In one of my appointments as a United Methodist pastor, there was a picture tacked up on a bulletin board in the young adult Sunday school room of the church. It looked almost hand drawn, but you could tell it had been photo-copied, so I knew it did not originate with someone in that church. In fact, I might even take a few minutes to google it and see what I can come up with. Ok, there it is to the left.
I guess I saw this picture for the first time in 2001, so nearly 9 years ago now. I don't know the artist, or when it was created. I don't have a clue about any of the details surrounding it, but I could never get that image out of my mind.
It totally blew me away. I mean, the very idea, presenting Jesus as laughing. Jesus didn't laugh. Christians don't laugh. We are a very somber people by nature, especially when we gather for worship, and God help us if we're smiling during Communion.
But there it was...the laughing Jesus. I must admit, I didn't know what to do with this picture, and certainly didn't know what to do with the idea of a laughing Jesus. I was relatively new to the ministry at the time, and still playing the game (I'll blog about that sometime), so this was a very foreign concept to me.
I mentioned in a sermon a few weeks ago, the movie "Jesus," with Jeremy Sisto and Debra Messing, written by Suzette Couture and directed by Roger Young. There is one scene in that movie that I absolutely love. Jesus and the gang are walking somewhere, I can't remember if it was on a road or by a lake, and Jesus runs up to one of the disciples and gives him a little pop on the head and just laughs, and then it becomes a game. Jesus didn't play games. Christians don't play games. We are way too somber and reverent for that. But, what if?
What if scripture actually mentioned celebrating life? Wouldn't that be cool? What if there were a place in scripture where we were instructed by God to celebrate? Well, I found one this morning: Deuteronomy 16. Yeah, I know, that's Old Testament. But there it was, we were told 3 times to celebrate: the Passover, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles. Now please understand that celebrate in this context does not necessarily mean a party, but a realization that we have much to be thankful for and that God is the source of that. So, is it really a big stretch to want to be happy, and to display that happiness, when we come into God's presence?
I am in my 11th year of ministry now and I have begun to notice a pattern. There are some churches where it is ok to embrace the laughing Jesus, a life of celebration as worship, and all that says about the way we live our lives. There are some churches where it's not ok. The pattern that I have noticed is this: in those churches that embrace the laughing Jesus, folks are glad to be there. It's an entirely different atmosphere than in those churches that would rather keep the laughing Jesus well under control.
Though we are not Jewish, and the three times of celebration mentioned above were, and are still, Jewish holidays, I think we can learn a lot from the concept of celebration as worship. Many churches have grasped the idea, but not all have yet.
So here's the "What if?" again. How different would our worship be if we allowed the laughing Jesus into our sanctuaries? Now, I'm not saying that we should turn worship into "Friday Night at the Improv," but would it kill us to laugh every now and then? Evidently Jesus did, the proof is in the picture. Well, ok, that's not really a picture of Jesus, but you know what I mean.
I think it is uncomfortable, though, for a lot of folks to see church, and worship itself, as anything other than somber, quiet, and possibly even a little morose. From the time we were little kids we have been taught to sit still and be quiet, and you had better not talk at all during the sermon. So my question is "What are we teaching our kids about what worship really is? And would the laughing Jesus support us in this endeavor?" This is just me, but I think not.
So, be reverent in worship. I have no problem with that. But at the same time, I think that allowing the laughing Jesus into our worship experiences would change the entire atmosphere. As we journey over these next few weeks, especially if you belong to a liturgical tradition, there really isn't much to laugh about until we get to Easter morning. Still, it is important for us to remember that celebration, and maybe even laughter, is as much a part of our worship as breathing is to life itself.
May God give you permission to laugh a little.