Back in July, members of Orfordville Lutheran got together for a family fun event to play bocce ball, swim in the pool, laugh together, and, of course, to eat food. It was one of my favorite moments of the summer. Summer can be a time for friends, families, and communities to have fun and laugh together. I wonder, where have you seen God in your moments joy and laughter?
Sometimes we miss the spiritual side of our joy, because we have been taught that religion is serious business for serious people. Just think, for example, of the portrayal of Christians in popular culture. They are rarely portrayed as joyful. I think of the ironically named Reverend Lovejoy from the TV show The Simpsons. Despite his name, he is not often portrayed as joyful, laughing, or even smiling.
In the Bible, however, joy is often described as a part of our relationship with God. Joy, for instance, is listed among of the fruits of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. In Psalm 65, even the pastures, hills, meadows, and valleys of creation are described as shouting and singing for joy. (Picture that the next time you’re driving through hilly country!) In the Gospel of Luke, Mary moves from fear to joy when the angel Gabriel announces that she will give birth to Jesus (Luke 1:47). St. Paul, as a final example, calls on Christians to share in the joys and sorrows of others, saying: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). In 1 Thessalonians, 5:16, he goes even further: “Rejoice always.”
Laughter is also an underrated part of Christian spirituality, in my experience. Sometimes there even seems to be a fear of laughing in worship and other religious spaces.
One of the best stories of laughter in the Bible is the birth of Isaac in Genesis. When Sarah hears she will give birth to a child in her old age, she can’t help but laugh. When the child is born, Sarah says, “God has brought laughter for me, everyone who hears will laugh with me” (Genesis 21:6 NRSV). The child himself is named Isaac, which means “he will laugh.”
After Christ’s resurrection, I believe we all get to share in Sarah’s kind of laughter. It’s the laughter of those surprised by God’s grace and goodness. The Reformer Martin Luther joined in this deep humor when he told his students to laugh and scorn the devil away. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul even begins to mock and laugh at death, saying: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” Sometimes when God pulls new life out of death, like some kind of cosmic magician, all we can do is laugh like Sarah did. If we can’t crack a smile after saying, “Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!,” I don’t know what we can smile about.
I’m not saying that we should pretend to be happy all the time. Certainly, there are times of grief and times that call for seriousness. God is with us in times of joy, sadness, fear, anger, confusion, or wherever you find yourself this day.
But I am saying that moments of joy, fun, and laughter can be holy moments. People who laugh and rejoice together will be ready to weep together when the time comes. People who are humble enough to laugh at their mistakes are often willing to extend grace and forgiveness to others as well. It means that I can look back at that afternoon eating food, playing bocce ball, and enjoying the sunshine not just as a “good time” but also as a holy time, a time of God’s palpable presence. May God be with you in your moments of joy.
Note: This post originally appeared in the Brodhead Free Press and the Independent Register as part of their weekly “Pastor’s Corner” column.