When I was a new Christian, I discovered a portrait of Jesus called the “Laughing Christ” at a Christian book store.
At the time I was attending a serious church, a church where the thought of Jesus laughing was most likely frowned on. Maybe Jesus smiled at babies and puppies, but telling jokes with his friends? God forbid.
Consequently, because the serious people at that serious church were so serious about their Christian faith, they presented Jesus as serious too. Serious equals somber and sober, which equals humorless and kinda mean.
Not that Jesus was mean, but some of his followers were.
So, when I saw the “Laughing Christ” portrait, I found it appealing and compelling, yet rather confusing. That wasn’t at all how I pictured Jesus.
At that church, we sang, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart,” but frankly, that joy didn’t seem to generate much laughter. That joy was way, way, way, way down in our hearts.
There were some nice people at that church, but not too many who were fun to be around. Thankfully, we moved away after about a year and found friendlier churches.
Over the years, that image of Jesus laughing has stayed with me. I love the thought of the son of God throwing back his head in utter delight.
I believe that Easter is the reason Jesus laughed and the reason Christians should be serious about laughing too.
A few years ago, I found an account of some 15th-century Bavarian monks. As they pondered the meaning of the somber events of holy week — Maundy Thursday’s observance of Christ’s Last Supper and his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, his arrest and trial and then Good Friday’s remembrance of Christ’s brutal death on the Cross — one of the monks started laughing, and not just an amused twitter. This was a big belly laugh.
As the story goes, the monk told the other monks, “Don’t you see? The Resurrection was a joke — the best joke in all history. When Jesus died, 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.”
I love that! Jesus laughing, Bavarian monks laughing, Christians laughing.
We’ve got the “joy, joy, joy, joy down in our hearts,” or at least we should.
When I think of that serious church I had attended, I think about why the people may have seemed so grumpy. It’s just my speculation, but I think they took sin too lightly.
Well, they were very serious about the “world’s” sin and the sin of everyone else, but not so much their own. By that I mean they thought they could manage their own sin. They certainly had enough rules.
Back then, I thought I could manage my sin too, until I realized I couldn’t.
Years ago, I told a group of Lutheran women at their “Experience the Joy!” retreat: “Real joy is knowing the depth of your sin and the extent of your idolatry.” Because unless you know that even your smallest sin caused the death of Christ you’ll never be able to fully appreciate the greatness of God’s grace, demonstrated in the Cross and then the Resurrection. We can’t do anything about our sin — and that’s great news.
There’s a hymn that goes, “My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought! My sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!”
Do you hear the laughter in that?
It’s found in knowing you’re forgiven everything, past, present and future. That should make you laugh.
The message of Good Friday is that Jesus suffered and died for our sin. His death was real and necessary, a death that we deserved to die. For that, we grieve. For that, we are grateful.
But the message of Easter is that Jesus didn’t stay dead. He simply threw off the grave clothes, got up and walked out of the tomb, alive and well.
Like the monk had said, Christ’s Resurrection was the great joke of God.
It’s as we sing: “No more let sin and sorrow grow, nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.”
Joy to the world, friends. It’s time to 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 email at email@example.com.