Acts 5:27-32 – Psalm 118:14-29 – Psalm 150 – Revelation 1:4-8 – John 20:19-31
Homily for Morning Prayer, April 28, 2019 (Spiritual Director Pat Vine)
I read that in a growing number of churches, the Sunday after Easter is a day that is designated as Holy Humor Sunday. They say the custom goes back as far as the 4th century when church fathers Augustine and John Chrysostom proclaimed that God played a joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. They called it the Easter laugh.
So in keeping with this theme, here’s some holy humor…
A neighbor asked Joseph of Arimathea why he gave his beautiful hand-hewn tomb to someone else. Joseph replied, "Well, he only needed it for the weekend."
Here’s another one:
The teacher asked of the little girl, "What are you drawing?"
"I'm drawing God," the girl said.
"But no one knows what God looks like!" the teacher said.
Without looking up, the little girl replied, "They will in a minute!"
We Christians are a joyful people! Right? If you’re wondering about hilarity and mirth, here are seven of the benefits of laughter:
· lowers blood pressure
· reduces stress hormone levels
· it works your abs
· improves cardiac health
· boosts immune system T-cells
· triggers the release of endorphins that help ease chronic pain, and
· produces an overall sense of well-being.
All of these benefits make you want to fit some laughter into every day of your life! I think our church fathers were onto something by designating today as Holy Humor Sunday.
Now to today’s Gospel, where we temporarily switch gears from joy and laughter to the emotion of fear.
John tells us in his gospel that the disciples find themselves inside the Upper Room with the doors locked, the place where they had had their last meal with Jesus before his journey to Calvary. John also tells us that the doors of the house where the disciples met were locked for fear of the unbelieving Jews. They were extremely afraid that they would suffer the same fate as their Lord.
I wonder if the disciples lock themselves in the Upper Room because it is a familiar place and the presence of their Lord still lingers there, where they shared the Passover meal together, where Jesus had washed their feet. (Pause)
When you are afraid, do you seek a familiar place or a person who can comfort and reassure you?
Let’s stop here for a moment and use our imaginations. Close your eyes and imagine yourself in that upper room among the disciples that day. (Pause) Can you sense and feel the fear that permeates each of the disciples in that room? The fear of suffering and death? (Pause) Are you able to feel that fear with them? You’re all afraid and don’t know what to do. Take time to consider with them the uncertainty about their future on that day. (Pause)
Continue keeping your eyes, closed… (Pause) Now, in their midst in the quiet room, you and the disciples are about to experience something totally unexpected…seeing the face of Jesus and His physical body, when He appears greeting you with “Peace be with you.” Two days ago you saw him die on the cross! But today, the realization slowly comes upon you and the disciples that Jesus is alive! Jesus has come back from the dead!! Now, in your imagination, let those feelings of joy rise up in you. (Pause) You and the disciples burst out in revels of rejoicing when you see the Lord. Join with the disciples right now in saying or shouting out loud what you would say upon seeing Jesus in His resurrected body! (Wait for responses).
You may open your eyes now.
Can you imagine that laughter and tears of joy might have been some of the responses they had upon seeing Jesus alive? John says they rejoiced!! Rejoicing can encompass gladness, elation, cheer, jubilation, euphoria, delirium, ecstasy, rapture, exultation, glory, triumph, celebration, revelry, and merrymaking…it is a holy humor day for the disciples…and for you!
No wonder Jesus says a second time, “Peace be with you.” He has to calm them down twice so they could hear what he has to say.
How sad that Thomas misses this unexpected and wonderful initial reunion! But think of how much love Jesus has for Thomas that he gives him a second chance, as he does for each of us, too.
One week later, Jesus institutes an instant replay of his appearance in the very same room where he had appeared the week before. This time Thomas is there with the disciples. Jesus arrives with the same greeting, “Peace be with you” directing Thomas to place his finger and hand on His wounds. Thomas is beside himself to have this personal encounter with Jesus, and responds with utter faith and joy, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus chides Thomas to believe and not doubt. And Thomas claims Jesus as his Lord and his God. Their personal relationship is cemented with those words.
So the fear that you and the disciples first experience in the upper room melts as you all see Jesus in his resurrected body. Thomas experiences the resurrected Jesus. Joy and gratitude emerge at seeing their Lord…joy and gratitude replace the fear that you and the disciples experienced earlier.
Here’s something interesting I’ve learned: I read that in recent years, neuroscientists have discovered that fear and gratitude don’t exist in the same parts of our brains. Fear resides in the amygdala, the “reptilian” part of our brain. Feelings of gratitude activate our neo-cortex, the front of the brain with our “higher thinking” and more recently evolved capabilities. Indeed, researchers now believe that gratitude and fear cannot exist at the same time – that gratitude actually processes fear, effectively minimizing and taming it, giving us human beings the possibility of acting with courage, hope, joy, and compassion.
Let’s think about this for a minute. Take to time to look at something that you are fearful about. How can you turn that fear into gratitude? (Pause)
Here’s an example from my own life. One of my fears is that of taking a fall and breaking a bone. What I can do to turn this fear into gratitude is to thank God that I can walk, that I am able to sit and stand, that I got out of bed on this side of the grass this morning. Simple? Yes. Profound? Absolutely. The more grateful I become, the less fearful I am. As I dwell on gratitude, the fear dissipates.
Gratitude that Jesus is alive, along with the presence of the Holy Spirit that Jesus breathes on them, enables the disciples to overcome their fears. It gives them joy and boldness. It gives you joy and boldness. It enables Thomas to believe and claim Jesus as “My Lord and my God.” Are you able to claim Jesus as your Lord and your God? Would you like a personal encounter with Jesus as Thomas had? All you have to do is ask.
We are so grateful to Jesus that He has made the extremely hard decision to give up His will and go to the cross for us, to save us from our sins. And God the Father has the last laugh when He raises Jesus from the dead, conquering sin and death and enabling us to enter into eternal life, beginning here and now, as followers of Jesus, as those having an intimate relationship with Him.
I’ll conclude with a short prayer…
Let us pray:
Gracious and loving God, we are so grateful that you sent your Son Jesus to become one of us—to experience our humanness in every way yet without sin. He experienced fear as we do, and he told you many, many times how grateful He was to you for your blessings. Instill gratefulness in each and every one of us so that fear will have less room in us trust in you will grow you more and more in every area of our lives. Enable us to have a personal experience with your son. We pray this in your son’s name, Jesus Christ, whom you resurrected from the dead! Amen.