Monthly Archives: April 2021

We Can Laugh!

 

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ According to John

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

(John 20:19-31)

Holy Humour Sunday.

The first Holy Humour Sunday I was asked to participate in,  I wondered about its origin.  So I looked up Holy Humour Sunday on my favourite website, and I found out it began in Europe, probably Germany.

It is normally held on the fourth Sunday of Lent, as a kind of respite from the gloom of Lent – a break, if you will. That Sunday was chosen apparently because it was called Laetare Sunday, which comes from the first word of the collect – Rejoice.

Not wanting to do what everyone else does, I chose to celebrate the day on the second Sunday of Easter. Today.

There’s no mention of Holy Humour Sunday  in the  Book of Common Prayer, nor in the Revised Common  Lectionary, but it seems a nice thing to do, to loosen up a bit, and celebrate with laughter.

There is laughter in the Bible, for example in the Old Testament, where we read that Sarah is in the tent and Abraham is outside talking to two men, said to be messengers from God, and they tell him he will be a father, and that Sarah will conceive.

Sarah hears this, and she is an old lady by now, so she can’t help laughing out loud.  But it did come to pass.

In the New Testament Jesus is called a drinker, and a glutton by some of the people who were trying to discredit him, and I would expect that, although not a drunkard or a glutton, someone who liked a drink now and then would  have to have a sense of humour, and would be heard laughing. 

If you are at peace with yourself, and with your God, then surely you can be happy, and can laugh.

I am always amused by the movies that show Jesus as a man speaking in a low voice, serious, and oh so proper.

Because he was human after all.

So, be at ease. We take today to remember, or to hear for the first time, or the second or third time, if it is funny, a joke, or a happy, funny remembrance. 

I am going to begin with, appropriately, an Easter story .

A man was driving to church on Easter Sunday. He had plenty of time – didn’t want to be too early – and he was on a country road, so wasn’t driving as carefully as he did normally, when he felt a bump, and a squeak, and alarmed, halted at once.

He got out of his car and saw, there, lying on the floor, a bunny, not moving, and to one side, a basket full of Easter eggs.

“Wow,” he thought, ” I have killed the Easter Bunny.”

As he stood there, feeling bad, not knowing what to do, a car pulled up behind him, and a lady got out.

“What’s wrong?”  She asked, coming toward him, and then seeing the Easter Bunny.

He couldn’t speak, but she sized up what had happened right away, and went to her car and took out something. 

She carried a spray can of some sort, and she leaned over the Bunny and sprayed something onto the poor thing.

After a few seconds, the Easter Bunny opened his eyes, and got to  his feet and, grabbing his basket, he just ran off,  waving back at them every few yards. Waving and running. Waving and running.

“My, ” the man said to the lady, ” What do you have there?”

She handed him the spray can she had used, and he looked at the label.

It said, ” Good for permanent wave,  brings new life to dead hair.”

We don’t need a commercial product, do we? Coming to know Christ beings new life, right away, doesn’t it?

But not everyone you meet during the day, has that new life in Christ, do they, and don’t you wish they did? ,

The Gospel has that story about Thomas, saying that he wouldn’t believe in Jesus’ resurrection until put his finger in the wounds in Jesus’ hand, and his hand into his side, and then when he sees Jesus, and the wounds, he is convinced.

It is a lovely story, but I can’t help thinking that Thomas must have been embarrassed as all get out.

I remember being embarrassed.  And on more than one occasion.

The first time  was when I was five years old and in infants’ school – or kindergarten – and my class was doing a play. I was chosen to go on stage at the very beginning and say a line that would set the scene for the play.

Quite proudly I walked on stage and said my line, ” It is a beautiful sunny day.”

And everyone, parents and teachers laughed. I didn’t know why and thinking I had done something wrong, was naturally embarrassed. 

The reason they laughed was that when I  said, ” It is a beautiful sunny day,” it was raining cats and dogs outside.

The second time I had to speak in public, kind of,  was a short time afterward, I was about six years old,  when my mother asked me to go on an errand. She sent me to the butcher’s shop for a half a pound of bacon.

In those days a child could go out without  fear, as everyone in the neighborhood  knew everyone else, so it was quite safe. And the butcher’s shop was a five minute walk away.

I had a shilling in my tight little hand and I kept reciting to myself what I had to say, ” A half pound of bacon. A half pound of bacon.”

