Do you ever get the giggles in church? There have been times in my life when I have been sorely afflicted with laughter at inappropriate moments. And, of course, that’s what makes them so doggone funny. When we’re all trying so hard to be dead serious, and something tickles me, it’s all I can do to control myself. It may be a weird word in a Scripture passage, a liturgical blooper, or an unexpected typo in the bulletin. Sometimes it’s the spontaneous comment blurted aloud by a child that is spot on. Or it may be a totally undignified move during a moment of reverence. I can’t help myself. The incongruity of the situation makes me giggle.
What might be only moderately amusing under normal circumstances, can strike me as hysterical in church. Part of this is probably nervousness, which can make things that I might not otherwise laugh about wildly funny. Knowing I have this weakness, I have to be careful lest I'm overtaken by a full-bellied eruption. Then the harder I try not to laugh, the funnier it becomes, and I know that I’ve reached the point of no return.It’s especially important that I refrain from making eye contact with certain people at those moments during worship. They’re the ones I know will be seeing the same humor in the situation that I do. I have to avoid any glance of recognition. Back in my seminary days, I had one classmate in particular who was as nuts as I was and often I had to get up from a chapel service and leave because I couldn’t hold it together. There also have been many occasions, as a pastor, when I have presided over a worship service, and stood behind the altar, doing everything I could to stifle my laughter. When you’re leading worship, you don’t have the luxury of walking out so you can release the laughs that are being held captive in your belly.
My strategy for dealing with a bout of the giggles during worship is threefold. First, I will do a fake clearing of my throat to cover up the sound of my laughter. Next, I look down and completely avoid making eye-contact with anyone else. And finally, I try to recall one of the least funny moments of my life, the time I was a little girl and my little dog died in my arms. That usually works, but not always.What’s odd is that one of the most stressful moments for me as a preacher is when I’m telling a joke as a part of my sermon. I don’t do it often. Although I love to laugh, I’m not a great joke teller. And I never know if the congregation is laughing with me or at me. Often, I suspect, they laugh out of kindness. They know how uncomfortable I am putting myself out there with a joke and they feel sorry for me. It seems that there’s a difference between something humorous spontaneously popping up during worship and those moments when the preacher intentionally tries to be funny. It’s the difference between being physically tickled and having someone invite you to think about being tickled.
So, this Sunday is Holy Humor Sunday at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. It’s a revival of an early church tradition for the second Sunday of Easter where folks would tell jokes and play tricks on one another as a way of remembering the ultimate joke Jesus played on the devil by rising from the dead. This is our annual exercise in irreverence as we do a lot of silly things that we would never do in worship on any other Sunday. And here’s the scary part for me… During the sermon time, I tell jokes.
Will the congregation laugh, groan, or roll their eyes? For all of those like me, those who struggle with stifling their giggles in church, this is their big chance to set their laughter free and let it fly. Please, oh please!