John 20: 19-29 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Northwood United ~ April 11, 2021
Holy Humour…a place for theological insight
Now that we are well into our worship service, I am guessing that you are thinking one of two things: ‘we need more humour at Northwood, why doesn’t Rev. Scott do this more often?’ Or…‘I don’t like this Holy Humour theme one bit, I am writing to the Church Board!’ But before you pronounce judgment on things, I would like for you, just for a moment, to ponder with me the nature of humour. What makes something funny?…What makes a comedian good at their craft? How is humour created and what does it accomplish? Because I think that if you will stay with me for a little, we will gain further insight into the nature of what is actually happening in this morning’s biblical text that Ian just read for us.
God desire for our laughter
And, as I think theologically (because that is my day job) I think that God wants us to laugh. If we laughed more, we would be healthier. The more laughter that is found in any church setting: study group, worship service or any church gathering for that matter…the more people get out of it. And yes…I would even extend that to a funeral, which is all the more ‘real’ when it is punctuated with both tears and laughter. There is of course a place for solemnity and respect but I don’t think that laughter is disrespectful when it draws people in, when it widens the circle, when it helps people feel included. There is nothing like laughing with someone to feel closer to them.
A locked room filled with people’s fear
I think this morning’s theme provides a unique perspective to look at this well-known passage of the ‘Doubting Thomas’, this morning. It is clear in the text that the joyful Easter feeling is missing: the wonder and awe that Mary experienced in the garden had faded, and there is fear in the air. The day has gone on and we find the disciples now in a locked room, away from the crowds, and afraid for their life. There is not a lot of humour here…but stay with me. We can imagine that they are all subdued and quiet and still in deep grief. This eve after the Easter resurrection, the disciples are locked away in fear; they are afraid that they too will be branded as treasonous and the next ones to be crucified. They are stuck in fear and do not know what to do next. Jesus had taught and guided. And now with Jesus gone, they are at loose ends, with no direction, with no purpose, locked away in a room. What do you do when the one who gave your group meaning and cohesion is gone? Afraid, lost, grieving and locked in a room, this is this the setting for the unfolding of this Easter eve text.
The next ‘Easter Moment’
And here is the part that is truly another ‘Easter moment.’ In the midst of their fear; in the midst of their trepidation; in the midst of their confusion, grief, and loneliness…Christ comes. Christ walks through every human blockage and boundary. Christ comes through the locked door; Christ comes when no one is expecting him; Christ comes when the imaginations and possibilities have closed. And he says…“Peace.” He shows his scars; he is not a ghost; it is him. And again, he speaks… “Peace be with you.” And now, go and share the Good News…and now, go and live the gospel. Or, as John puts it “as my Father has sent me, so I send you” and then Christ breathes upon them. Breath – life – ruah – the Hebrew word for “spirit.” Jesus breathes upon the disciples enlivening them and releasing them from their fear, from their grief, from their lack of purpose. This moment…this is the moment that the disciples are gifted with Easter joy. These disciples have had the resurrection blown into them. There must have been much laughter as Jesus was among them again. And they must have felt a deep joy as they witnessed God’s biggest joke of all: the joke God played upon death.
Thomas finds joy
But there was one character missing…Thomas was not there. Thomas did not witness these events. As much as the other disciples try to convince him of Christ coming in their midst, Thomas refused to believe. How true is this for us too? That as much as we may want to believe based on another’s experience; as much as we may wish we could jump on the bandwagon…unless we experience it ourselves, it has no meaning. The stories of others just don’t do it for us because they are not our stories. We want our own moment; we want to have Christ come to us. And here Easter comes again…God pulling another joke on death…Easter! Not more than a week later, comes again to Thomas and Thomas is able to touch the wounds; Thomas is able to feel the holy presence; Thomas is able to be ~ just like the others ~ transformed. Thomas shares in the laughter and feels the joy. This is Thomas’ Easter when he is transformed. God laughs at death in Easter, and the world changes for Thomas now too! Thomas must have laughed in joy! New life began because God played a joke on death. The disciples were released from their places of fear; their places of being ‘stuck.’ They were then able to leave that room; they opened that shut door and began to a live a new life, to live as new people, to share the good News of God as they became the living body of Christ.
The very essence of sin is taking ourselves too seriously
The great theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr observes that “the very essence of sin is taking ourselves too seriously.” And if that’s true, the very essence of grace is to receive the gift of laughter, especially when the joke is on us, particularly when the most laughable incongruities consist of the gap between who we are and who God would have us be. We human beings are funny and we often take ourselves far too seriously Let’s face it we need to laugh: laugh at ourselves, laugh at the world, laugh with God because we do some pretty foolish things. So, let us thank God for the gift of laughter, the senses of humour and joy and love, for it is what make us human and make life worth living deeply. Let us thank God for life and laughter; for hope and humour; for jokes and joy. Let us remember not to take ourselves too seriously. And let us especially thank God, that God does not take us too seriously either! Amen.