Laughing Was Holy

I once told a story during a sermon about a little boy sitting in a sanctuary pew on a Sunday morning. He kept turning around in his seat and smiling at the people behind him. Eventually the boy’s mother leaned over and made him face the front, saying “Stop smiling, you’re in church!”

There’s a reason the term “frozen chosen” is sometimes applied to people of faith: many churches have a reputation for being Serious People who do Serious Liturgy Things in a Very Serious Way. A joke during the sermon is met with silence; a silly unexpected comment from a child is met with disdain.

Some of this reaction is founded in a desire for reverence, for keeping a sense of the holy. But I think humor is holy, too. God created the parts of the brain that produce it, and the endorphins that result from it. We were not put on this planet only for drudgery and sadness. There’s too much around us that creates pleasure.

In the Gospels, Jesus is accused of enjoying himself a little too much with the “wrong kind of people.” I wonder if he at least smiled while telling parables and seeing the look on people’s faces when a Samaritan turns out to be the hero. His act of riding into Jerusalem on a donkey was a satire on the usual triumphant entries of royal and military figures. Imagine some of the jokes the likes of fishermen, tax collectors, and prostitutes may have told around the table or campfire in his presence.

I’m pretty sure Jesus laughed. We in the church are allowed to laugh, too.

Humor helps remind us to not take ourselves so seriously. It shows us the side of God’s creation that is playful and creative. It helps us differentiate between what needs our real attention and what can be gripped less tightly. If people of faith are unable to laugh, unable to make that differentiation, unable to be playful, then we’re neglecting a divine gift that helps us see creation, the church’ mission, and ourselves more holistically. 

You can have fun in church. Maybe even start small this Sunday. Give something a small chuckle and see what happens.

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