When I got to the store, there were a few people there. In those days you gave the butcher your order, and he went and cut the piece of meat, or selected the chops, or sliced the bacon, wrapped it,  took your money and you left. Self service hadn’t yet arrived in the UK.

So line-ups were quite common.

I waited behind three adults, and I was quite nervous as this was the first time I had been trusted with such an important errand.

Eventually I reached the counter and the butcher looked down at me and said, ” What do you want?

I said, quite proudly, ” A half pound of bacon.”

He said, ” Lean?”

And I leaned forward  – and repeated,  “Half a pound of bacon,” much to the amusement of those in line behind me.

It took a while before I understood what had happened. And felt, even later, embarrassment.

I have been told by some that when they had the opportunity to mention their faith, in front of others, they were too embarrassed to do so. 

But, you know, people who sell door to door aren’t embarrassed to talk about their product, or to enroll someone they spot who might become a sales person for them.

Some guy, working for one of those direct sales companies  seemed to be always in line near me at the bank, and he invariably took me aside and asked me if I would  be interested in a job.

Naturally, I said, ” No thank you, I have a job,” and angrily pulled my arm out his grasp.

He did this a couple of times and I made up my mind that the next time he did it, I was going to say, ” Why don’t you kneel with me right now and we will pray for your soul.” But I never did get that opportunity to “help” him. And I have often questioned, in my mind, if  that  would have embarrassed him. How would he have responded?

That’s a question to which I will never know the answer.

There are many questions in life for which there doesn’t seem to be an answer.  Here are a few.

Why is it called lipstick if you can still move your lips?
 
Why is it that night falls but day breaks?
 
Why do they call it "chili" if it's hot?
 
Can you catch a toad sitting on a toadstool?
 
If cats and dogs didn't have fur would we still pet them?
 
If peanut butter cookies are made from peanut butter, then what are            Girl  Guide cookies made out of?
 
Do  they use real shepherds in Shepherd's Pie? 
 
If tin whistles are made out of tin, what do they make fog horns out of?

The Gospels raise a lot of questions, too, don’t they?

One example: Why would Jesus give His life for us, for worthless people, for criminals even?

Because. I believe,  God sees something in each of us. He sees a soul worth saving. He sees a lost lamb that needs finding, He sees a prodigal son or daughter who wants to come home but doesn’t know the way.

But God in Jesus, and especially  in Jesus’ death and resurrection, shows us the way.  We can be found.  We can be forgiven and accepted.

I remember reading about a woman who said that Jesus came to her in her dreams and spoke to her.

She told her priest about this, and the priest said, perhaps to test her, “When you next speak to Jesus, ask him what I did secretly in seminary that I am ashamed of.”

A couple of days later, he saw her and asked did she speak to Jesus. She said “Yes.”   He then asked if she had posed the question he had given her and she said, ” Yes.” The priest then asked, ” And  what did he say? “

She said, “He couldn’t remember.” .

He could not remember!!

My own dad, wasn’t such a bad dad, but he never forgot anything “cute, or embarrassing”  you had done as a child – .things which he would repeat every time we had family visiting – embarrassing me, shaming me, in fact.  I would blush and go into another room..

What I would have given to have a dad who forgot the silly childish things I had done.

I found that in Jesus.

We find that in Jesus.

You notice that Jesus didn’t ridicule Thomas for his unbelief, then his belated belief, he merely said, “Blessed are those believe without seeing.”

He never brought it up again. It was forgotten.

And that’s something to be grateful for, and why we can laugh today, and relax, on Holy Humour Sunday –  or any Sunday!. 

Amen

Let’s Celebrate!

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ According to Mark.

 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

(Mark 16.1-8)

Easter Sunday

If we were in church today, we would see the church dressed in white. The altar would have a white frontal, the pulpit and lectern would have white and the celebrant would be wearing a white stole

(and chasuble). The reason is that this is a celebration.

We also wear white at funerals.  

A funeral doesn’t seem like a celebration. You have lost somebody you love. You won’t see them again – at least in this world – and you will have to do without them while ever you live. Nothing to celebrate there, is there?

On Good Friday  we mourn the death of Jesus on that cruel cross. Nothing to celebrate there either. What happened was a despicable, shameful act on the part of the authorities.

The disciples, after his death on that cross were understandably depressed, sad, grieving, mourning – and perhaps most of all – lost. 

