April 24, 2022
My sister and I are not allowed to sit next to each other in church. We were officially banned from doing so by our parents after one Sunday service. See, what had happened was I was home from college, and we decided to switch things up by sitting in a different place in the church, but it was just the two of us. The thing is, my sister and I love to be the peanut gallery—and unfortunately, we kept up that habit during the pastor’s sermon. But that wasn’t what got us banned, oh no. What got us banned was that Katherine said something that really tickled my funny bone, and I simply couldn’t stop laughing. And since I couldn’t stop laughing, she couldn’t stop laughing either. Well, cue some dagger eyes from my mom and five minutes of calming down and we ended up banned from ever sitting next to each other in church again.
I hope we have all had that kind of experience. Not the getting banned part, but the laughing part. When something that shouldn’t be that funny just tickles your funny bone, and the laughter becomes contagious, and everyone agrees afterward that whatever set it off really wasn’t funny enough to deserve that much laughter—but everyone had a good time anyway. And something that’s interesting about that kind of laughter—the kind you just can’t stop—is that it only happens with certain people. Have you ever noticed that? We only laugh like that with certain people, people that we feel the closest to and the most comfortable with.
Apparently, that’s not just a coincidence. Scientists have asked the question of why we laugh, and the best theory so far is closely connected to how we laugh easiest with people we’re most comfortable with. Laughter, sincere laughter, it’s been found, doesn’t happen unless you feel safe and comfortable. You can always tell when someone is uncomfortable when their laugh doesn’t sound genuine. Scientists have even suggested that laughter emerged as a signal to let others know that you’re safe and that things are okay. We laugh because we know things are okay.
I imagine there was a lot of laughter that morning after the disciples saw that Jesus was alive. Here they were, locked away in the upper room with this wild story that Mary Magdalene had told them about Jesus, but things weren’t settled yet. As far as they knew, Jesus was still dead. The awfulness of Friday was still hanging on. It wasn’t safe and it wasn’t comfortable—they were locked for fear that they’d be next, after all. And then suddenly Jesus shows up in their midst! Just like how a punchline to a joke is an unexpected twist in the story, so too was Jesus showing up, very much alive and very much not following the expected storyline.
Because Jesus was supposed to stay dead. Satan thought he’d gotten the Son of God, only to have him slip free and break death’s power forever! There was a TikTok that I saw recently where this pastor has a regular exchange with an old friend who happens to be a Satanist (I know, bear with me). She says her friend always texts her sometime between noon and 3:00 on Good Friday, “We got him!!!” And she always texts back sometime early Sunday morning, “Didn’t keep him long did you?” God’s unexpected punchline of the resurrection is the moment we can all laugh at Satan and at death for having the wool pulled over their eyes when they thought they’d gotten Jesus.
And we can laugh about that in church! I know worship services seem like they should be solemn, serious things, but God wants us to laugh! God is a big fan of humor—in fact, if you read the Old Testament in Hebrew you’d realize that literally one half of the Bible is joking ironies and the other half is puns. No, scratch that. All of it is puns. God loves a good pun, let me tell you.
And God loves humor because laughter makes the world a better place. A good joke is healing because it reminds us not to take ourselves too seriously. Laughing breaks the mold of needing to be in control of everything because God decided nothing is too important to laugh about. And just as important, when we laugh, we trust. God loves laughter because laughter means we are comfortable, safe, and trusting that God is here with us now.
It’s what Jesus is inviting Thomas to do in today’s gospel reading.
See, any time we see the word “believe” in the New Testament, we could just as easily replace it with “trust.” Jesus isn’t asking Thomas to look at the available evidence and agree that it is, in fact, true that Jesus rose from the dead. Instead, he’s inviting Thomas to get in on the laughter, to let go of the tension and worry that had been with the disciples since Friday, to realize that he can be comfortable enough to laugh that things really are different! Trust is the foundation of genuine laughter, remember, and Jesus wants Thomas to feel that same trust—and the best part is that Thomas does! He gets to laugh with the rest of the disciples because he gets the chance to trust.
Jesus invites us into that same kind of trust. We’re blessed when we trust—not because it’s some kind of head knowledge that blesses us, but because that trust lets us laugh at death, to join in the joke God pulled on Satan, to experience the lightness and joy of a world where we don’t have to be so serious. We’re blessed because the joke is funny, and the joke is funny because it’s true—no joke is funny if there isn’t at least some truth to it. And the truth is that Jesus is alive! He’s alive and is with us, bringing us new life and freeing us from the somber seriousness of people who can’t laugh at anything the devil might throw at us.
So let’s take the time to laugh in church. Let’s laugh at the ways that God makes the world lighter and funnier and happier. Let’s read the Bible and hear the horrible puns that fill it. Let’s giggle at the ways we’ve convinced ourselves to be so serious about everything this hour. Let’s get our funny bones tickled by God’s ability to turn the most serious of things—sin, death, and the devil—and mock their power with a crucified and risen savior.
By that laughter, we are blessed.
Thanks be to God. Amen.