Here is an column I just wrote for the Waverly newspaper. I'd like to share it here. It's been awhile since I've published a blog entry about scripture and faith-life through "The Comic Lens." It's not that I haven't been thinking about it and experiencing it, and a lot. Here I begin to put some of it all into words.
RISUS PASCHALIS, 2017
As a comedian-turned-pastor, I’ve always been most happy to learn more about, and introduce more people to, the Risus Paschalis. It means The Easter Laugh and comes to us from the early days of Christianity. Great leaders of the first few centuries AD — including Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa and John Chrysostem — describe how God, by raising Jesus from the tomb, had the last laugh over sin, evil and death.
So, according to the ancient Church, what were Christians to do when Easter rolled around (pun intended)? LAUGH!
More and more contemporary congregations are coming to embrace this most exuberant (if long-forgotten) expression of resurrection joy with “Holy Humor Sunday,” often celebrated the Sunday after Easter. For this very special worship service, it’s common for colorful balloons and pinwheels to beautify and enliven the sanctuary. Kazoos supplied to the congregation provide additional accompaniment to the day’s hymns. Jokes are told throughout the service and by everyone. (I am pleased to say that during all Holy Humor Sunday worship services I’ve presided over I’ve been able to include at some point my absolute favorite Jesus joke: “What does Christ say when he goes to the disco and has trouble dancing?” Answer: “Help! I’ve risen, and I can’t get down!” LOLOLOL!)
This year, for me, the Risus Paschalis took on a new and deeper meaning.
That’s because during the first week of Easter 2017, my dad died. He’d been in poor health for some time, receiving great care at Bartel’s Lutheran Retirement Community, and on Good Friday, his condition significantly worsened. The following Thursday — the first Thursday after Easter — he entered into an Eternal Realm that pinwheels, bright colors, kazoo versions of Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee and the greatest of punchlines can only begin to approximate.
That week of keeping vigil for Dad was long, scary and sad for both my sister and me. However, there were many moments that hearty laughter surprisingly, awesomely, leapt into the mix, making this not only the worst of times but also, strangely, among the best.
Like when Dad, immobile and seemingly unconscious, suddenly opened his eyes and exultantly proclaimed, at the top of his lungs, “I’m the happiest guy in the world!”
Or when, during the last seventh-inning stretch of that Wednesday’s Cubs game (Dad’s last), after my sister and I sang to him quietly yet vibrantly, Take Me Out to the Ballgame, and said, of course, “Let’s score more runs!” (especially needed because our beloved Cubbies were behind 4-2)…Dad’s hands flung up giving an energetic and perfectly timed thumbs up! The Cubs went on to win that game at the bottom of the 9th inning with a two-out three-run homer. How could that not evoke an explosion of joy?! Even and especially around the nursing home bed?!?!
My sister and I had so much fun singing to Dad (and accompanying on the ukulele) Christmas carols and hymns; it was during Blessed Assurance he cracked a most sunny and full-dimpled smile. And my sister and I laughed really hard when, as we mulled over whether to watch another typical damsel-in-distress Lifetime Movie Network for Women movie after the Cub game, our decision was quickly made for us as Dad vehemently yelled “No!” (What guy has ever tolerated that LMN stuff??)
And then there was the discovery made the moment he breathed his last: the one still-closed bulb of his Easter Lily suddenly opened!!
I share these tender, very personal experiences with you as a way of inviting you to think about ways The Easter Laugh has popped up as you’ve journeyed with loved ones traveling their last earthly leg. Of course, everyone’s experiences are different and perhaps it seems like nothing will ever come to mind in this regard. But maybe…chances are when you really think about it…there was at least one thing that happened that couldn’t help but bring smiles, reminding you and everyone in the room that in spite of everything, God’s Easter Promises are real. Not only for the one making the transition, but for those who remain here and carry on.
I find when sadness and grief revisit and seem to overwhelm (which they continue to do), by remembering and cherishing those moments of “Easter levity” that did and continue to spring up and around, my tears are able to flow more freely and cleansingly. That’s because as important as the tears are, I can know they don’t have the last laugh.
Happy Blessed Eastertide Everyone.