Between The Joke & The Punchline
This odd tradition originated in the Early church, when the day after Easter, priest and people gather to tell jokes to one another as a way to honor God whom they believed played the greatest joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. You might say the church was the first comedy club.
Now, there was a time when the Pope, a Rabbi, and a lawyer all die on the same day. All three end up at the pearly gates at the same time.
St. Peter says to the pope, “Holy Father it is a great honor to welcome you. We have prepared an amazing condo for you in one of our newest, most modern buildings. It has all the comforts and luxuries you want, and a view of heaven that will blow you away. I think you will love it.”
Next, he says to the rabbi, my brother we are so happy to have you with us. You did a lot of good work for us up here. To show our gratitude, we’re putting you in the same building with that same stunning view of God’s kingdom. Whatever you need do not hesitate to ask. Heaven is yours.
Turning to the lawyer, St. Peter says, “Mr. Carbonelli, I don’t know what to say other than God has prepared a special mansion just for you. It includes everything you’ve ever wish for. And even things you didn’t know you wanted. It’s located in one of the best neighborhoods in heaven. And God has instructed me to escort you there personally.”
When the other two hear this, they complain, “Why do holy people get condos, and this lawyer gets a big, fancy mansion?” Saint Peter looks at them both and says, “Friends, you must understand. We have plenty of popes and rabbis here. But this is our first lawyer.”
My doctor says it’s good to laugh. Then again, this is the same doctor who advised me to stop drinking. I knew that was going to be a massive change for me...because I’ve been with that doctor for 10 years.
Speaking of years, my wife and I have been married for 23 years. And I’m proud to say in all that time, we’ve only had one argument...one that has continued for 23 years. I said, “I do.” But she still insists I didn’t, haven’t and won’t.
John doesn’t tell us if Jesus knocked or rang the bell. All we know is the disciples are locked away inside when our Lord suddenly appears. I remember a few years ago I visited the house I grew up in. I rang the doorbell several times, but the people inside wouldn’t answer. And I thought, “Wow, my parents are rude.”
All kidding aside, a locked door couldn’t stop Jesus from getting to his friends. This tells me that God’s love knows no boundaries. We can close the curtains, turn out the lights, and pretend we’re not home, but Christ still finds a way into our messiness. And it’s in this space he come to gives us God’s peace.
Who doesn’t want a little peace in their lives? About a month ago, our friend opened a restaurant called Peace and Quiet. Kids meals start at $150. My kids have made ‘noise’ a competitive sport.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my children, I really do. I keep their pictures in my wallet to remind myself where all my money went. Which makes me think maybe that’s why Jesus keeps the scars on his hands. So, we will remember what he did for us. Not just with his death, but in his resurrection…that great joke God played on death.
This tells me that our scars have something to say. Right after throat surgery I was very self-conscious about the giant scar on my neck. Whenever I caught people staring at it, I’d nervously joke, “You should see the other guy.”
The truth is when I saw my scar or dealt with the side-effects of treatment…I would get down on myself. Then one day, I was looking at my scar, and thought of Christ showing me his. Suddenly I realized I was alive. My life matters to God.
I might see myself as broken, or imperfect. But God sees me differently. I’m here today because God wants me here today…to make this space holy and sacred. As flawed or broken or unworthy you see yourself to be - you bring value to God’s kingdom, because You matter to God. Your scars prove that.
Between the jokes and the punchlines, we carry real pains, real fears, and even real doubt. But what I take from John’s gospel, is that this is where Christ comes in to meet us - bearing the wounds of his own humanity. As painful as they may seem, our scars are our testimony to God’s faithfulness to the world.
To quote Richard Rohr, “God’s one and only job description is to turn death into life.” That is to say God meets us in our pain, anguish, deaths, and sorrows and transforms them into something new. “God takes our human crucifixions and turn them into resurrection glory.”
Which reminds me, “what do you call a zombie who writes music?” A de-composer.
If that didn’t make you smile, perhaps this will. Through Christ, God comes to you and me gives us the same Spirit that was given to Jesus. This very Holy Spirit, the very breath of God, is given to us so that we might live…on both sides of heaven.
Just as Jesus bursts into his disciples lives to share God’s shalom, we’ve been given the Spirit to go into the world to share God’s peace and wholeness in all the ways we show goodness, compassion, and laughter with one another.
We are called to be the spirit of God’s forgiveness and reconciliation, and joy throughout Anamesa.
“As we share God’s love with our brothers and sisters,” writes Desmond Tutu, “there is no tyrant who can resist us, no oppression that cannot be ended, no hunger that cannot be fed, no wound that cannot be healed, no hatred that cannot be turned to love, no dream that cannot be fulfilled.”
In this space between the Joke and Punchline, we are called to be the living presence of God’ tender love and mercy. This was the call of Jesus, the perfect manifestation of God’s love, whose death and resurrection were no joke.
To prove it, here are some jokes about death…
What kind of fish can’t swim? Dead ones.
Where do zombies like to go swimming? The Dead Sea.
I had a friend who recently passed away. Her star sign was cancer. It’s kinda ironic because she was killed by a giant crab.
Many of us might have trouble laughing at death, but that’s exactly what God did. Because of the resurrection, we can laugh with joy in every situation we’re in.
And honestly, this is something I need to work on. I’ve been so preoccupied with diet and exercising because my doctor said I needed to lose some weight. So far, all I’ve lost is my desire to diet and exercise. But I keep the faith because one day I hope to lose my gym shoes as well.
If you need to remember anything from today, may it be this: Live fully and freely into God’s joy and peace. Because Easter wasn’t a one-time event. Resurrection happens every day through you and me. According to Paul, our job is to “Be imitators of Christ, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ did.” (Eph. 5:1-2).
As God’s beloved children, we are a part of God’s holy family. Our God is not only merciful and loving but also very patient with us. Ask me what the hardest part of parenting is and I’d say, “hands down…it’s the kids.”
God is our faithful parent. No door, or doubt, and not even death can stop God from stops bursting through our locked hearts and closed minds to bless us.
I hope my kids know that I want to give them all the stuff I didn’t have. And then I want to move in with them so I can enjoy it.
God wants to give you the very best that life has to offer. But are you willing to let God move in and share with you a spectacular view of heaven?
Which reminds me of another joke. A couple bought a new home and their realtor sent flowers the day after they moved in. It was a giant bouquet, with a big gold ribbon that read “Rest in Peace.”
Noticing it as a mistake, new owners called the florist. He was oddly overjoyed with the mix up.
He told the couple, “I’m really sorry for the mistake, but if it makes you feel any better your flowers are sitting on a coffin with a card that reads, “Congratulations on your new home”.
Christ is calling you home, to that spacious, all-inclusive mansion in God’s heart. May you find your way there today as you laugh at the face of death by living into the joy of abundant life.
Based on an original sermon Life Is A Joke from April 28, 2019.
Special thanks to Jim Gaffigan, #DadSaysJokes, and to the various anonymous comedy writers out there whose jokes were culled off the internet for this special service.
Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams, God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time (New York: Doubleday, 2004).
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An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”