Sunday, May 6, 2012

Resurrection Laughter

We live in the middle of the story. Sometimes it feels like a page-turner, hurrying toward a terrifying end with no way to slow it down. Other times it feels like the story has stalled, and here we are, trapped mid-chapter, wishing something would change. Blindsided by betrayal, grieving unimagined loss, frustrated by the sense of hope deferred, we sink into discouragement, doubt, dull depression.

Open Book and Spectacles, William T. Howell Allchin
mid-19th century, UK
Yet the resurrection reminds us: the story is not over, and just when we think the worst has come, Christ’s great reversal reminds us that our deepest loss can be the avenue to deepest joy.

Frederick Buechner, accomplished storyteller and gifted cartographer of that place where sorrow and hope meet, speaks of laughter and tears in his account of his own conversion to Christianity. Living alone in Manhattan, he went on a whim to hear a famous preacher:
“And then with his head bobbing up and down so that his glasses glittered, he said in his odd, sandy voice, the voice of an old nurse, that the coronation of Jesus took place among confession and tears and then, as God was and is my witness, great laughter, he said. Jesus is crowned among confession and tears and great laughter, and at the phrase great laughter, for reasons that I have never satisfactorily understood, the great wall of China crumbled and Atlantis rose up out of the sea, and on Madison Avenue, at 73rd Street, tears leapt from my eyes as though I had been struck across the face.—The Alphabet of Grace
I thought of tears and laughter today while attending the funeral of a young man of twenty-five. Tears were flowing, yet laughter wasn’t far away: a person in great pain is now far beyond the darkness with which he struggled.

As the minister read at the close of his sermon:
If I say,“Surely the darkness will hide me
   and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
   the night will shine like the day,
   for darkness is as light to you. . .
when I awake, I am still with you (Psalm 139)
Buechner, continuing to explore laughter in the Christian faith, wrote:
"The worst isn't the last thing about the world. It's the next to the last thing. The last thing is the best. It's the power from on high that comes down into the world, that wells up from the rock-bottom worst of the world like a hidden spring. Can you believe it? The last, best thing is the laughing deep in the hearts of the saints, sometimes our hearts even. Yes. You are terribly loved and forgiven. Yes. You are healed. All is well.” (The Final Beast)
For years, a friend asked me to pray for chronic sorrows: aches and pains, lingering depression, a sense of pointlessness. One day the time was right to ask: is there something behind all this? Is there some heavy guilt you’re carrying? Did something happen to make you doubt God’s love?

The tears were immediate, the story emerged more slowly. Yes, something had happened. She was sure forgiveness wasn’t possible, sure God couldn’t love her. Sure, once the story was told, even those closest to her would turn their backs and walk away.

I don’t remember what I said, or prayed, but I do know I reminded her of the forgiveness possible through Christ’s death and resurrection, and of the promise that our story isn’t over, that whatever we’ve done, lost, broken, suffered, Jesus died to free us.

Freedom Dance, John and Eli Milan, US
At some point her tears turned to sobs, and then, surprise, to great gasps of laughter. When she finally caught her breath, she said, with a wide, bright smile, face still wet with tears, “I feel free. Like a huge weight is gone. Like I can finally breathe.”
Multiply that story. Treasure the laughter, described in records of revivals, autobiographies, stories of conversion.  Jonathan Edwards, in his autobiographical Narrative, wrote:
“It was very wonderful to see how persons’ affections were sometimes moved — when God did, as it were, suddenly open their eyes, and let into their minds a sense of the greatness of His grace, the fullness of Christ, and His readiness to save, after having been broken with apprehension of divine wrath and sunk unto an abyss, under a sense of guilt which they were ready to think was beyond the mercy of God. Their joyful surprise has caused their hearts, as it were, to leap, so they have been ready to break forth in laughter, tears often at the same time issuing like a flood.” 
A.B. Simpson, founder of the Christian Missionary Society, wrote that of a “fullness of Joy" that "does not depend on circumstances, but fills the spirit with holy laughter in the midst of the most trying surroundings" (Days of Heaven on Earth). Oswald Chambers, author of My Utmost for His Highest, wrote in his diary on April 19, 1907, “Last night we had a blessed time. I was called down by the teachers to pray and anoint a lady who wanted healing, and as we were doing it God came so near that upon my word we were laughing as well as praying! How utterly stilted we are in our approach to God. Oh that we lived more up to the light of all our glorious privileges.”

In his much quoted poem, "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front," Wendell Berry counsels:
Listen to carrion — put your ear close,
and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable.
Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.
The poem ends with these words:
Practice resurrection.
Part of practicing resurrection is learning to see, and hear, from another angle. Learning to listen past the realities of death to the stirrings of the songs that are to come.  Learning to look past the end of the world as we know it to a world redeemed and healed.

Daring to trust God’s goodness, even when we don’t see it.

Daring to believe we are loved with a love so expansive and forgiving we dissolve in delight when we slow down enough to savor it.

We don’t know the punch line to this story we are living, but we’ve had hints: if the resurrection is a preview, it's going to be a good one. So, even now, while we wait to hear the great laughter of the heavens, we practice resurrection.

Laugh out loud.

This is the fifth in a series about the resurrection:
Risen Indeed: The Hermaneutic Community 
The Great Reserval: A Resurrection People 
Earth Day Shalom: Ripples of Resurrection  
         Resurrection Challenge: Feed My Sheep 

         Resurrection Women - Happy Mother's Day!

It's also part of the May Synchroblog – Lighten Up: The Art of Laughter, Joy & Letting Go. Visit some of these other blogs for some other perspectives on laughter in the life of faith.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome. Click on the   __ comments link below to post.