Holy Hilarity Sunday

Follow God’s Example—Laugh More
Our human ability to laugh at jokes, funny situations, stories and pranks is one of the characteristics that sets us apart from all the rest of God’s creation. It is part of being “made in the image of God.” God, too, laughs. “He that sits in the heavens shall laugh . . .” (Psalm 2:4).

Follow Children’s Example—Have More Fun
Have you ever noticed how much babies love to laugh? Jo sometimes comes across a YouTube posting of someone playing Peek-a-Boo with a baby or doing something ordinary like tearing a piece of paper, both of us can’t help laughing aloud along with the baby. No wonder Jesus, whom His enemies accused of being a party animal, said that we who are adults must become like little children or we will never see the kingdom of God. (Matthew 18:3).

Follow the example of people “under the influence”—Have a Good Time
In addition to children, we all know of people who are free of inhibitions and full of fun. Some sports like running or sky diving bring on a rush, a high feeling of well being, much like that felt by people who consume a moderate amount of alcohol or some other drug.  So are people who are under the influence of the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul counsels us to get our uninhibited feeling by putting ourselves under the control of the Spirit because there is no danger of the excess and debauchery that results from drinking too much wine. (Ephesians 5:18). There is no way to overdose on the Spirit of God.

Paul often connects God’s Spirit with joy. During a serious explanation about the Jewish people’s inability to understand the Good News, he throws in an aside, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (2 Corinthians 3:12) The Greek term elutheria, usually translated as “liberty” or “freedom,” carries the meaning of “being without restraint to enjoy, to be released from inhibition and constraint to enjoy pleasure.” In other words, Paul says, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is good, clean fun.” That fits right in with Paul’s comment on being drunk on the Spirit.

The Reason for Being Deliriously Happy
Easter time underlines the fact that Christians have good reasons to be happy. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was the most deliriously joyful event in the history of the world. It proved without a doubt that Jesus is God and victorious over death, hell, Satan and all his forces of evil.

That is why some denominations celebrate the Sunday after Easter as Holy Hilarity Sunday. It comes from the ancient tradition of celebrating several weeks of Risus Paschalis—the Easter laugh, God’s Holy Joke. From Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, all through the trial, torture, crucifixion and burial, things had been going Satan’s way. Then, suddenly Jesus’s scarred corpse rose to glorious life again.

Celebrate God Playing a Cosmic Joke on Satan
On Easter morning, God suddenly turned the tables and revealed that Satan had played into God’s hands. Satan’s plan to destroy Jesus was God’s plan to reveal Him as King of the universe. What a horrible surprise for Satan as he and his forces suddenly realized God had defeated them. No doubt they smacked their infernal foreheads and groaned, “If only we had known!” But they hadn’t. God in His wisdom had kept His age-old plan of redemption hidden from Satan. Paul says, “If they had known, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.” (1 Corinthians 2:8)

Three Cheers for Holy Hilarity Sundays
April Fool’s pranks are about the only thing left of this post-Easter celebration of God’s Cosmic Joke on Satan. Too bad. In the weeks following Easter, wouldn’t it be great if all around the world, hundreds of thousands of church services resounded with waves of laughter at the pastors’ funny stories, and congregations sang every glad, joyful, happy song in their repertoire? Maybe organizers for these hilarity-filled church services should get advice from fun-loving little kids.

Here’s One to Get Us Started
And here is a story that may give you the option to be amused: Back in the pre-Covid years a pastor was greeting people as they left the Easter morning church service when he stopped one man and said, “Hey I haven’t seen you since Christmas, brother. You need to join the Army of the Lord and come to church weekly.” The man leaned over to the pastor and whispered, “I am in the Army of the Lord, but active in the Secret Service.”

A link to my book of funny stories: A Tickle in the Funny Bone. https://www.amazon.ca/Tickle-Funny-Bone-Jack-Popjes/dp/1543116825

How a Simple Easter Story Affected a Church and the Denomination

God’s Spirit moved unexpectedly during the Easter Sunday service in a crowded church in Trinidad. As executive director for Wycliffe Caribbean, on most Sundays I would be away speaking in churches, but this time I had the weekend off and decided to attend a church a few blocks from my office. I had visited a few times and preached there once.

The usher seated me in the front pew, next to the pastor and his wife. After a rousing time of musical worship and celebration, the pastor introduced the special visiting speaker, the president of the denomination.

“But before our president brings the message,” he said, “I’d like to welcome our brother Jack from Wycliffe. Jack, please come up and bring a few words of greeting from Wycliffe.” Inviting visiting pastors or missionaries to say a few words is customary in many Caribbean churches, so I was not surprised. I took the microphone, knowing I was expected to speak for at least five to ten minutes. I gave a two-minute update on Wycliffe Caribbean and the world of Bible translation, and continued, “This Easter morning I am remembering what happened the first time we spent Easter in the Canela village of Brazil.”

I then told a two-minute story about the Canela old men’s council arguing over how someone had died. Some insisted he had been executed. Others disagreed saying he had died in a fight, “How else did he get holes in his hands and feet if he wasn’t grabbing and kicking at the spears?” Suddenly I realized they were talking about Jesus, His crucifixion and death!

As I prayed for an opportunity to speak, the chief called on me, and said, “We’ve been hearing news from our Portuguese speaking Brazilian neighbours that this week everyone is remembering the death of a really important man, but we don’t understand what happened. Do you know anything about this?”

“Yes, I do!” I said, and ran home to get the freshly translated story.

That was the first time I publicly read the Easter story in Canela. Even though it was only a first draft translation, hearing the clear facts about Jesus’ death and resurrection made a huge impact on the Canelas. (See “The Easter Confusion Continues” pages 59-60, A Poke in the Ribs.)

“Hundreds of millions of people,” I told the congregation, “speak over 4,000 languages all around the world in which none of the Bible has yet been translated. It breaks my heart that right now, today, this very Easter Sunday morning, they are still just as confused about Easter as the Canelas were back in the early 1970s.”

I sat down and the visiting speaker entered the pulpit. He opened his Bible, arranged his notes, looked over the congregation and said, “I sense I should give an opportunity for some of you to respond to what you have just heard. Do you feel God wants you to give yourself to Him to act in whatever way He calls, in order to bring God’s Word to those who still don’t have it in their languages? It may be that you are willing to personally go overseas, or to pray or give as you have never prayed or given before. If you are ready to make a commitment, come forward and I’ll pray for you.”

That’s when the Spirit’s work showed.

They kept coming, we kept praying.

One by one, men, women, young people, and older folks got up and walked to the front and stood with bowed heads. After about twenty people had come, the pastor whispered to me, “I’ve never seen this before,” stood up and organized a line for people to be prayed for by the visiting speaker, by himself, by the chief elder and by me.

The people kept coming. We kept laying our hands on them and praying. After over half the congregation had come, received prayer, and had returned to their seats, nearly an hour had gone by. The visiting speaker never did preach his sermon. He stood with tears in his eyes, asked everyone to rise, and gave the benediction.

One Saturday, some months later, a Wycliffe team came to that church and ran a well-attended, in-depth workshop on how to get involved in Bible translation. The following year, Wycliffe Caribbean signed a ministry partnership agreement with that denomination, the largest one in that part of the Caribbean.

God is at work! In the ten years since I told that two-minute story, people groups speaking hundreds of different languages have received God’s Word in their language for the first time. And Bible translation projects are ongoing in nearly 2,000 other languages! May God speed the day that not one person on earth remains confused about who Jesus is, why he died and what His resurrection means.

 

He is alive! Happy Easter!