The Joyful Noiseletter's 30th Anniversary
Bonanza of Ideas on How to Celebrate

Holy Humor Sunday

The Joyful Noiseletter is celebrating our 30th anniversary in 2015. In gratitude for the gift of JN and the wonderful people who have contributed so much wit and good humor to our publication through the years, we are providing on our web site a bonanza of ideas and materials that churches can use to celebrate Holy Humor Sunday (Bright Sunday) on the Sunday after Easter.

In this section, we are reproducing some articles from past issues of The Joyful Noiseletter describing the ingenious ways that churches conducted Holy Humor Sunday services. You will find in these articles Easter carols and joyful songs, joyful Scripture readings, clean jokes, practical jokes, suggested decorations and props, congregation responses, and inspiring sermon ideas.

The copyrighted materials in this guidebook may not be reproduced for sale. This is essentially a free guidebook for churches.

Holy Humor Sunday services not only give Christians an opportunity for ongoing celebrations of the greatest miracle in human history - Jesus' resurrection - it also gives each of us an opportunity to celebrate, and give thanks for, our own smaller resurrections in this world and this life.

From time to time in our earthly lives, many of us have been dead - from illness, depression, physical injuries, emotional wounds, the loss of loved ones, financial losses - and yet have come alive and endured while looking forward to the Great Resurrection.

Holy Humor Sunday service heals a divided church

But first we would like to share a remarkable story from an anonymous, harried pastor in Alaska who was trying to bring together a fractious, divided church. The church was in turmoil with a heavy, discouraged spirit.

For several years, the pastor had tried everything, without success, to bring the various squabbling cliques together. He finally decided to try a Holy Humor Sunday celebration on the Sunday after Easter in 2009.

The service was filled with joyful songs and hymns and inspiring Scripture readings celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. Members were encouraged to tell their favorite jokes. And practical jokes were played on the pastor and others. Everybody had a lot of fun.

The entire congregation rallied around the resurrection of Jesus. The Holy Humor Sunday service brought everyone together in a spirit of good cheer and camaraderie.

"The response was overwhelmingly positive," the pastor wrote JN. "The congregation needed to know that they could come to worship and just 'let go' for an hour-and that it was possible to come to church and feel good. People have been talking about the service all week. And some, who said they had intended to leave the church and go to another church, said they had decided to stay.

"The Holy Humor Sunday service was just what the doctor ordered for our church. It provided much-needed healing."

Humor for the hard times

North Bay Community Church in Clearwater, FL, celebrated its third annual Holy Humor Sunday on April 19, 2009, the Sunday after Easter Sunday. "We get everyone hyped up over the big moment as we celebrate the Resurrection," said Rev. Daniel McDonald. "And after all the preparation, it's done in a day. People tend to feel let down. So I say, let's keep the party going."

"Laughter," he said, "releases tension, and we have enough of that these days. I think we all need to stop taking ourselves so seriously. We need to recognize that this is really God's world, and He has so much in store for us. We put too much emphasis on what's wrong and what's bad with it."

The Tampa Bay Tribune reported that Rev. McDonald "gave one of the world's shortest sermons on Holy Humor Sunday. He announced that the focus of his talk would be on sin. 'Don't do it,' he said from the pulpit. 'Amen.' Then he sat down."

Churches resurrect an old Easter custom

Many American churches are resurrecting an old Easter custom begun by the Greeks in the early centuries of Christianity-"Holy Humor Sunday" celebrations of Jesus' resurrection on the Sunday after Easter.

For centuries in Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant countries, the week following Easter Sunday, including "Bright Sunday" (the Sunday after Easter), was observed by the faithful as "days of joy and laughter" with parties and picnics to celebrate Jesus' resurrection.

Churchgoers and pastors played practical jokes on each other, drenched each other with water, told jokes, sang, and danced.

The custom was rooted in the musings of early church theologians (like Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom) that God played a practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. "Risus paschalis - the Easter laugh," the early theologians called it.

In 1988 the Fellowship of Merry Christians began encouraging churches and prayer groups to resurrect Bright Sunday celebrations and call it "Holy Humor Sunday," with the theme: "Jesus is the LIFE of the party."

