April 19, 2020
John 20:19-21, 24-29
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
The old saying goes, “Seeing is Believing.” Do you remember the last time you were surprised by what you saw? This week a church member shared a surprising video clip with me. First, you see a toddler wriggling side to side to blue grass music playing in the background. Then a beagle enters the scene. First the dog jumps so his front paws are on the piano bench. Then he lifts them up to the piano keys, and starts to play. After a few notes, the dog arches back his head, and starts to sing. The toddler keeps right on dancing, while the beagle croons and paws at the piano. Even after watching the video several times, it’s hard for me to believe my eyes. Watching a dog sing and play the piano was a surprise I wasn’t expecting.
Easter is a season filled with the unexpected. Today, is the second Sunday of Easter, and I want to look back at how the early church used to celebrate this season of surprises. The second Sunday after Easter was known as “Holy Humor Sunday” or “Bright Sunday.” For the faithful in Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant countries, the week after Easter were days of “joy and laughter” in the ancient church. Early Church theologians like Augustine and Gregory of Nyssa declared that God played a practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. Ancient church history records that during the week after Easter the church gathered for picnics and parties and pranks. What better way to celebrate the joy of resurrection! Even through wars and the Black plague of the 14th century, God’s news of the resurrection was too good not to be celebrated.
Church history and the practice of joyful celebration during the week after Easter offer a helpful way to approach our gospel story today. In our gospel story the news is good, surprising and good. In the practice of Bright Sunday the news of the Risen Christ is so good, it calls for a smile, a little holy laughter and humor, even when the times are difficult or challenging.
Today’s scripture finds the disciples experiencing difficult and challenging times. The disciples are behind locked doors on two different occasions. During both incidents, Jesus enters through the closed doors and offers his peace. The first time, on the evening of Easter, Thomas is missing from the group. And when his friends tell him that they have seen the Risen Jesus, he doesn’t believe them. Without being there and seeing Jesus himself, he doesn’t trust what his friends describe and witness. Thomas is stuck in his doubt. Since he wasn’t there, he separates himself from the other disciples. Thomas needs more proof before he can move ahead into the future. He declares, “Unless I see for myself the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the marks of the nails, and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” He demands certainty. Thomas cannot handle the ambiguity of his situation. He is stuck in fear of an uncertain future.
And then, a week later, on the Sunday after Easter, Jesus graciously appears in the room with the disciples, and he shows up for Thomas at the point of his need. Jesus offers him proof, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.” And then something flips, something changes, and Thomas does not need the proof of touch that he had demanded before.
Without touching Jesus, Thomas declares, “My Lord and my God!”
By the grace of God, for Thomas something flips in that instant, and there is a new hope. The world is forever changed, and it is still the same. Thomas and the other disciples are not given a definite map of their future. There is still uncertainty ahead. But now they recognize who would guide their future. The risen Lord is with them. Now Thomas is open to see the way forward with different eyes. With hope. And maybe with relief and laughter. There is still uncertainty about the future. But now Thomas is open to see something new; it is the risen Lord who will guide him in the days ahead. What Thomas expected has changed, and so has his heart and his belief.
Humor can change the way of the heart. With humor, when something causes us to laugh, what we expect is suddenly flipped to reveal something new and unexpected. We are open to see something in a fresh way. Something we did not anticipate. Last summer, Scientific American included an article, “The Science of Why We Laugh: Psychologists, neuroscientists and philosophers are trying to understand humor.” They point to the fact that we laugh when we expect one thing and then in an instant we see it is something different. Completely unexpected. Something flips. We are open to see something that we did not imagine or presume. And we laugh. Or smile. Now listen to some of our talented church friends, as they share some humor. We’ll hear from them, and then I’ll be back to wrap up. (Videos of jokes from church members included.)
I hope you chuckled more than once! And I want you to know that that UPC takes the challenges of these times very seriously. We know the difficulties and anxieties faced by our congregation and our families, our neighbors, our nation, and our world. We pray together and work together to help. And yet , it is the second Sunday of Easter. God is still at work, surprising us. Today, we have faith and hope.
And as we move forward into an unknown future, we have the gracious example of the risen Lord meeting Thomas at the point of his need. We have the church and its reminder that humor in Easter can help us notice that there is a sudden shift when we see something we did not expect. Something flips in our mind, there is an Ah Ha!, and we smile because we are now open to seeing something we did not see before. In these coming days, God is graciously opening our mind and heart. The risen Christ flips our heart and mind to see a new future. It’s an Easter future, an unexpected future. It’s God’s future for us and for the world. So look for moments that surprise you and make you laugh. And may the peace of Christ be with you.
 “Bright Sunday” Pastor Craig. “The Pastor’s Page.” Wednesday, April 7, 2010. http://cckrueger.blogspot.com/2010/04/bright-sunday.html
 “What’s So Funny? The Science of Why We Laugh: Psychologists, neuroscientists, and philosophers are trying to understand humor” Giovanni Sabato. Scientific American. June 26, 2019. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/whats-so-funny-the-science-of-why-we-laugh/