Bass Mitchell: A funny thing is happening in church…

Bass Mitchell

Everybody knows April 1st is April Fool’s Day. Did you know that it’s also Easter Sunday this year?

Anyway, lots of jokes will be told, and tricks played on us. But what you may not know is that there are more and more churches that have a special celebration on the Sunday nearest to it called, “Holy Humor Sunday.”

I know what you’re thinking – that humor and church just don’t seem to go together. The church does have this reputation for being a pretty stuffy bunch of serious folks. That perception goes back awhile. Daniel Webster, for example, once said, “I probably would have become a clergyman if the ones I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers.”

We had the privilege of having Jerry Clower, the Christian comedian, come and speak at our seminary back in the 1980s. His topic was on God’s good gift of laughter. He said, “I think there’s only one place there’s no laughter – hell – and I’ve made arrangements to miss it.” Clower encouraged us to embrace and celebrate this good gift of holy humor.

Consider the Bible. Not exactly a joke book by any means, but there are some funny stories in it.

Take the very first chapters of Genesis. Put yourself in Adam’s place. He’s lonely. He’s a single guy, I mean, really a single guy. He’s the only guy, period! So, he begins looking for a companion. Where? Among the animals. Can’t you just see him as each animal parades past? What must he have thought when he saw the giraffe or the elephant? And I love how one version translates his first words when he wakes up from rib surgery and sees Eve for the first time: “This is it!”

Take the wise teachings in the Book of Proverbs. There are some hilarious sayings in it, like these:

“Sensible people think before they act, but stupid people advertise their ignorance” (13:16). “The lazy man stays at home; he says that a lion might get him if he goes outside” (22:13). And one of my favorites: “It is better to meet a mother bear robbed of her cubs than some fool busy with a stupid project” (17:12).

Jesus also used humor. “How can you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye when there’s a log dangling out of yours?” Or, he said of some very seriously religious folks that they were “straining gnats but swallowing camels.” One of my favorites portraits of Jesus is him laughing.

And the Bible talks about this gift of holy humor. “A merry heart doeth good like medicine: but a gloomy spirit drieth up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22). Another version translates it this way: “Being cheerful keeps you healthy. It is slow death being gloomy all the time!”

Have you ever wondered why you feel so good after a good laugh? It’s because laughter is good for you. It’s good medicine. A recent study has discovered that there are 18 different kinds of smiles – all good for us.

It’s good for your respiratory system, your heart rate, your blood pressure, and your immune system. Some doctors believe that laughter helps the body release endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers.

Lots of folks, even in church, are finding that laughter is both physically and spiritually good for you.

I find the church a community filled with such laughter and humor. A frequent source of it for me, often to my chagrin, is the church bulletin. Here are some actual bloopers from bulletins:

“This afternoon there will be meetings in the north and south end of the church – children will be baptized on both ends.”

“This being Easter Sunday, we will ask Mrs. Johnson to come forward and lay an egg on the altar.”

The sermon this morning: “Jesus Walks on Water.” The sermon tonight: “Searching for Jesus.”

“Ladies, don’t forget the rummage sale. It is a good chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Bring your husbands.”

So that strange sound you may hear coming from the church isn’t just singing and praying – it’s laughter. Seems to me the world needs to hear that from the church, too, especially these days.

Bass Mitchell was forced to develop or try to develop a sense of humor since birth. What choice did he have with a first name like “Bass”? He’s a United Methodist minister serving in New Market.