Many churches from different traditions responded enthusiastically. Holy Humor Sunday services are bringing back large crowds to churches on a Sunday when church attendance typically drops dramatically.

If you Google “Holy Humor Sunday” on the Internet, you’ll be amazed at how widespread Holy Humor Sunday celebrations on the Sunday after Easter have become among churches of all traditions. It’s clearly a movement of the Holy Spirit to shore up belief in the resurrection of Jesus.

Both the religious and secular press are now reporting on this phenomenon.

Lutheran laughter

Sonia C. Solomonson, managing editor of The Lutheran, wrote a splendid article titled “Two Parts Faith, One Part Humor” in the magazine’s April issue, reporting on how some Lutheran congregations are observing Holy Humor Sunday.

For instance, Pastor Jim Arends of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in La Crescent, MN, said, “This gives us a chance to celebrate the joy of Easter in a fun way a week after we’ve celebrated it in a glorious way… We don’t celebrate this to increase attendance but it has had that effect.”

The church used the regular liturgy, the appointed lessons, and added Easter songs, songs of joy and camp songs. The congregation’s musical groups contributed especially joyful and fun selections.

Solomonson’s article mentioned the painting of “The Risen Christ by the Sea,” and how to order it.

She concluded: “so who says we can’t laugh and celebrate in our places of worship? We can find a way to mix faith and humor, stir it into our lives, and let it simmer into a rich stew that will feed all those around us.”

Playful Presbyterians

In the April issue of Presbyterians Today magazine, Rev. Edward McNulty of Walton, KY, authored a marvelous article titled “Exit Laughing. Why the Long Faces in Church? Jesus Is Alive! The Gospel Is Not a Tragedy.”

“Followers of Jesus today view the tragedy of the cross through the lens of resurrection,” McNulty wrote. “How much more inviting would Christian worship services be to outsiders if they embodied this resurrection outlook. The Lord’s Supper, for example, ought to be more like a celebration than a funeral service.”

The article noted that “nine years ago the First Presbyterian Church in Winter Haven, FL, joined the Holy Humor Sunday movement, and attendance has been climbing steadily for its Sunday-after-Easter service.”

Associate Pastor C. Alan Harvey said he got the idea for the service from JN, and at last year’s service he was rewarded by getting a pie in the face tossed by Pastor Steven D. Negley.

‘It’s good theology’

David Crumm, religion writer of The Detroit Free Press, wrote a delightful article titled “Be of Good Cheer” about the Holy Humor Sunday service at First Congregational Church of Royal Oak, MI.

Crumm noted that Holy Humor Sunday is “a modern adaptation of the ancient custom of Easter Monday, which still is a holiday in dozens of countries,” featuring picnics, parties, practical jokes, joke-telling, and boys and girls drenching each other with water.

“Thanks to The Joyful Noiseletter, Americans need not worry about being drenched with water in the name of extending Easter joy,” Crumm wrote. “In hundreds of churches across the country, as at First Congregational Church of Royal Oak, everybody stays dry and the celebration is moved from the Monday after Easter to the following Sunday.”

The Royal Oak church staged a fully costumed series of baseball sketches in a nine-inning baseball service, complete with a chicken mascot cheering on the congregation.

Pastor John Miller, dressed in a baseball costume, pitched his sermon from the mound – i.e. pulpit while two relief preachers warmed up in a makeshift bullpen on the side. In the middle of his sermon, a young coach stopped the service, said loudly, “John, you just don’t have it today,” and called for a relief preacher.

Rev. Miller insisted that Holy Humor Sunday “isn’t sacrilegious. It’s good theology.”

Commented Joyful Noiseletter editor Cal Samra: “After all the pain of Holy Week – the crucifixion of Jesus and all the pain that led up to that – a lot of Christians feel that they should spend more time rallying around the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. A growing number of Christians feel that we should celebrate the joy of the resurrection for more than just one day.”

