What is Holy Humor Sunday? In the early church, the Sunday after Easter was observed by the faithful as a day of joy and laughter with parties and shenanigans to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. The custom of Bright Sunday, as it was called, came from the idea of some early church theologians that God played a joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead.
Easter was God’s supreme joke played on death, hence the risus paschalis – “the Easter laugh.”
“The assumption that a sense of humour and a Christian faith are incompatible is totally mistaken. In point of fact, the writers of the great classics of humour – Rebelais, Cervantes, Swift, Gogol – have all been deeply religious. Even comedians, like Bob Hope, tend to be believers rather than sceptics or cynics… Laughter is, indeed, God’s therapy. Let us then be thankful that, when the Gates of Heaven swing open, mixed with the celestial music there is the unmistakable sound of celestial laughter.”
G.K. Chesterton once wrote: “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly. Never forget that the devil fell by force of gravity. He who has the faith has the fun.”
The Bible actually has many references to laughter and partying and having fun. Some examples:
- “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Prov. 17:22 ESV).
- “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Eccles. 3:4 ESV).
- “A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed” (Prov. 15:13 ESV).
- “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” (Luke 6:21 ESV).
- “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Ps. 32:11 ESV).
- “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Phil. 4:4 ESV).
- “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (Hab. 3:18 ESV).
- “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15 ESV).
- “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps. 118:24 ESV).
Abraham and Sarah have a good laugh when the men of God tell Sarah she is going to have a son at her age (see Gen 18+).
“Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’” (Gen. 17:17 ESV)
“So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?’” (Gen. 18:12 ESV).
“And Sarah said, ‘God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me’” (Gen. 21:6 ESV).
Jesus’ parable about the prodigal son (Luke 15) ends with the father throwing a huge party for the son that has returned: “We are going to have a feast, a celebration,” the father declared, “because this son of mine was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:23-24).
Some scholars believe that Jesus himself must have had the type of personality that draws people to him (how else can we explain crowds of 5000 and 4000 that forget to eat so Jesus feeds them); he was probably jovial and down-to-earth, especially when he was describing the religious leaders of the time. Those that followed him would have immediately known what he was talking about and started laughing. But Jesus would have also taken the time to go to parties and participate in what we would consider normal behavior. His first miracle (John 2), if you remember, took place at a wedding reception – a party!
Over and over, scriptures tell us to rejoice, to praise, to laugh – all those emotions that have to do with enjoying our relationship with God. It’s too bad that many Christians walk around and live their lives as if being a Christian was a chore and they struggle under a hard task master. When I was growing up, once in awhile we would go to dinner (lunch) after Sunday service. We always went to Ponderosa because they were about the only thing open and it wasn’t going to cost my dad a lot of money. I remember one Sunday, as we were walking into the restaurant, an older lady walked past us and then stopped. She asked my dad, “Are you Christians?” When he said, “Yes,” she replied, “I knew it because you all had smiles on your faces!” I didn’t think that much of it at the time, but it struck me enough that I have always remembered that encounter – because we had smiles on our faces!!
Joy is loose,
In the wiggles of the children,
The whispers of the youth,
The smiles of the adults.
We praise God for this glorious day,
Let the praise break forth
in the most unlikely places and in silly ways.
Joy and praise fill our hearts and in our songs
Let the laughter be deep,
for we are God's people.
Opening Prayer for Holy Humor Sunday
O Great Laughing God,
we come into your presence with joy and longing to be surprised.
We thank you that you have given to us the gift of laughter and delight.
These things give hints as to the nature of your purpose for us
and for all the earth.
May we find that in giving up to laughter
there is healing and hope and abundance and blessing.
Tickle our souls with the brush of your Spirit
to renew our worship and our living. Amen.
"A Smiling Joyful You" by Linda Mainard
Today I saw a picture of You with a smile upon Your face. My heart became so joyful, I felt filled with loving grace. So many times You've been remembered with expression full of pain. As if the thought of portraying You happy would somehow be a shame. Surely as a baby You giggled and filled Your Mother's heart with joy. And there must have been some mischief too as You grew to be a boy. I try to just imagine You at play or happily climbing up a tree. At twelve, when You amazed the teachers, it must have set Your heart
to glee. When You became a man and others gathered in curious fascination, I picture Your handsome face filled with wit and absolute jubilation. That first miracle You performed, quietly at the wedding festivities, Records a time of merriment in Your amazing life's activities. Those very solemn images have been depicted a million times it's true. But I'm so glad I can now envision a smiling and joyful You.
