years ago, I learned of churches having Holy Humor worship services on the Sunday after Easter. The tradition was rooted in the musings of the early church theologians who believed that God played a joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. For centuries in Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, and then later in Protestant churches, the week and the Sunday after Easter Sunday were observed by the faithful as “days of joy and laughter” with plenty of practical jokes, parties and picnics shared among believers. There’s some debate as to when this practice actually began—perhaps as early as the 12th Century. But it can most assuredly be traced back to the 15th Century when Pope Clement X tried to prohibit the practice. Well, that may have worked for a time, but it’s no longer the case because many churches are resurrecting the Easter custom of a Holy Humor Sunday.
We take ourselves so seriously—thinking of ourselves as so clever—so bright. Speaking of bright, do you know how many Roman Catholics it takes to change a light bulb? None. They use candles. How many Episcopalians does it take to change a light bulb? Three. One to call the electrician, one to mix the drinks and one to talk about how much better the old one was. How many Presbyterians does it take to change a light bulb? None. God has predestined when the lights will be on and off.
One day, or so the story goes, Groucho Marx was getting off an elevator when a clergyman came up to him, put out his hand and said, “I want to thank you for all the joy you’ve put into the world.” Groucho shook hands and responded, “And I want to thank you, Reverend, for all the joy you’ve taken out of it.”
But church is serious business—serious! It’s this kind of thinking that likely led to an incident Erma Bombeck wrote about. During worship, she noticed a small child who kept turning around smiling at everyone. “He wasn’t gurgling, spitting, or humming,” she wrote, “He wasn’t kicking, tearing the hymnal, or rummaging through his mother’s handbag. He was just smiling. Finally, his mother jerked him about and in a stage whisper that could be heard in a little theater off Broadway, said, ‘Stop that grinning! You’re in church!’ (And) with that she gave him a belt on his hind side. Tears rolled down the little boy’s cheeks as the mother resettled primly into her pew. ‘That’s better,’ she said, as she returned to “listening” to the word of God.”
To tamp down the joy of a child in church—to tamp the joy of any person of any age in the church—what a sad commentary on a faith that is ruled by the King of Joy and Love. It was, after all, Jesus who said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Oh, the wisdom of a child!
A pastor was speaking to a group of second graders about the resurrection of Jesus when one student asked, “What did Jesus say right after He came out of the grave?” The pastor explained that the Gospels do not tell us what He said. The hand of one little girl shot up. “I know what He said: He said, ‘Tah-dah!’”
Terri asked her Sunday School class to draw pictures of their favorite Bible stories. She was puzzled by Kyle’s picture, which showed four people on an airplane, so she asked him which story it was meant to represent. “The Flight to Egypt,” was his reply. Pointing at each figure, Terri said, “That must be Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus, but who is the fourth person? Oh, that’s Pontius—the pilot.
After the baptism of his baby brother in church, little Johnny sobbed all the way home in the back seat of the car. His father asked him three times what was wrong. Finally, the boy replied, “The pastor said she wants us brought up in a good Christian home, but I want to stay with you guys.”
A college drama group presented a play in which one character would stand on a trap door and announce, “I descend into hell!” A stagehand below would then pull a rope, the trapdoor would spring, and the actor would drop from view. During one performance the stagehand pulled the rope, and the actor began his plunge, but he got stuck. No amount of tugging on the rope could make him descend. One student in the balcony jumped up and yelled: “Hallelujah! Hell is full!”
Proverbs 17:22 assures us, “A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.” Yes, indeed, laughter is good medicine—the best medicine. When I was serving Colonial Heights Presbyterian Church, I had a dose of good medicine during an illness that landed me in the hospital in the middle of Holy Week. (Yes, I have excellent timing!) It all started with a sudden loss of vision in my right eye. A trip to the ophthalmologist ended with me in the hospital for overnight IV treatments. With Kinney in Tennessee, I knew that it was up to me to let someone at the church know what was going on. I decided to contact Patty Clark. (Many of you know her through various Zoom gatherings she has attended with us.) So, I texted Patty: “Don’t freak out! I am at the hospital getting IV steroids.” (Her response was in caps, which in “text lingo” indicates the person is screaming at you.) WHO IS WITH YOU? (So much for not freaking out.) WHO IS WITH YOU? With a smile on my face, I spelled out “J-E-S-U-S.” Patty answered back: “I know Jesus is with you but I would feel better if someone human were there.” To which I just had to answer, “Patty dear, haven’t I taught you anything? Jesus is fully human and fully divine.”
In Scripture, his enemies call Jesus a wine bibber and a glutton. He didn’t get that reputation by being sour and serious all the time. As his followers, we should radiate the joy of resurrection. Christ is no longer in the grave and he has won victory for us—victory over death, fear, and all that would keep us down! The time for weeping is passed. Maybe we can take a lesson from Jesus and allow joy to spring forth from our hearts and laughter to burst forth from our lips. Hallelujah! Amen!
*Cover photo by Rara Schlitt, used by permission