Rebirth of a tradition

Samra explained that the Fellowship of Merry Christians originally encouraged churches to revive Easter Monday celebrations (also called “Bright Monday,” “White Monday,” and “Emmaus Day.”)

In The Easter Book (Harcourt Brace, 1954), Rev. Francis Weiser noted that Easter Monday was traditionally a holiday in Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant countries. It was a day of special festivities: games, Emmaus walks in the country, picnics, pranks, practical jokes, and “drenching customs.” On Easter Monday, for instance, boys drenched girls with water, and the girls retaliated by drenching the boys.

Easter Monday is still observed as a holiday in 125 countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada, and the state of North Carolina.

In The Easter Book, Rev. Weiser observed: “In the early days of Christianity, all of Easter Week was one continuous feast… a week of intense happiness and spiritual joy.”

Easter Week celebrations went on for centuries until they faded away in the last century in increasingly secularized societies.

Samra said that a few JN subscriber churches tried to revive Easter Monday celebrations starting in 1988, but Monday is a day of rest for many overburdened pastors and church staff. And it simply became more practical to transplant the celebration to the Sunday after Easter (“Bright Sunday,” which became known as “Holy Humor Sunday.”) The idea then spread after so many congregations responded enthusiastically.

‘Sunday Morning Alive’

In The Wichita (KS) Eagle, religion writer Joe Rodriguez had fun describing the Holy Humor Sunday services at two Mennonite churches, blending comedy and spirituality. The theme was “Sunday Morning Alive.”

Rev. Tom Harder, co-pastor at Lorraine Avenue Mennonite Church, said most members accept the theological justification for holding the church’s fifth annual Holy Humor Sunday service.

“God delights in our laughter and receives it as an act of worship,” Harder said. “The service continues the Easter story. We’re celebrating the greatest practical joke of all time: God overturned death.”

Rev. Lois Harder, the church’s copastor, said, “The idea of it is that God, in fact, had the last laugh over death.”

There were comical musical performances in which lyrics about Mennonites were inserted to songs from the musical, “The Sound of Music.” For instance, instead of singing “The hills are alive with the sound of music,” they sang, “The pews are alive with the sounds of Mennonites.”

Bethel College Mennonite Church in North Newton, KS, also held a Holy Humor Sunday service.

‘Fools for Christ’

Tom Heinen, religion writer for the Milwaukee (WI) Journal Sentinel, did an excellent article on a Holy Humor Sunday service led by Lutheran Pastor Dale Radke (“Rollo the Clown”). It was titled “Pastor Resurrects Humor in Church.”

Radke appeared in clown makeup as “a fool for Christ” and the people came dressed in bright and silly clothing for the service at Chapel of the Chimes in Wisconsin Memorial Park.

Radke performed magic tricks, and at the end of the service, he handed out colorful pinwheels and gave this benediction: “And now may you know the glee of the Lord Jesus Christ, the mirth of God, and the laughter of the Holy Spirit, this day and 24/7. Amen.” The article was illustrated with color photographs.

Local coverage

Your church’s own Holy Humor Sunday service is likely to receive extensive coverage from the media in your own community if you inform them about it well in advance.

That’s what Rev. Dr. Karl R. Kraft, senior pastor of Mantua (NJ) United Methodist Church, discovered when the church held its 12th annual Holy Humor Sunday service.

Both the Courier-Post of Camden, NJ, and the Glouchester County (NJ) Times did feature stories on the service, illustrated with photos.

This time both Rev. Kraft and Assistant Pastor Gene Wilkins wore period costumes to honor the 300th birthday of Charles Wesley, a Methodist hymn writer.

The sermon was a skit about Wesley, performed by Kraft and Wilkins dressed as John Wesley and Charles Wesley. Kraft wrote parodies of Charles Wesley hymns, which were sung by a congregation wearing birthday hats.

The choir members wore bathrobes, and used the occasion to take up a collection to buy new choir robes.

Courier-Post religion writer Kim Mulford wrote: “Holy Humor Sunday is a high attendance Sunday for the church. Families and kids especially love it.”

Commented Rev. Kraft: “We need to realize that, above everything, we Christians have the greatest reason to be joyful.”