Scripture “Reading”: John 20:19-31 a la Dr. Seuss
by Rev. Dr. Jim Moiso,
Well, we had all gone hiding and we wondered what to do. Our lives, our dreams all broken and his God seemed absent too. Now saviors are not s'posed to die, but save us with God's power. Least that is what I used to think before that strange encounter. Absent was I the night he came, I don't remember what doing. We had not trusted Mary's word, "The Lord I've seen," proclaiming. Impossible. Preposterous. How could she believe such things? She's just a woman, that we knew. In grieving, to him she clings. And then he spoke, here's what he said, "Peace be with you, my friends." They must have looked all startled then 'cause "Peace" he said again. Amazed, remembered they his word the night before he died: God's peace he'd bring to us in life, our joy'd be multiplied. But then a strange thing happened. Why, Jesus appeared once more. He came right up before me, without even op'ning the door. No condemnation in his eyes, no judgment on his tongue. No halo, overwhelming light, just presence, wounds and love. My knees they shook, my eyes were blurred, a realist I always had been. In his presence I blurted out "My Lord and God," who'd risen.
— via Rev. Dennis R. Fakes Lodi, CA
A woman invited some people to dinner. At the table, she turned to her six-year-old daughter and said, "Would you like to say the blessing?"
"I wouldn't know what to say," the little girl replied.
"Just say what you hear Mommy say," the mother said.
The little girl bowed her head and said: "Dear Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?"
— via Charles Laine Franklin, TN
Message on the outside sign of Faith Temple Church, Sioux Falls, SD: "We welcome all denominations — $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100."
— via Rev. Jeff Hayes
Sunshine in My Soul Today (E.E. Hewitt)
Prayer for Holy Humor Sunday
You smiled and the sun burst through the shadows of chaos; you chuckled, and the platypus splashed in creation's fountain; you laughed, and all that is good and beautiful was given shape by you, Imaginative God. Snickering at the feeble attempts of the evil one, you showed us how to resist temptation; giggling at sin's desperate desire to hold on to us, you released us by your love; howling with laughter at death's foolish belief that the tomb could hold you, you burst forth into the kingdom as the stars pealed with joy, Laughing Jesus. As you fill us with new life, may we delight in sharing it with others; as you tell us the good news which can never be taken from us, may we rejoice in offering it to the broken, the sad, the lonely; as you tickle us with grace, may we give it away with laughter on our lips and joy in our hearts, Spirit of Easter. God in Community, Holy in One, our hearts overflow with wonder.
Knock, knock. Who's there? Lettuce. Lettuce who? Lettuce pray.
Knock, knock. Who’s there? Phillip. Phillip who? Fill up the plate as it's passed to you.
Knock, knock. Who’s there? Rita. Rita who? Read a Bible if you want to hear the good news.
Knock, knock. Who’s there? Luke. Luke who? Look all around you at the smiles on your neighbors.
Knock, knock. Who’s there? Gladys. Gladys who? Glad it's Sunday, aren't you?
Knock, knock. Who’s there? Oliver. Oliver who? All of our joys come from the Lord.
We believe in God,
who made us in His image.
We live, we love, we laugh,
because we are like Him.
We believe in Jesus Christ,
the Son of God, our Lord and Savior.
He had the last laugh on the devil
when He rose from the dead.
We believe in the Holy Spirit,
coequal and coeternal with the Father and the Son.
Our counselor, our guide, our motivator –
He is our joy!
The devil knew it was a trick, a trap, but couldn't help himself. He had to try to seize the opportunity to fry the Son of God. He knew that God could snap the trap at anytime, and change the map, so Jesus would go free. To crucify God's chosen one would mean he'd won; and give Almighty God a slap. Then Easter dawned: an empty tomb! Praise God! The devil lost again. He'd hoped he'd won, but, no, his evil scheme had come undone. Oh, what a trick God played on him - and called him 'April Fool!' Gee whiz - Oh, what an April Fool the devil was, and is.
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!'"
