April 20, 2017

Dear Hyde Park Family,

Stop me if you’ve heard this one…

A minister got up before the congregation to deliver the Call to Worship, only to discover a problem with the microphone. He tapped it with his hand, blew into it loudly, knocked it a few times on the altar rail, not realizing he had failed to turn it on. While fumbling with the switch, he muttered, “There’s something wrong with this thing.”

To which the congregation responded, “And also with you.”

Until recently, American churches have overlooked a centuries-old tradition of observing the Sunday after Easter as “Holy Humor Sunday:” a day of parties, picnics, humor, practical jokes, and general merriment. The custom was rooted in the convictions of early church theologians such as Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom, who interpreted the resurrection as God playing the ultimate practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. Basically, they believed that God had the last laugh. So they coined the term “Risus paschalis,” or the “Easter laugh.”

Today, a growing number of churches across the denominational spectrum have “resurrected” Holy Humor Sunday with new terms like “Bright Sunday,” or “Holy Hilarity Sunday.” People gather in worship to share their funniest jokes and stories, enjoy light-hearted skits, sing hymn parodies, and show up in costume (think ushers in clown makeup and choirs in bathrobes). And often, the sermons are filled with one stream-of-consciousness joke after another.

And I’m happy to say that this Sunday, Hyde Park will be observing its own first-ever Holy Humor Sunday.

In the Sanctuary, the Chancel Choir and Joyful Praise Ensemble will combine forces to provide spirit-lifting, smile-inducing, toe-tapping music. We’ll have jokes, gags, and tons of other surprises, in a family-friendly “Sit-Together Sunday” so that all our kids can experience the joy of laughter in the church. And the sermon will be a live comedic radio theater production in the style of Prairie Home Companion. I’m telling you, Hyde Park folks, you won’t want to miss it, and you’ll want to bring a friend.

We’ll be combining the 8:30 services in the Sanctuary, and the 11 Magnolia service will have its own Holy Humor worship experience in the Magnolia building. And we’ll be observing a “Noisy Change Offering” throughout the morning, in which, in addition to your regular tithes and offerings, you will be encouraged to plunk your coins into metal bowls to support children and youth ministries.

And if you have a favorite joke, send it to me via email at mdevega@hydeparkumc.org. I will be sharing jokes from the congregation throughout the morning!

BRINGING LIGHTNESS TO LIFE

The point of Holy Humor Sunday, of course, is more than just jokes and laughter. It is an affirmation of how wonderful and surprising the resurrection really is. Like a good joke that catches us off-guard and puts an irrevocable smile on our faces, the resurrection of Jesus can bring lightness to life’s burdens and give our souls a lift with new hope and promise.

Years ago, on an episode of the television show Inside the Actors’ Studio with James Lipton, late-night comedian and accomplished humor writer Conan O’Brien was asked how much of comedy was a scientific formula, and how much was sheer spontaneity. O’Brien responded:

“There’s definitely formulas and we all fall back on formulas. When we’re looking at a sketch and we don’t know how to end it, there’s always the seven ways that you can end it that you’ve seen before, do you know what I mean? There’s a couple of moves that writers use, and when you’re in this business long enough, you know them…But every now and then something happens that completely surprises you. And that doesn’t happen all the time, but you’re always looking for that crazy, random, weird ending that no one expects, that is beyond formula. You don’t know how someone thought of it. You’re always hoping to come up with one of those. They don’t grow on trees, but when they come along, it’s great. (Inside the Actors’ Studio, January 26, 2009)

It’s true: with all the jokes that we’ve heard and shared, and all the one-liners that have tickled our ribs, the Risus paschalis breaks all the rules. The resurrection smashes the formulas of life as usual, upends our expectations, and calls us to live an entirely upside-down kind of life. It is joy in a time that tilts toward sorrow. It is hope in a world preoccupied with despair. Death may be the set-up, but new life is the punch line. It’s a “crazy, random, weird ending that no one expects.” But it’s one that everyone needs.

So, join us this Sunday for an unforgettable time of laughter and frivolity, and enjoy this Easter in the way it was originally intended: with a big, hearty Risus paschalis. And bask in the hilarity of the resurrection.

Grace, Peace and Laughter,

The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist

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