What were they going to do now? They had given up everything to follow Jesus – jobs,  family life, secure positions –  and they had changed, too, while they were with Jesus.  It  was going to be hard, perhaps impossible, to go back to their old way of life.

But the bottom had fallen out of everything.

What a mistake they had made following Jesus. Who knew it would end like this?

Then the women came back from the tomb. They had gone to prepare  the body of Jesus, with spices, and expected to find his broken body in the tomb.

They had wondered, as they walked, if there would be anyone around to roll back the big round stone that covered the entrance to the tomb.

When they got there, what a shock!  The stone was already rolled away.

An angelic figure had told them to go and wait in Galilee. They would see Jesus there, he had said.

Now, they told the disciples what they had seen – the tomb was empty.  How the disciples must have confused by this. How could it be possible?

But  they would see Jesus again!

He would talk to  them. He would send them out into the world. He would send His Spirit to be with them. He would not leave them orphans.

More than that, his rising from the dead, they would realise later, means that we too will rise from the dead. That we too will live again, after we die.

That’s why a funeral, as strange as it seems, is a celebration.  As much as it hurts to lose someone, knowing they have gone to a new life, should, if possible, be reason to celebrate. 

The problem is that we live in and of this world too much. We can’t seem to focus on the next world.

How are we going to pay the bills? How are we ever going to afford a new car?   When will we ever get  around to that renovation?

We hope that aunt Millie will survive her illness. We pray that our kids will turn around and be what we want them to be – more like us!  

We don’t spend too much time thinking about the fact that we will live again, and that we will see the ones we lose, again.

This old body, with its aches and pains, its varicose veins, scars, and wrinkles, and arthritis, and missing this and that – this old body will have been left behind in the ground where it belongs, and we will have gone on, clean and fresh and brand new – in the spirit – but definitely us – to new life. 

And when you think about that, doesn’t it change your view of this life, and of this world?

I have known people who as they neared the end of their lives, began to give away things they had once treasured.  

One woman  had collected spoons all her life.  She had spoons from all over the world. She cleaned them and polished them every few weeks, and they were displayed prominently in her house.  However, they were mounted high enough on the wall that her grandkids couldn’t get to them.

You could almost say that her life was defined by her collection. 

She was the Spoon Lady.

Then, soon after her sixtieth birthday, she seemed to lose  interest in her spoons. The cabinet gathered dust. The spoons didn’t shine as they once had.  And  one day when the grandchildren came to visit, she took out a few spoons and allowed her grandchildren to play tea party with them.

I would like to think that at age sixty, she had taken stock of her life, and decided that she had invested too much in her collection.

Imagine how much good she could have done in her life had she devoted the same energy and dedication she had put into her collection of spoons, into something more worthy?

How much more would get done in His name, if we weren’t hung up on the things of this world.

We focus on the wrong things, I think.

Like the people of Baghdad.

In 2003, Saddam Hussein was  overthrown.  People were now free from a regime that executed people on a whim – executed men women and children, for nothing at all.   Hundreds of thousands had been tortured, raped, burnt alive, dipped in acid,  hanged, shot, kept in solitary for months, gassed, under what was surely  the worst regime since Adolf Hitler, and they rallied in great numbers to complain that the electricity has not been restored in the ten days since US forces defeated Saddam Hussein. 

A temporary inconvenience blinded them to the greatest gift they could have been given  –  freedom! 

The disciples may have been thinking  how much they had missed  in the world by following Jesus.  They didn’t yet appreciate the earth shattering events they had witnessed.

It’s hard  to look beyond the everyday, the inconveniences, hard to see beyond our world.  

A boy named Jeremy Forrester was born with a twisted body and a chronic, terminal illness that was slowly killing him all his young life.  Still, his parents had tried to give him as normal a life as possible and had sent him to St. Theresa’s Elementary School. At the age of 12, Jeremy was only in second grade, seemingly unable to learn. 

His teacher, Doris Miller, often became exasperated with him.  He would squirm in his seat, drool and make grunting noises, yet  at other times,  he spoke clearly and distinctly, as if a spot of light had penetrated the darkness of his brain.  Most of the time, however, Jeremy irritated his teacher.  One day, she called his parents and asked them to come to St. Theresa’s for a consultation.

