Susan Sparks: April fool, Grim Reaper — He is risen!
This Sunday is Easter. It is also April Fools’ Day. And while many people may cringe at this convergence of holidays, to me, as an ordained minister and a professional comedian, it presents a golden opportunity to highlight the humor that many fail to see in the Christian message — especially in Easter.
I believe that we are children of a God with a sense of humor. We just don’t always see it. As the philosopher Voltaire explained, “God is a comedian playing to an audience who is afraid to laugh.”
This combination of humor and religion is not an easy sell. Why? I’m not sure. The last time I looked, the word “gospel” translates to “good news.” Yet we tend to check our joy at the doors of our houses of worship the way we check our coats.
Laughter is a sacred connection that we share with our creator. Genesis tells us that we are created in the image of the divine. We know that human beings laugh, so the divine must also encompass joy and laughter. To be healed, we have to bring all of who we are to the altar, including our despair and our laughter. As the theologian Karl Barth explained, “Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.”
Amen to that.
Easter is a bit more complicated. A story of treachery, betrayal and death doesn’t exactly sound like an April Fools’ Day prank, or any form of comedy for that matter. But Easter is about hope. Comedy is about hope. And if it doesn’t involve hope, then it’s called a tragedy.
Think about Easter in light of the classic three-part structure of a joke using Mark Twain’s words as an example.
“Never put off till tomorrow what you can do ... the day after tomorrow.”
The first stage, the set-up, establishes a pattern of expectation because we think he is going to say, “Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.”
The second stage is the pause before the punchline. While it lasts only a second or two, the pause is crucial because it gives the audience time to recognize the pattern and decide that they know what’s coming.
The final stage is the punchline (“the day after tomorrow”) which breaks the pattern, shattering the audience’s expectations and delivering a laugh or release.
The Passion story follows the same comedic formula.
The set-up is the story of Jesus’ life, ministry, arrest and crucifixion. It establishes a pattern of expectation that, in fact, Jesus and His cause are dead; that hope is gone.
Then comes the pause before the punchline — three days of silence in the tomb.
Finally, we are hit with an utterly unexpected punchline: after being crucified, dead and buried, Jesus walks out of the tomb. Alive!
April fool, Grim Reaper — He is risen!
While many may find laughter an inappropriate response to the resurrection, I believe it is the best response. We laugh because death is not the end of life. We laugh because against all expectations, life wins out. We laugh because we are free.
The Easter story inspires us to examine our own daily lives through this set-up/pause/punchline structure. From the moment we are born, we begin establishing patterns in our lives, patterns in which we can become so entrenched that eventually we abandon all expectation for change.
But there is hope.
We are the comedians who create the monologues of our lives. And each new day is the pause before the punchline. We can choose to continue a destructive, negative pattern, or we can break it by adopting a new perspective, taking a fresh path, and changing the narrative of our life from tragedy to comedy.
Claim your birthright of laughter, hope and joy. Release your heart and spirit. Remember, your story is not finished. The punchline is yet to come . . .
April fool, Grim Reaper — He is risen! And with him, we rise too.
— A trial lawyer turned stand-up comedian and Baptist minister, Rev. Susan Sparks is the senior pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City and the author of “Laugh Your Way to Grace: Reclaiming the Spiritual Power of Humor.” Contact her through her email firstname.lastname@example.org or her website www.SusanSparks.com.