Laughter and Resistance—1 John 1: 1-8a
2nd Sunday after Easter
Amid so much seriousness these days, you may wonder if there’s a place for joking around and laughing—a pandemic lockdown and all the stress that goes with it, racism in our lives, the news and social media feeds, economic anxiety and inequality and a great deal of unpredictability and uncertainty about the future. Yet, we know laughter helps to build community and relationships, it is a coping mechanism, it relieves stress, it can even be a way of showing resilience and agency. Science proves repeatedly that laughter is a powerful force – it really is a great medicine! When we laugh, our bodies release endorphins and dopamine, nature’s feel-good chemicals. The result? We can better cope with stress, find hope, and see problems in new ways. You know that feeling when you share a good joke with a friend? Or how about an inside joke within a workplace, between classmates or in a family, the bonds humour creates are enduring. British comedian John Cleese says, “Laughter connects you with people. It’s almost impossible to maintain any kind of distance or any sense of social hierarchy when you’re just howling with laughter.” Isn’t that what we need in these socially distanced times? Laughter solidifies the bonds of community and makes us more resilient during hard times.
So, I want to go back to José Humphreys and his observation, the greatest act of resistance is to claim joy in the face of all that life throws at you. What a gift this wisdom from the Black Church’s struggle for freedom and dignity is for us today. As Humphrey’s says, this is not an easy thing. For the joy to be enduring, to be healing it must be rooted in reality. Reality must be embraced, suffering has to be experienced and mined for the joy that lies deep within. As the poet Wendell Berry says, then we can be joyful, though we have considered all the facts.
This was the task of those early communities of Jesus followers. The scripture we just heard was intended for an audience far removed from Jesus’ earthly existence (nib). As well, these communities were realizing that an earthly second coming of Jesus wasn’t as imminent as they had thought. You might imagine the disappointment, the sense of uncertainty about their faith, the distance and sense of alienation they feel toward God. The letter writer re-assures them that joy is still possible in this new reality, the joy of God’s presence can be found amid present circumstances. He shares what was revealed to him in his firsthand experience of Jesus, namely that God is light. A light that exposes evil and the reality of sin most definitely, but in that exposure illuminating a path away from evil and sin, a path that leads us toward community, interdependence and the practices that foster this way of life, including laughter and humour “Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy…if we walk in the light, God being that light, we also experience a shared life with one another…” (1 John 1).
Here’s the grace, that light is not something we create, as Poet, Scholar and Theologian John Philip Newell says, it is always there waiting to be revealed…
Friends, amid all that troubles us, let us seek the light that is already there, in laughter and community. “Laughter is God’s hand on the shoulder of a troubled world”. Let it be our resistance to despair and the fuel that moves us forward. Let us release it for the healing of ourselves, our families, communities, and the world.
Rev. Joe Gaspar