It began with the resident eleven-year-old gadfly asking, “Well, what are you going to preach on this week, Dad?” It’s Easter Sunday and he’s asking me what my sermon topic is going to be? Before I can finish saying, “The Resurrection of Jesus,” my wife with an unabashed grin begins singing, “Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph o’er His foes. He arose the victor from the dark domain and He lives forever with His saints to reign.”
He arose! What else is there to say or sing, preach or proclaim? There is only one Easter sermon the Resurrection of Jesus and through Him our Acts 17:22-32.
What is to be our response to this singular event and singularly important Easter message? I believe it is laughter.
First of all we discover the Laughter of Ridicule. In Athens, Paul used the language of Stoics and Epicureans along with the Greek poets, but his message was the resurrection. “Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some laughed.” That word is also translated “mocked” or “sneered”; it is the laughter of ridicule.
For the sophisticated Athenians the notion of a man being “dead as a mackeral,” then three days later being wondrously alive was little more than a little fishy. Here in this very court of the Areopagus it was expressed by Aeschylus, “Once a man dies and the earth drinks up his blood, there is no resurrection.” It is obvious that Paul was speaking foolishness to those who knew what was impossible.
Even in an age when the mysteries of flora and fauna, the marvels of inner and outer space boggle the mind there is still a sophomoric pride that insists: “No Way! I have never experienced resurrection so it can’t be true.” Every age has its “cultured despisers.” This is worth remembering when an instantly sophisticated teenager taunts his parents, “You mean you still believe that stuff?” It is said with laughter, but it is a hollow laugh.
The laughter of the Athenians was probably a way of mocking Paul. They must have thought the “passionate earnestness” of this little homely man was funny. That is the laughter of ridicule. But then what does the servant of the Master expect? Have you forgotten already on this beautiful Easter morning, the jeering and derisive laughter of Thursday and Friday? “Who was it omniscient king that hit you … If you are the Son of Man come down … Here is the King of the Jews crowned with thorns.”
Of all laughter the laughter of ridicule is the most hollow and self condemning. For we think so little of ourselves that we must raise ourselves by inches as we stand on others. It begins not as the mockery of the cross but as the subtle put-down of racial jokes or as children poking fun at other children. Yet when we mock life it is not because we embrace life, but because we are afraid of it. This is the laughter of ridicule and it has about it the odor of death.
There is yet another laughter that may greet the resurrection of Jesus. It is the Laughter of Reversal. Paul says to the Corinthians, “Death is swallowed up in victory.” What a statement. What is feared more than death? What motivates us playing the fool more than the fear of growing old and dying? Can you imagine what would happen if that enemy were defeated? It would be like teaching cancer cells to destroy themselves with no side effects. We would cry and smile, then laugh.
Irwin S. Cobb has said that “humor is tragedy standing on its head with its trousers split.” Laughter is the response to seeing the proud and pompous lord of death step on the banana peel. What a cause for hilarity: the mighty have been brought low. It is the laughter of reversal.
Not only that, but the lowly are exalted. Take Abraham and Sarah for instance; they were promised a great line of descendants. They were to be blessed to be a blessing to all nations. Then Sarah — almost ninety, barren, without hope of a son — is told she is in a family way. When Abraham hears the news he falls down laughing (Genesis 17:17). A delivery in the geriatric ward!
It is all so unbelievable Sarah can’t keep from laughing, and she names her son “Laughter.” The barren give life, the old becomes new, the jeers turn to cheers. God is so faithful, so surprising you have to laugh.
God is in the business of reversing “the way things are.” What good can come out of Nazareth? The king of kings is born in a manger, a feed trough. Yes, Isaiah knew it: the lowly will be exalted. It is the laughter of reversal, everything is upside down. What power is greater in our lives than death?
What do we run from, deny constantly? Death. Freud knew it; he spoke of nervous gallows humor. An anxious snicker or two is understandable. No matter how high you score on achievement tests — how beautiful or powerful you are — you will die. All you own and love will be dust. Yet is there One in the grand economy of God that has defeated death? Could this be the great reversal of life over death?
In a Peter Devries novel a character was buried alive in a landslide of tons of garbage at the city dump. When you least expect it he rises from the garbage with a cantaloupe rind on his head, singing the doxology. What an image! Can we rise from the garbage pit of failure singing, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow” and laugh the laugh of the great reversal?
If we can experience the reversal of Christ’s resurrection then the final form of laughter becomes that of rejoicing. The Laughter of Rejoicing is to cry out in victory over the worst this old world can dish out: “O death where is your victory?” The venom does not destroy us.
Conrad Hyers tells of the early Greek Orthodox tradition of clergy and laity meeting in the sanctuary the day after Easter to tell stories, jokes and anecdotes. It seems so fitting. Satan thought he had won at Golgotha. Yet the last laugh is at the resurrection; not a laugh of ridicule or even of reversal, but a laugh of rejoicing. Sin, death and sorrow have been swallowed up by redemption, life and joy.
In Eugene O’Neill’s play Lazarus Laughed we hear the modern echo:
Laugh Laugh
Death is Dead
There is only laughter
Here is the great reversal and we are caught up in it. How can we not rejoice? Can’t you imagine Mary getting together with Jesus later and saying, “And I thought you were the gardener!” The couple on the road to Emmaus would also be having a good laugh with Jesus: “We were trying to tell you about the one who had died.” But it wouldn’t end there. Mary and the two on the Emmaus road could now laugh at the power of death.
Thomas More did joke with the hangman because his conscience was clear; he was serving his God. A bishop in Hungary in the 1950s was imprisoned by the Communists because he stood up to them. In a six-by-eight solitary confinement cell he could not be broken: “For in that room the Risen Christ was present and in communion with me I was able to prevail.” Luther said it in his great hymn: “The body they may kill, his truth abideth still.”
At a program she was giving, columnist Celestine Sibley was approached by a nice looking young man she did not recognize. He said, “I’m that garbage can baby you wrote about twenty years ago.” Stuffed in a garbage can after birth, he was hospitalized for a long time; now he was glowing, smiling, laughing with new life. Death where is your sting?
This week I came back from a hospital visit laughing and singing some silly ditty without realizing it. My wife said, “What are you doing?” Sometimes when you see the miracle of Easter it’s all you can do. It is the laughter of rejoicing.
May that be your soul’s response to the resurrection. For when Easter invades your life, when you see the spirit of the risen Christ prevailing in hospital waiting rooms and prison chapels, you realize that Resurrection is a laughing matter.

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