— via Andy Fisher Denville, NJ
Amid the laughter and celebration of this day, it’s good that we pause and remember that many carry burdens that need not be carried alone. God of grace, God of love and laughter, we thank you that we are so wondrously created and that we are made for relationship with you and with one another. We thank you for laughter with friends and loved ones. We thank you for the laughter of children, and the song it creates in our hearts. By your great unending love, you inspire in us a spirit of imagination and creativity. Help us to use that spirit to play more, to laugh more, and to create beauty in every way possible. Remind us to laugh out loud, for doing so will heal some of the wounds within us. Not all, but some. God, we pray for those who cannot find their laughter today. For those who are grieving, or suffering illness of body, mind or spirit...for those who are lonely and in need of someone to share their time and friendship... for those who have not yet moved into the season and spirit of Easter and find themselves stuck in the gloom of Good Friday. May these and the troubles of all your people be soothed, blessed, and comforted by your holy presence. May we each find the laughter within us that sets our spirits free, and in that freedom, may we take your love into every part of our lives. These and all the prayers of our hearts we offer now in the name of Jesus, who taught us to pray together saying, Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
None of us likes to look foolish, but which is sillier? Chasing after the world and all its gaudy trinkets which flatter our souls, or being a 'fool for Christ', imitating him in service to others, offering ourselves in love and joy to the world? Let us admit to God the foolish choices we make each and every day, as we pray, saying,
Prayer of Confession
You know better than we do, Amused God,
what important people we believe we are.
Believing we have to be serious all the time,
we miss out on the joy of your creation.
Choosing to feast on the pain of the world,
we skip the picnic offered in paradise.
Clinging to the despair which is our best friend,
we ignore Jesus.
who can bring us home to your heart. Forgive us, Heart of Joy,
and make us open to the startling, and upside-down, ways
in which you work. Fill us with Easter's laughter;
fill us with your healing joy;
fill us with the love poured into us
through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
(silent prayers may be offered)
Assurance of Pardon
The Gospels tell us over and over again of the joy which comes to us through Christ. When Jesus was around, lives were changed, the sick were healed, the sorrowful began to laugh with joy. The good news is that this joy is now given to us.
Through the Holy Spirit, we are gifted with joy.
We are sent forth to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bring healing to the broken,
to anoint everyone with the oil of gladness. Thanks be to God, we are forgiven. Amen.
God, are you still here? By Peter Olson
One Sunday in church after the service had ended and the congregation had paraded out toward the fellowship hall f
It had been a beautiful worship service. The sermon was inspiring and the music had been grande.
The congregation had paraded out of the sanctuary, shaking the pastor’s hand with thoughts of post-liturgical cookies and coffee on their mind. And as they gathered anew in the Fellowship Hall one could hear the scraping of chairs and the ruckus of laughter. And yet, not all were gathering for their small feast, for one small young boy had creeped out from his seat.
The congregation paraded out of the sanctuary, shaking the pastor’s hand with thoughts of post-liturgical cookies and coffee on their mind.
And as they gathered anew in the Fellowship Hall one could hear the scraping of chairs and the ruckus of laughter.
And yet, not all were gathering for their after-paschal feast, for one small young boy had creeped out from his seat.
Curiosity had struck the young lad as strong as pews were left empty and neat.
He crawled beneath the rows, bumping his head while pushing forward with his toes.
Finally, he revealed himself at the front of the church. He stood up, walked forward, and glanced all around.
With quiet steps he moved up by the altar and then to the pulpit. The lights were all out, the darkness enveloped.
A small tap let him know that the mic was still powered.
He looked around with a questioning eye before leaning forward and starting to speak.
A crackle of sound broke through the church—the laughing and scraping all stopped in the kitchen as the whole congregation paused to listen.
The words rang clear… their message true… the question was real, “God, are you still here?”
It’s a great question, really. Especially today—the first Sunday after Easter or, as I prefer to remember it—Holy Humor Sunday. When I first heard about Holy Humor Sunday, I thought it was just an attempt to bring some extra entertainment into the church. And while it can indeed bring a good deal of laughs, there is also a richness within the theology that I appreciate.
The custom of Holy Humor Sunday was rooted in the musings of early church theologians like Augustine and Gregory of Nyssa. They expressed the idea 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.
The Easter Laugh… isn’t that great? And part of the joy of it for me is that the Easter Laugh isn’t ignoring the suffering and death on the cross.
It isn’t like the old TV comedy, Hogan’s Heroes. There’s an episode when Newkirk, a British POW in a German POW Camp tries to make the camp commander, Kommadant Colonel Klink, think that the war is over before it really is.
Newkirk impersonates Adolf Hitler and puts out fake news on a radio message to the people of Germany telling everyone that if they hear false lies such as, “Berlin being in ruins or Hamburg being in shambles that… I order you not to believe these things.... even if they are true! And that no matter what happens we will all be together! In conclusion… I say, hide in your beds, work hard, fight dirty, and no matter what happens—keep smiling.”
For Colonel Klink, he couldn’t imagine being able to ‘keep smiling’ if all those rumors were indeed true and he hoped that perhaps Hitler had just had a bad day in Berchtesgaden.