Here are some of the other creative and hilarious ways that churches have celebrated Holy Humor Sunday:

Mantua (NJ) United Methodist Church will be observing its 10th annual Holy Humor Sunday on April 23. Last year, Rev. Dr. Karl R. Kraft and his associate, Rev. Gene Wilkins, showed up dressed as the Blues Brothers (Jake and Eliot) and led the service.

Helium-filled balloons with smiley-faces were tied to the pews, and there were "Humor Breaks" throughout the service, giving parishioners the opportunity to tell their favorite jokes. Everyone who came to church got a kazoo to play.

"Our Holy Humor Sunday services have been a huge success," said Rev. Kraft, who has persuaded other churches in New Jersey to hold such celebrations. "Other pastors welcome the idea when they discover that it is solidly grounded theologically and historically," Kraft said.

The First Presbyterian Church of Winter Haven, FL, celebrated its seventh annual Bright Sunday celebration, decorating the sanctuary with large butterflies - a Christian symbol for the resurrection. Those who had lost loved ones since the previous Easter released live butterflies in their memory in the courtyard.

People dressed in their brightest colors, and the women of the church wore "Easter parade" hats to church that day.

"The people greatly enjoy this service, and so many look forward to its celebration each year, even remembering jokes that were shared the year before," reported Rev. D. Alan Harvey.

The three congregations in the Crooked Creek Cooperative Lutheran Ministries in Ford City, PA (aka "The Crooked Lutherans") had "a hilarious time" at their Holy Humor Sunday service, reported Pastor April Dailey.

"We encouraged people to wear silly clothes, and did they ever!" she said. The organist wore a jester's cap with bells. A choir member dressed like a hillbilly, braided his long beard, wore ribbons in it, and came barefoot.

Others wore tie-dyed T-shirts and Dr. Seuss hats. One man wore shorts over long johns.

The congregation sang Easter carols, based on the music of Christmas carols, with the lyrics composed by Lutheran Pastor Paul Lintern of Mansfield, OH.

Corinth Reformed United Church of Christ in Hickory, NC, celebrated its ninth consecutive Holy Humor Sunday with the theme, "The Funny Side of Aging."

The bulletin was printed in very large print, and there were lots of jokes about growing older. Pastor Robert M. Thompson sprayed his hair white. Thompson has also dressed up as a medieval jester with the theme for the service taken from the Apostle Paul referring to himself and the early Christians as "fools for Christ's sake" (1 Cor. 4:10).

Everyone coming to church on Holy Humor Sunday at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion in Norwood, NJ, was given a button with a quote from G.K. Chesterton: "Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly."

The cover of the church bulletin featured a print of "The Risen Christ by the Sea," a painting of a joyful, smiling, risen Jesus surprising his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias.

Rev. Robert R. Smith, the rector, distributed a satirical newsletter with this mission statement: "The Seven Healing Words of a Healthy Church - Laughter Heals the Church of Deadly Seriousness."

The third annual Holy Humor Sunday of the First Congregational Church of Royal Oak, MI, had a baseball theme. It was billed as "the funniest Sunday this side of spring training."

People came dressed in baseball uniforms, and hotdogs were served at the potluck which followed. In the bulletin Senior Minister John F. Miller was listed as the bat boy and the minister of music as the park organist.

The order of worship was divided into nine innings. A Gospel Quartet sang, "Life is a Ballgame."

For the first time in his life, Rev. John G. Lemnitzer, pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church in Phoenix, AZ, dressed as a clown with big shoes and flashing lights, and made his entrance running down the center church aisle to the pulpit. His sermon: "The Joy of the Lord."

At the urging of a 96-year-old member, the congregation at Holy Ghost United Church of Christ in St. Louis, MO, composed of mostly retired persons, sang "Dry Bones" - "Them bones, them bones, gonna rise again," and told knock-knock jokes.

For Holy Humor Sunday, Rev. Realff H. Ottesen, pastor of the Shell Rock (IA) United Methodist Church, put together a revised version of the United Methodist Book of Worship Communion Service "designed for the light, yet contrite heart," and called it the "Holy Humor Communion Service."

