Tag Archives: Joy

The best medicine

“For everything its season, and for every activity under heaven its time……a time to weep and a time to laugh.” Ecclesiastes 3: 1 & 4.  (Revised English Bible)

Ecclesiastes contains the thoughts of the “Philosopher”, a man who was puzzled by the ways of God who controls human destiny. “Life is useless” he concludes. Yet, in spite of this, he urges people to enjoy the gifts of God, and for as long as they could. He is not the cheeriest of souls and many of his thoughts appear negative and even depressing, but don’t close the book, it is worth holding onto for verses one to eight in chapter 3. I invite you especially to ponder with me the cheerier half of verse 4: a time to laugh.

There was a time when preachers knelt down in the pulpit in prayer just before the sermon. A young daughter of the manse sitting beside her mother asked her Mum,”Why does daddy kneel down while we sing the hymn before the sermon?” “Oh,” replied her Mum, “he is asking God to make it good sermon.” “Then why doesn’t He?”

Several University studies have found that laughter increases our pain threshold, boosts cardiac health and increases the blood flow; proof that laughter is the Best Medicine. Early in my ministry I was told off because I told a funny story that gained a laugh, particularly with the younger members of choir! I was told church was not the place for such hilarity. In my innocence I had no idea I was guilty of sacrilege. What I did know was the unhappy fact that many folk thought the church to be dull, boring, irrelevant and its members to be a bit odd!

A young lad was asked by his father if he would go to the railway station and meet the gentleman, a preacher who was to conduct the special services that week-end in the local church. Arriving at the station he realised he’d forgotten to ask for a description. However he wasn’t greatly perturbed, it wouldn’t be terribly difficult to pick him out in the crowd. The crucial moment arrived and there was a man carrying a case, sombrely dressed, a man of miserable looking countenance. No bother! “Are you the visiting preacher at our church?” the welcoming escort enquired. “No – I’m sorry son, it’s my indigestion makes me look like this.”

While I was engaged in giving some shape to the embryo of this post, in addition to the reference above, four other pieces of relevance to our theme came to my attention.

  1. Our central London congregation, giving notice of the Sunday service, announced that instead of the usual format of worship, they would participate in “The Gathering: Tricks ‘n’ Laughs.”
  2. The Church of Scotland’s Magazine Life & Work, introducing a new website, promised to publish weekly on a Monday a “fun section”.
  3. A church advertising for a new minister is seeking someone with a sense of humour.
  4. A preacher began his service by telling a joke. Proof that laughter is not forbidden in church!

Eric Linklater, the Scots author took home from school his report card in which the teacher wrote, “Eric, on the whole is doing fairly well, but is handicapped by a sense of humour.” Far from a handicap, it is good thing to laugh, a blessing rather than a handicap. Someone once said, “Laughter is nothing else but sudden glory.” Another saying handed down to us is that of Haydn who said, “God will forgive me, if I serve Him cheerfully.”

A little girl was arguing with her teacher about whales. The teacher said it was impossible for a whale to swallow a human; the girl said a whale had swallowed Jonah. The teacher insisted she was right, and the girl said, “When I get to Heaven I’ll ask Jonah.” “What if Jonah went to hell?” asked the teacher. The girl replied, “Then you can ask him!”

“I don’t care what other people say, I like your sermons!”

Of course there are times when laughter is totally unacceptable. The wrong kind of laughter, the cheap and the vulgar; the bitter laughter of the cynic; laughing someone’s faith away; the list is by no means exhausted.

I have kept a note of three pertinent questions relating to the impact of laughter in our personal life.

  1. Can we make others laugh? You don’t need to be a Ken Dodd or Les Dawson. And, if you have responsibility for Christian worship, remember, you’re not on stage at the London Palladium.
  2. Can you bear being laughed at? No one has the entitlement seriously to mock us, abuse us, and make fools of us. There are people who have no sense of humour, we need to be understanding, respectful and kindly.
  3. Can you laugh at yourself? It was Robert Burns who said, “O, wad some pow’r the giftie gie us to see oursels as others see us.” To ask that is more than some can bear. Yet, in many ways, to be able to laugh at ourselves is one of life’s greatest gifts. Alas there is a tendency to take ourselves too seriously; if we could see and acknowledge how silly we look sometimes; if we could stand back and take a good look at ourselves, instead of getting into a needless tizzy about some trifling thing; if we can laugh at ourselves, we could move on with “a light in our eye and a spring in our step” – surely a Christian virtue!

So Jesus had a sense of humour? The gospel evidence is slender except for two references quoted in support of an affirmative “Yes.”

