John 20:19-31When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe." A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe."
Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
FINDING YOUR FUNNY BONE
When you first hear the scripture for today from John 20, it doesn’t sound very cheery. In fact, it sounds like many of us right now – hiding in our houses and dwelling on the negative. Jesus’ disciples were afraid – in their case of being associated with Jesus and, therefore, under the threat of arrest and possibly death. Many people right now are afraid – of catching a virus which is highly contagious, extremely serious, and from which death can occur. John 20 is our story at this time.
But the story of the disciples goes on for Jesus shows up and reassures them. “Peace be with you. Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Yes, we are in a serious situation, but Jesus still reassures us that we are watched over by God, that people care for us, that our faith gives us strength and hope and comfort.
COVID-19 is bending our way of living so last weekend, we celebrated Easter together while being apart. The Sunday following Easter has, in the last few years, been known as Holy Humour Sunday. I believe that has evolved for two reasons: 1. because typically, on the Sunday after Easter, the attendance in church has been low. Everyone is visiting family on Easter and so the church is full of people it only sees occasionally. The idea of a humourous service may attract more people than the same old, boring sermon. 2. Easter is not just a single day. The spirit of Easter, the sense of celebration and joy is an attitude that we are to keep all year round. What better way than through laughter.
I am amazed by people who can find illogical, outrageous joy – joy that often makes no sense – and I am trying to become that type of person myself. I have visited nursing homes where a person’s whole world has been reduced to the size of a single bedroom but who finds such joy in the people with which they interact and the sights they see from their window. I have known people who are dying who keep their sense of humour regardless of pain or the closeness of their last breath.
There is a Canadian writer, named Phil Calloway, whom I was fortunate enough to see live a few years ago. I say “see” rather than “read” because Phil is also a comedian. And a Christian. He has a way of expressing himself, his relationships and his situations through both faith and humour. I want to share with you an insight I learned from him.
Calloway says that people who can laugh, regardless of the circumstances, tend to demonstrate five characteristics that together form the acronym GRACE.
First, they are grateful. People with whom we spend time can influence our mood to a great deal. One very intelligent and insightful lecturer I encountered some time ago, spent his free time complaining about the food and the room in which he was housed for the lecture. Rather than inspiring me with his brilliance, all I could think about was the complaining that went on outside the lecture hall.
Gratitude is an attitude that must daily replace our sense of entitlement. Grateful people would rather accept than analyze, compliment than criticize. Helen Keller, blind and deaf from infancy, and therefore unable to speak as well, thanked God for her handicaps. “Through them,” she wrote, “I have found myself, my work, and my God.”
“Gratitude,” believed publisher Fred De Witt Van Amburgh, “is a currency that we can mint for ourselves, and spend without fear of bankruptcy.”
The second characteristic of those who can find humour in difficult situations is to be relational. Many things go up in smoke, but nurtured relationships last. So some advice:
a) Find out who is going to cry at your funeral and hang out with them.
b) Lower your expectations. You’ve never been a perfect friend, so don’t go looking for one.
c) Keep the secrets of others.
d) Focus on what others do right.
The happiest people are those steeped in community. A laugh is best shared and it’s almost impossible to hold a grudge against a person who makes you laugh.
The third letter in the acronym GRACE stands for amazed. These are people who are amazed and amused by things large and small, like sunsets, wildflowers, pets and even dryer lint. Encircled by God’s extravagant creation, they seem to notice each day what others miss. They listen to the questions of children and the stories of the elderly. In the laugh of a child or the roar of the ocean, they routinely hear God whisper, “Hey! I’m here. I love you.”
The fourth characteristic is being compassionate. Never trust a dentist who has not had a root canal or a mechanic who has not been towed. Pain can plant a seed deep in our soul that, when grown, produces fruit we can offer to others. Joy-filled people take an uncommon interest in others. They serve. They live not to be comfortable but to be a comfort. They stand out in an age where we’ve actually found a way to spell “we” with two i’s.
And the final characteristic of a person who can laugh is that they are expectant. A Sunday school teacher was testing her class to see if they understood what she’d been teaching them about heaven. “If I sold my house and my car, had a big garage sale, and gave all the money to the church, would that get me into heaven?” “No!” the children answered.
“If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the church yard and was nice to everyone, would that get me into heaven?” she asked. “No!” the brilliant children replied.
“Well then, if I knew all about the bible and loved my husband and my kids, would that get me into heaven?” she asked next. “No!” Now the teacher was bursting with pride because she knew the kids must have been listening so she asked, “Well then, how can I get into heaven?”
A five year old boy shouted, “You gotta be dead!.”
But more seriously, Phil Calloway says that a man who had lost his wife and only child in a car accident, asked him the same question. “They believed in Jesus,” the man said. “I wouldn’t listen.” Phil goes on to say that he has had fewer greater pleasures than to point that man towards not a religion but a relationship. A relationship that allows us to heal and a relationship that I believe allows us to be reunited with those that we have lost. Calloway finishes by saying that he wishes we could all experience the joy on that man’s face when he was assured that he and his family would one day be reunited in heaven.
Expectant? Yes. Joy-filled? Absolutely. GRACE. Grateful, relational, amazed, compassionate, expectant in the promises of God – these are the people who
overflow with hope.
And on a final note, since this is Holy Humour Sunday, I leave you with this story: The minister and the choir director were not getting along and soon their rift was beginning to affect the worship service. One week the minister preached on commitment and how the people should dedicate themselves to service. The choir director then led the hymn, “I Shall Not be Moved.”
The next Sunday, the minister preached on giving and how the people should gladly give offerings to the work of the Lord. The choir director then led the hymn “Jesus Paid it All.”
The following Sunday, the minister preached on gossiping and how sinful it was. The choir director selected the hymn “I Love to Tell the Story.”
Disgusted, the minister told the congregation the next Sunday that he was considering resigning. The choir director’s hymn was “Oh, Why Not Tonight.”
A few weeks later when the minister actually did resign, he told the church that Jesus had led him there and Jesus was taking him away. The choir director ended the service with “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”