The revised version began: "Giving thanks to God is a good and a joyful task, to be done with smiles on our faces and laughter in our hearts; for it is God who created us creatures of mirth and joy…the God who helped us overcome the gloominess in our own lives."

Hope of Israel, a Messianic Jewish Congregation in Charlotte, NC, had a "Messi-antics" celebration of Messiah's resurrection at a Saturday service, congregation member Stephanie Smith reported. It was the congregation's "Saturday version of Holy Humor Sunday," she said. Jokes from JN were used in little booklets, and gift boxes given to the members of the congregation.

At various churches, clowns have acted as ushers and greeted people at the doors. Church sanctuaries have been decorated with streamers, smiley faces, and multicolored balloons emblazoned with messages like "Smile! God Loves You!" and "Christ is risen! Smile!"

Choirs have shown up wearing outlandish clothing-bathrobes, little-kid outfits, rubberized Mickey Mouse ears-and played kazoos and handbells.

Some churches distributed plastic Easter eggs-each containing a joke or cartoon from The Joyful Noiseletter.

A sign outside the Maplewood (MO) Christian Church announced: "If you must sleep in on Sunday, sleep in here." Sleeping bags on the back pews invited people to reserve a few minutes for naps during the service.

At Key Biscayne (FL) Community Church, knock-knock jokes were used to introduce various parts of the service, reported Rev. Bud Schroeder.

Parishioners played practical jokes on their pastors. The pastor at one church was advised that the announcements had been stolen, and if he wanted to get them back, he would have to sing "Jesus Loves Me" to the congregation.

Churches reprinted cartoons in their bulletins, and deliberately filled the bulletins with funny bloopers and typographical errors.

Church members at some churches composed and performed hilarious skits, satirizing popular TV shows like Star Trek from a Christian point of view. At one church, readers acted out jokes.

Choirs led congregations in a variety of old and new joyful hymns and songs.

For his first 23 years as a United Methodist Pastor, Rev. Edd Myers said he "dreaded the Sunday after Easter because it was depressing. The large Easter congregation shrank so much by the next Sunday that I often wished I had taken that day off.

"Six years ago, that all changed when I read in The Joyful Noiseletter about Holy Humor Sunday and decided to give it a try. Now I look forward to the Sunday after Easter, and so do many of our church people" at Centerville/Taylor United Methodist Churches in Brownsville, PA.

At the Jackson-Idetown-Lehman (PA) United Methodist Churches, Rev. Bonnie McGraw passed out her collection of percussion instruments – clickers, clackers, dingers, dongers, tooters, shakers, rattlers – and had everyone “make a joyful noise unto the Lord.”

Pastors told jokes from the pulpit. And the order of worship made room for “joy breaks” and “holy humor interruptions” when church members would rise and tell their own favorite jokes.

Parishioners played practical jokes on their pastors. The pastor at one church was advised that the announcements had been stolen, and if he wanted to get them back, he would have to sing “Jesus Loves Me” to the congregation.

Many churches featured “The Risen Christ by the Sea” on their bulletin covers, and reprinted cartoons from The Joyful Noiseletter on the inside of the bulletins. A poster of “The Risen Christ by the Sea” was placed on the altar of one Methodist church. The fourth annual Holy Humor Sunday celebration at Roscoe (IL) United Methodist Church was done entirely by the young people of the congregation. It concluded with this prayer: “Lord, grant me a joyful heart and a holy sense of humor.”

Church members at some churches composed and performed hilarious satirical skits. At one church, readers acted out jokes (with four people reading the parts of the characters involved). Choirs led congregations in a variety of joyful songs and hymns: “The Joy of the Lord Is My Strength;” “I’ve Got that Joy, Joy, Joy;” “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah;” “Apple Red Happiness;” “Ode to Joy;” “This Joyful Eastertide;” “Sunshine in my Soul;’” “This Is the Day;” “Rejoice in the Lord Always;” “I Am so Happy;” “Good Christians, Rejoice and Sing;” “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today;” “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today;” “Dry Bones;” “O Sons and Daughters, Let Us Sing;” “Joy to the World;” and “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee.”

