I’m a big Monty Python fan. Yes, I’m one of those people who make many women roll their eyes when they quote the British comedy troupe’s work.
A memorable bit from their television series, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, recounts the discovery of a joke so funny that it made people laugh to death. Military intelligence had a team translate the joke so no one would be exposed to the entire text, and then soldiers would shout out the translation in unison on the battlefront to defeat the enemy.
The Christian faith has a joke that is even more powerful than that — Easter. Early church theologians proclaimed that it represented “God’s supreme joke played on death” and used the phrase Risus paschalis, “the Easter laugh.”
Over the centuries, the week after Easter became associated with “days of joy and laughter,” concluding with the following Sunday, called Bright Sunday or Holy Humor Sunday. During the week, Jesus’ resurrection was celebrated not only with picnics and parties, but also by pastors and their churchgoers, with jokes, singing, dancing, drenching others with water and playing practical jokes on each other.
(At this point you may be looking at the date on this issue and wondering if your leg is being pulled. It’s not.)
Former newspaper reporter Cal Samra tells how he was ready to end his life until he encountered a Franciscan priest who shared jokes with him over a meal. The priest’s joyful attitude — and the print of a smiling Christ on his wall — gave Samra a new perspective on life.
In 1988, the Fellowship of Merry Christians, founded by Samra, began encouraging churches to celebrate Holy Humor Sunday.
Many have done just that, with some online sermons that might remind you of a standup routine. From balloons, bathrobes and butterflies to funny t-shirts, smiley faces and kazoos, churches have found a host of creative ways to embrace the day.
A Tampa Bay Tribune article (tinyurl.com/TBO-humor) noted an unidentified Missouri church that posted a sign outside its door: “If you must sleep in on Sundays, sleep in here,” then stacked sleeping bags in the back pews for naps during the service.
You can find a host of ideas for your church — along with jokes, stories, cartoons and profiles on Samra’s Joyful Noiseletter site (joyfulnoiseletter.com) or at 800-877-2757. “The Joyful Noiseletter,” is available monthly for $29 per year and contains humor and cartoons that can be reprinted. Download a free sample issue at tinyurl.com/joyfulnoiseletter.
More about Holy Humor Sunday can be found at newcelebrations.com/risus_paschalis.htm and tinyurl.com/beliefnet-HumorSunday. Many other online resources are available. Here is a broad sample of holy humor:
• The Internet Evangelism Day site has a Christian humor page, which notes, “The Gospel is too serious a matter to present in a serious manner.” Among its resources is a free download of Leslie Flynn’s Serve Him with Mirth (internetevangelismday.com/mirth.php).
• Crosswalk’s humor section (crosswalk.com/fun)
• Author James Watkins’ Hope and Humor site provides “hopeful humor” — 200 helpful articles on a variety of issue-based topics.
• The Bag-O-Laughs blog (grantsgraceland.org/bag)
• “Churches ad hoc,” photo essays of churches by Herman Krieger (efn.org/~hkrieger/intro.htm)
• Church sign sayings at sblom.com/cbs
May the joy of shared faith bless your church with the gift of giggle.
Ken Satterfield is Word&Way’s advertising/marketing coordinator and a former media specialist.