As the Forresters sat quietly in the empty classroom, Doris said to  them, “Jeremy really belongs in a special school.  It isn’t fair to him to be with younger children who don’t have learning problems.  Why, there is a five-year gap between his age and that of the other students!”

Mrs. Forrester cried softly into a tissue while her husband spoke.  “Miss Miller,” he said, “there is no school of that kind nearby.  It would be a terrible shock for Jeremy if we had to take him out of this school.  We know he really likes it here.”

Doris sat for a long time after they left, staring at the snow outside the window.  She wanted to sympathize with the Forresters.  After all, their only child had a terminal  illness.  But it wasn’t fair to keep him in her class.  She had 18 other youngsters to teach and Jeremy was a distraction.  He could never learn to read or write.  Why waste any more time trying?

Suddenly, as she sat there pondering the situation, a wave of guilt washed over her.  “Oh God,” she said aloud, “Here I am complaining when my problems are nothing compared with that poor family!  Please help me to be more patient with Jeremy.”

From that day on, she tried hard to ignore Jeremy’s noises and his blank stares.  Then one day he limped to her desk, dragging his bad leg behind him.  “I love you, Miss Miller,”  he said, loudly enough for the whole class to hear.  The other children snickered, and Doris’ face turned red.  She stammered, “Wh-Why, that’s very nice, Jeremy.  Now please take your seat.” 

Spring came, and the children talked excitedly about Easter.  Doris told them the story of Jesus, and then to emphasize the idea of new life springing forth, she gave each of the children a large plastic egg.

“Now,” she said to them, “I want you to take this home and bring it  back tomorrow with something inside that shows new life.  Do you understand?”  The children responded enthusiastically – all except for Jeremy.  He just listened intently, his eyes never leaving her face.  Had he understood what she had said about Jesus’ death and resurrection?  Did he understand the assignment?  Perhaps she should call his parents and explain the project to them.

That evening, Doris’ kitchen sink stopped up.  She called the landlord and waited an hour for him to come by and unclog it.  After that, she still had to shop for groceries, iron a blouse and prepare a vocabulary test for the next day.  She completely forgot about phoning Jeremy’s parents.

The next morning, 19 children came to school, laughing and talking as they placed their eggs in the large wicker basket on Miss Miller’s desk.  After they completed their math lesson, it was time to open the eggs.  

In the first egg, Doris found a flower.  “Oh yes, a flower is certainly a sign of new life,” she said.  “When plants peek through the ground we know that spring is here.”   A small girl in the first row waved her arms.  “That’s my egg, Miss Miller,”  she called out. 

The next egg contained a plastic butterfly, which looked very real.  Doris held it up.  “We all know that a caterpillar changes and grows into a beautiful butterfly.  Yes, that is new life, too.”  Little Judy smiled proudly and said, “Miss Miller, that one is mine.”

Then Doris opened the third egg.  She gasped.  The egg was empty! Surely it must be Jeremy’s,  and, of course, he hadn’t understood her instructions.  If only she had not forgotten to phone his parents.  Not wanting to embarrass him, she quietly set the egg aside and reached for another.  Suddenly Jeremy spoke up.  “Miss Miller, aren’t you going to talk about my egg?”

Flustered, Doris replied, “But Jeremy – your egg is empty!” He looked into her eyes and said softly, “Yes, but Jesus’ tomb was empty too!”

Time stopped.  When she could speak again, Doris asked him, “Do you know why the tomb was empty?”     “Oh yes!” Jeremy exclaimed. “Jesus was killed and put in there.  Then his Father raised him up!”

The recess bell rang.  The children excitedly ran out to the school yard, while Doris cried.  

Three months later Jeremy died.  Those who paid their respects at the funeral home were surprised to see 19 eggs on top of his casket, all of them empty.

Jeremy had had the wonderful ability to see beyond this world.  Maybe that was what enabled  him to live – really live – despite his handicap.

He would be terribly missed by his parents, and by those others who had looked beyond the twisted body, and seen the sensitive mind trapped in there.

But he wouldn’t have wanted anyone to cry, would he? He was free, free at last, and alive – really alive.

And new life gained is surely something to celebrate.

That’s why we celebrate the new life we have gained  in Jesus the Christ this Easter Sunday.

And that makes it very appropriate to wear white, the colour of celebration, isn’t it?

Amen.

*I first came across the story of Jeremy some  years ago, on the site of the First Baptist Church of Arthur, Illinois USA. My thanks to them.