  1. The humour in the story He told of the man with a plank in his eye gravely trying to remove a speck of sawdust from someone else’s eye! (Matt. 7:3)
  2. How the disciples must have chuckled when He nicknamed two of them, James and John, “Boanerges” (sons of thunder). Mark 3:17 – both ambitious and possessed of a temper!

Handicapped by a sense of humour? Never! And I make no apology; Jesus did say, “I have spoken to you, so that my joy may be in you, and your joy complete.” (John 15:11)

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Welcome Eastertide

Judy Garland – remember her?  If you are a certain age, you will!  And – the song?  “Put on your Easter bonnet, with all the ribbons on it …. and join the Easter Parade.”   Easter is special in the song; the occasion for a grand parade.  Join the crowd, follow the band, dress up with your Easter Bonnet and all the ribbons on it.  But that was a film made in Hollywood!  When do you see women in hats with ribbons these days?  Or, for that matter, without ribbons?  At a wedding – maybe – but at Easter!  Well, hat or no hat, Easter is a happy festival occasion, a time for celebration in Church.  A time for ”euphonium, trombone and big bass drum”.  Although I didn’t always appreciate it when I was rudely aroused from my slumbers at 7 a.m. on Easter Sunday morning; woken by the Findochty Salvation Army band parading past my bedroom window, flag a-flying, big drum beating, heralding the event, proclaiming the good news,” Christ the Lord is Risen today, Alleluia!”

The Way of the Cross at SunsetSource: Wikimedia Commons

The Way of the Cross at Sunset
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Fred Pratt Green, the Methodist 20th Century hymn-writer gives his hymn, ‘This joyful Eastertide’  the refrain: Come, share our Easter joy, That death could not imprison,  Nor any power destroy, Our Lord who is arisen.’  But it wasn’t much like that at the dawn of the first Easter morning.  When news of the Resurrection broke, we can only imagine the anger and consternation it must have caused those who engineered the events of Good Friday. Even the close friends of Jesus were disturbed and perturbed by it.  Their response to the news that Christ was risen was slow, almost reluctant.  The women who visited the tomb were distressed, terrified, completely at a loss.  Mary was in tears.  There were many bizarre ways to explain the disappearance of a dead body – resurrection the least likely.  Thomas, the disciple, was not with his friends when the Risen Jesus was with them.  When given the news, it was all too fantastic for words – to be taken with a pinch of salt.  Later still, the Apostle Paul doing a stint of open-air preaching on Mars Hill in Athens must have been disappointed if he expected a rapturous reception.  The crowd listened respectfully at first – until he mentioned the resurrection, then a section of his hearers began to mock him.  Paul also found it difficult to convince the Church of the mystery and glory of the resurrection.  But, preach it he must; he is convinced that, “ If Christ has not been raised from death, then we have nothing to preach and you have nothing to believe.”  (strong stuff! 1 Corinthians, 15.14)

Good News BiblePaul, anxious to communicate and share the joy and assurance of Easter, acknowledging the need of some further explanation, writes in his correspondence with the church at Colossae – if you think of your baptism you will begin to understand the significance of resurrection and penetrate its mystery. ( Colossians 2.12; cf also Romans 6.4.)  In Paul’s day baptism would probably be mostly by total immersion in water The candidate would step into the water, probably a river and an Apostle (or some other) would plunge the convert completely under the water. In fact ‘to baptise’ is the translation of a Greek word meaning ‘to plunge.’  Paul’s linking of baptism with resurrection is simply that, apart from it being the rite of admission to the church, baptism was symbolically like dying and rising again. To be plunged under water was like being buried In the grave; when you rose out of the water – like rising from the grave.

What Paul is saying directs us to the very heart of the Easter message; when we are baptised we die with Christ and we are raised to new life with Him!  We are not meant to take it literally – we cannot go back in time or go through the awful pain and agony of crucifixion or put ourselves in the shoes of Jesus’ friends standing at the entrance to an empty tomb that first Easter morning. One more thing that ties the two together – baptism and resurrection:  in the first days of Christendom baptism was usually associated with a personal confession of faith.  Interesting as it may be to speculate, to debate, to posses a shelf full of theological tomes, the Easter message is to be believed rather than talked about.   Easter faith is not the preserve of one day in the year only, it is the faith in which Christians daily live. We are the Easter people.  Let us rejoice as Fred Pratt Green’s hymn  invites . . . . . . . . .  share our Easter joy!

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Welcome Eastertide
Source: Wikimedia Commons