Date: April 11, 2021
Bible Text: Psalm 126, Luke 7:30-35 | Bart Smith
Why, do you think, did they call Jesus a glutton and a drunkard?
Was it as a contrast to John the Baptist, the leader of another movement? John was an ascetic. Remember him? “He wore camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey,” the gospels tell us. John was a leader of a sect who lived in such ways. They had their critics too, I’m sure.
Did they call Jesus a glutton and a drunkard because of who he invited to his parties? I have a strong hunch that was a centerpiece to their objections. When anybody can come to a social gathering — actually when “nobodies” can come to a party — that really messes with the social order. Inclusion can be threatening.
I believe there’s a very simple answer to the question. The simplest explanation is... he actually liked to have fun. That he was charismatic, and charismatic not just because of his teachings and healings. How many magnetic people have you met that didn’t have a good sense of humor? And more than that, that he was fully human. It stands to reason that the fully human one who was also fully God, the Creator who clearly has a playful sense of humor if you look at platypi and many of the things that humans do, had a sense of humor. He was joyful. He was clever; look at the parables! He oozed a sense of the abundant goodness of life.
So, in the name of the one derided as a glutton and a drunkard, since we shouldn’t feast together just yet, let’s tell some jokes and funny stories. There’s an ancient tradition called Holy Humor Sunday. You can maybe assign the blame to many forces and characters for why we stopped practicing it generations ago: the hyper focus of Western Christianity on sin; allegedly dour John Calvin and his lot; Puritanism and the Protestant Work Ethic; your grouchy ministers growing up; and a lot of other easy targets. I personally think it's something to do with not wanting to look foolish or lose control. Whoever’s to blame, let’s recover it!
A preaching professor in Kentucky, Dr. Leah Schade, summarizes this tradition well:
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. So on this Sunday after Easter, parishioners and pastors played practical jokes on each other, drenched each other with water, sang, and danced. It was a time for clergy and people to tell jokes and to have fun.
I recruited a few certifiably funny people to get us started but then we’ll open up the floor to anyone who wants to share…
[Special thanks to our “ringers,” Girard Anderson, Aya Ruth Kinnison, Mari Kinnison, Clark Arnold, and Art Almquist. Watch the whole thing on our YouTube channel.]
“Laughter,” Anne Lamott observed, “is carbonated holiness.”
What this practice is really about is giving permission to experience joy, even in, especially in, worship. God wants good things for us, God desires our health and wholeness — body, mind, soul, and spirit — and the healing power of laughter is well-documented. (Side note: “laughter therapy” is a real thing, and there are practitioners here in Tucson.) Laughter and humor and all of that is really about joy. Joy, in a lot of respects, is resistance.
Joy pushes back against all that the powers of evil and the tragedies of life throw at us. As Zora Neale Hurston penned in Dust Tracks on a Road, “I have been in Sorrow's kitchen and licked out all the pots. Then I have stood on the peaky mountain wrapped in rainbows, with a harp and a sword in my hands.”
Joy comes from a connection to what is ultimately true, a connection that is unshaken by the circumstances of life. That’s why the empty tomb is joy-inspiring, that’s why Easter is joyful, that’s why we aim to be “a joyful community that celebrates God’s love,” because we know down i our bone marrow that “nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38)
The joke's on you, Death!