Recently, someone asked on a Christian Website: How should you celebrate the day after Easter?
We’ve all heard the debates over how to celebrate the actual holiday, with Christians arguing with each other over whether or not the pagan symbols of eggs, furry bunnies and marshmallow Peeps are spiritually detrimental.
But the day after Easter? Don’t we all just go back to work with leftover ham sandwiches in our lunch boxes?
In 15th century Bavaria, as a group of monks pondered the meaning of the somber events of holy week — Maundy Thursday’s observance of Christ’s Last Supper, his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and his arrest and Good Friday’s remembrance of Christ’s agony and crucifixion — one of the monks began laughing, one of those huge belly laughs, shattering the quiet of their contemplation.
It’s said that the monk who laughed told the others, “Don’t you see? It was a joke! The Resurrection was the best joke in all history. On Good Friday when Jesus was crucified, the devil thought he had won. But God had the last laugh on Easter when he raised Jesus from the dead.”
The monks called it Risus Paschalis, “the Easter laugh.” Word spread and the day after Easter became known as a day of joy and laughter, to be celebrated with joke telling. Monks in monasteries particularly enjoyed the custom.
In some churches, the Sunday after Easter is known as Holy Humor Sunday, observed with jokes and all around good times.
As the song goes, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart” and “if the devil doesn’t like it, he can sit on a tack” and all that levity and frivolity.
I do believe that laughter and lightness belong in church, but I wonder about mandated or scheduled humor. There’s nothing more depressing and maddening than someone telling you to be of good cheer on a day when life just flat out stinks on toast.
That said, I agree with the original laughing Bavarian monk that the Resurrection is God’s great joke on the enemy of our souls and the basis of why we can and should laugh the day after Easter and the day after that and the day after that.
However, I also believe that sometimes our laughter can be expressed through our tears and even in our grief.
We are surrounded by difficulties — war and threats of war. Divorce. Disease. Disaster. Joblessness. Homelessness. Hopelessness. Meaninglessness. Broken hearts. Broken promises. Broken dreams.
Even life’s best moments often leave us empty.
We laugh, not because these things aren’t true and we don’t suffer them, but because the Resurrection of Christ is our great hope that one day God will fix everything that’s broken.
Nineteenth-century theologian Oswald Chambers once said that Christians are “hilarious when crushed with difficulties because the thing is so ludicrously impossible for anyone but God.”
Our laughter is our worship, our way of saying, “You are God and I am not. If you can raise Christ from the dead, surely you can care for me.”
How should we celebrate the day after Easter?
Maybe with a joke. Maybe with tears. Most definitely with a sense that, as C.S. Lewis once wrote, one day “everything that’s sad will become untrue.”
Shortly before he died, Jesus told his followers, “A little while and you will not see me, and again in a little while you will see me.” He added, “Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned to joy” (John 16:19-20).
I imagine on that first Easter morning Jesus’ followers laughed with utter amazement to see their risen friend. “We buried you! We saw you dead! You’re alive?! This is nuts!”
Two thousand years later, Jesus’ words still apply as we suffer through this life: “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned to joy.” He also said, “In this world you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
One day God will wipe away all our tears. He will right all wrongs, fix everything that’s broken, restore what has been destroyed or robbed from us.
Therefore, in anticipation of that day, even if we cry, we laugh.
Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via e-mail at email@example.com.