The Easter Laugh isn’t that kind of fake, “Keep Smiling” mentality. The Easter Laugh doesn’t tell us to ignore the brokenness in the world. The Easter Laugh doesn’t tell us to ignore all the bad things in life and simply, “keep smiling.” Instead, the Easter Laugh is recognizing that just in the moment when defeat was a certainty that Christ pulls out the win.
It’s as though we were in the middle of a great baseball game with death… we’re down by three in the bottom of the third inning and we have two outs already. Then God steps up to bat and hits a homerun with the bases loaded. In the last possible moment, God wins the game that matters most—the game between life and death. And that huge upset is what inspires the Easter Laugh!
But there is a challenge with this Easter Laugh… and that challenge is what Thomas faced when he was reunited with the disciples after they had just experienced the risen Christ. It was as though the entire team witnessed the home run.... except for Thomas.
In Verse 25, Thomas receives only what ends up being accessible to the next generation of disciples and what all of the generations to follow receive—only the word. You see, Thomas hears the good news… but unlike the other disciples he doesn’t get to SEE the good news. In verse 25, he’s like you and me.
And, to be quite honest, there are times that I would feel a good deal more confident in my faith if I were able to have Jesus stand in front of me and I too could touch the wounds. But that is the very reason why this story is in scripture—to see the reality of what it is to believe.... and to have doubts.
The writings about Christ’s journey on earth, both prior to his death and after his resurrection are so much more than just a collection of good stories to cheer us up—they express the reality of the world. They reveal the brokenness of the world around us… and the brokenness within ourselves.
And yet… this is good news. God sees you for who you are. God sees the life you live, both the good and the bad. And God walks with you and even steps in as your pinch hitter. The pressure on you to win an impossible game is gone. Now, you can stand and celebrate.
You can cheer and laugh and be filled with the Joy of Christ not because the game of life is without struggle, but because you know that God has the final say.
And so that’s what I encourage you to do on this day and in the days to come. Whatever difficulties are up against you in life right now… whatever stress you are facing—remember who is next at bat.
Do you recall that question, “God, are you still here?” The answer is that even when the joy and excitement of church is over. When you are home alone or in the car, that the answer is always a resounding yes. God is still here and God will not leave you. And so there are a few things I want you to remember.
Remember that there is ALWAYS hope for the future.
Remember that there is ALWAYS new life.
Remember that question with certainty that God is indeed still here even when the pomp and celebration grows silent.
And when you remember these things, that is indeed enough reason to keep smiling.
Joyful, Joyful (version from Sister Act II)
Lord, grant me a joyful heart and a holy sense of humor.
Please give me the gift of faith,
to be renewed and shared with others each day.
Teach me to live this moment only,
looking neither to the past with regret,
nor to the future with apprehension.
Let love be my guide, and my life a prayer.
Go in laughter; go in grace.
Keep the Lord in your heart
and a smile on your face.
You Shall Go Out with Joy (The Trees of the Field) (Steffi Karen Rubin)
Materials borrowed from:
- Bing.com search for Holy Humor Sunday
Call to Worship: posted on Trinity United Parish, http://www.trinityunitedparish.org/lukeswordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/April-10.pdf, as found on https://re-worship.blogspot.com/2017/04/call-to-worship-holy-humor-sunday.html
Opening Prayer: from the United Church of Canada’s Bay of Quinte Conference website, http://www.bayofquinteconference.ca/ as found on https://re-worship.blogspot.com/2013/04/opening-prayer-great-laughing-god.html
Prayer for Holy Humor Sunday: Thom M. Shuman, as found on https://re-worship.blogspot.com/2011/04/opening-prayer-for-laughter-sunday.html
Affirmation of Faith: posted on the website of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Conroe, Texas, http://www.firstchristianchurchconroe.org/ as found on https://re-worship.blogspot.com/2014/04/holy-humor-affirmation-of-faith.html
Prayer of Intercession: posted by Sue as found on https://re-worship.blogspot.com/2012/03/prayers-of-people-holy-humor-sunday.html
Call to Reconciliation, Prayer of Confession, and Assurance of Pardon: written by Thom Shumanhttp://lectionaryliturgies.blogspot.com/ as found on https://re-worship.blogspot.com/2012/03/confession-for-holy-humor-sunday.html
“God, are you still here?” by Peter Olson, as found on https://sermons.faithlife.com/sermons/177824-holy-humor-sunday-2017
Closing Prayer: from Holy Humor Sunday celebrations at Roscoe United Methodist Church, Illinios, as found on https://re-worship.blogspot.com/2011/04/worship-resources-for-laughter-holy.html