Are we downplaying the unbridled joy of our faith?
Frederick Buechner, the well-known writer, refers to his conversion in several of his writings. According to Buechner, he was living in New York City and happened to attend a worship service at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church. The great preacher George Buttrick was pastor of the church at that time and was preaching on the morning Buechner attended. According to Buechner, he was overcome when Buttrick proclaimed, “Jesus Christ refused the crown that Satan offered him in the wilderness, but he is king nonetheless because again and again he is crowned in the heart of the people who believe in him. And that inward coronation takes place among confession and tears and great laughter.”
Buechner confesses it was the phrase “great laughter” that got him. The idea of Jesus laughing with us as he shares his victory over death, of us laughing in our freedom from sin and brokenness. It was an image Buechner was unable to get over.
I get it. I think Jesus laughed a lot. I think Jesus’ disciples laughed a lot. After all, you don’t get the reputation of being an out-of-control partier unless you laugh … and laugh a lot. Some of the stories in the gospels are hilarious. Well, at least they are funny to me.
Like the time Jesus asks his disciples if they could grow an inch by worrying. When everyone agrees no one could do that, he dismisses them by saying if they couldn’t do a small thing like that, worrying was a waste of time.
If they couldn’t do a small thing like that … Do you know how famous you would be if you could grow and shrink at will? You could have your own show in Las Vegas. People would pay a lot of money to watch you get big and get small. Scientists would want to study you and discover your secret. If you could add inches to your height, you would be a superstar! Yet, Jesus says this is small potatoes. I guess it’s the kind of thing we will learn when we get to heaven and attend Angel 101 class.
There’s more. At the wedding at Cana, Mary tells Jesus, “We have no wine.” Now, all of us have mothers who have used that same tone of voice with us. When they say things like, “Your room sure is messy,” or “The grass sure is high.” You know that’s not information. Our mothers are giving us one last chance to do something. Mary wasn’t giving Jesus information. She was expecting him to do something. Jesus had heard that tone of voice before. Then, when Jesus tells Mary it’s not time yet, she blows him off. She turns and tells the servants to do exactly what Jesus tells them to do because she knows Jesus is going to do something.
Now, that’s funny.
I used to get in trouble all of the time for laughing in church. When I was a boy, there were few crimes more heinous than getting caught laughing in church. Nothing would get my mom moving out of the choir loft and down the aisle to where I was sitting faster than when me and my friends were laughing in church. No, we’re taught that God, sin, heaven and hell are serious subjects and if you were laughing then you weren’t taking your faith seriously enough. I’ve even had people tell me I laugh too much during my sermons. Again, I wasn’t serious enough during my preaching if I laughed too much.
But I am serious about faith. I am serious about the gospel. That’s why I laugh so much. Remembering how Christ has forgiven me brings a smile to my face and if I’m remembering the right moment, the smile will break into laughter. Knowing I am loved by the Father with a love no human can comprehend makes me laugh out loud. Knowing I am free in Christ makes me joyous—and I laugh.
One of Eugene O’Neill’s lesser-known plays is called, “Lazarus Laughed.” It’s the story of Lazarus after his resurrection. When people ask him what the afterlife is like, he just laughs. His laughter is so full and rich that people come to faith in Christ just listening to the laughter. When the Romans threaten to kill him, Lazarus just laughs. After all, what will the Romans do? Kill him? Lazarus has already died once and he’s no longer afraid. He just laughs.
There is a spontaneous joy to our redemption. There is a laughter of the redeemed that the world can’t squelch. There is a freedom to our living that can’t be taken away. So, find your joy again. Let the Spirit lighten your burden until laughter comes easily. Then, laugh. The world will want to know why you are so light-hearted in a world full of trouble. Simple, we’ll say, he’s overcome the world so we laugh.
We’ll laugh in heaven … a lot. I think it’s OK to laugh in church. I’m certain Jesus would approve.
This article originally appeared on the Jesus Creed blog and is reposted here by permission.