A typical five-year old child does it 400 times a day, while a 50-year old does it only 17 times. What is it? Laughter. I wish it were true that when Christians gather together on Sunday mornings, it ups their daily laugh average. But I would suspect that our gatherings tend to have just the opposite effect.
Tomorrow is our third annual Holy Humor Sunday at Holy Trinity. Mind you, it’s not something we invented. In fact, the practice of celebrating a day of joy and laughter after Easter goes way back. It was the ancient custom on Easter Monday, which is still a holiday in many countries, to spend the day having picnics and parties, playing practical jokes on one another. In many places, boys and girls chased each other around, and soaked one another with water. Good clean fun!
Holy Humor Sunday, the week after Easter is an adaptation of that. It’s all about celebrating the resurrection -- that the sadness of Good Friday gives way to Easter joy and God had the last laugh on sin, death, and the power of the devil.
On Holy Humor Sunday we also revel in the God-given gift of laughter. And what a unique gift it is! It seems to sneak up on us when we least expect it. There's no such thing as a premeditated laugh. In fact, if I asked you to laugh, you probably couldn’t do it. It’s hard to fake a real laugh. And it may be even harder to keep a laugh in. It just erupts. You can’t control it.
Laughter is a universal human experience. People can laugh together, whether they speak a common language or not. In fact, laughter precedes language. Little babies develop the capacity to laugh before they learn to speak.
For the most part, laughter is a communal experience. We rarely laugh when we’re alone. It’s social and contagious. We tend to laugh at the sound of laughter itself. That’s why sitcoms run a laugh-track in the background. Just hearing other people laugh makes us laugh.
Scientists now say that most laughter is not about humor; it’s about relationships between people. An evolutionary psychologist at Oxford, Robin Dunbar, has observed that in addition to increasing our tolerance to pain through the release of endorphins, laughter also may have been very important in the evolution of humans because it contributes to group bonding. He refers to social laughter, as actually “grooming at a distance.” It’s an activity that fosters closeness in a group the way one-on-one grooming works in other primates. Now, as a pastor, here's what I take from that... Since it might be awkward to pick the lice off of one another in church, it’s important that we have opportunities to laugh instead.
For the sermon this week, I pretty much just tell jokes. And since learning that laughter doesn’t have as much to do with humor as it does relationships, I’ve stopped stressing over whether the jokes I tell are funny or not. It doesn’t matter. These are my people I’m trying to be funny with. They’ll laugh, if for no other reason than the fact that they feel sorry for me.
So, here’s a sneak peek from my sermon.
TOP TEN SIGNS THAT YOU MAY HAVE JOINED THE WRONG CHURCH
10. The pastor refers to God only as "Jehovah" and constantly exhorts the congregation to "witness."
9. New members are required to submit W-2's for the last 10 years.
8. In the sacristy the altar committee has a cage for the rattlesnakes.
7. The treasurer regularly attends meetings in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.
6. The media refers to the church facilities as a "compound.”
5. The Women's Quartet members are all married to the pastor.
4. Instead of wine at communion, they serve Kool- Aide.
3. The chancel cross has been replaced with a bronze pyramid.
2. The pastor wants to visit you in your home and she won’t tell you what it’s about. When she gets there you learn that she sells Am-Way on the side.
1. In the church parking lot there is a place marked off on the pavement for the spaceship to land.