Catholic churches have held ice cream socials, and priests have displayed “The Risen Christ by the Sea” and incorporated humor and resurrection celebration themes in their Easter and Bright Sunday homilies and at retreats.

The Joyful Noiseletter provides regular updates on the creative ways that churches are celebrating Holy Humor Sunday. To subscribe, please use the secure online order form provided at this web site or call toll-free: 1-800-877-2757.

Risen Christ by the Sea” church bulletins for Easter, Holy Humor Sunday, and Pentecost (or any occasion) may also be ordered via our online order form or toll-free number.

When St. Paul United Methodist Church in Largo, FL, ordered 6,000 “Risen Christ by the Sea” church bulletins to use at successive Sunday worship services, the church got “an awesome response” from the congregation. The people loved it, and thought it was beautiful,” reported Debbie Powers, head of the church’s Christian Life Enrichment Center. “It was a true blessing.”

For other resources to help your church plan a Holy Humor Sunday or Bright Sunday resurrection celebration, see our catalog featured at this same web site.

The following articles on Holy Humor Sunday are from past issues of The Joyful Noiseletter, beginning with the first proposal for its revival in 1988.

'Laughter of the Redeemed' Once Began at Eastertide

from The Joyful Noiseletter, March, 1988

The Fellowship of Merry Christians is aiming to resurrect a very old Christian custom - Easter Monday "Day of Joy and Laughter" - when it sponsors Holy Humor Month in April.

Easter Monday traditionally was celebrated as a "Day of Joy and Laughter" in Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant countries.

It also has been called "Bright Monday," "White Monday," and "Emmaus Day."

With Eastertide, wrote the Protestant theologian Jurgen Moltmann, began "the laughing of the redeemed, the dancing of the liberated."

Mrs. Soule Papdemetriou, a librarian at Hellenic College's Holy Cross School of Theology, Brookline, Mass., observes that in the Greek and Slavic Orthodox tradition, Easter Monday "was a day of joy and laughter, a time of great celebration" over the resurrection of Christ and the renewal of the spiritual life of the people."

An American citizen born in Greece, Mrs. Papademetriou remembers that the celebration began on Easter Monday and continued through "Bright Week" (Diakaiesimos).

It is not easy, she said, to trace the origins or inspiration for the tradition. It may have been inspired by the famous Easter midnight sermon of John Chrysostom (344-407 A.D.), who described a vision of Christ confronting the devil and laughing at him.

Msgr. Arthur Tonne, of Marion, KS, author of several books titled Jokes Priests Can Tell, reports that Easter Monday traditionally was a day of fun for many Catholic orders, too.

In The Easter Book, Francis Weiser observed: "In the early days of Christianity, all of Easter Week was one continuous feast . . . a week of intense happiness and spiritual joy." Since 1911, he wrote, Easter Monday is "no longer a holy day of obligation, though it remains a legal holiday in most European countries, both Catholic and Protestant."

Easter Monday was a day of rest, relaxation, and special festivities: Easter games, Emmaus walks in the country, picnics, pranks and practical jokes.

In many countries of northern Europe, Easter Monday is the traditional day of "drenching" customs. On Easter Monday, the boys drench the girls with water, and the girls retaliate.

Processions are formed by youngsters dressed in outlandish costumes. They go from farm to farm and sing or recite playful poems. Then they suddenly splash water on their host's family, who give them Easter eggs, pastries and sweets. In cities, people spray perfume at each other with friendly wishes for good health and happiness.

Weiser noted that another old Easter Monday custom, "heaving," was practiced in Protestant England up through the 19th century. On Easter Monday, a group of men made the rounds of homes, carrying a chair aloft. Amid much joking, the men would insist that any woman present get into the chair. The woman was lifted up three times as the men shouted hurrahs. On Easter Tuesday, it is the women's turn to do the same thing to the men. Weiser speculated that the expression giving someone "the old heave-ho" came from this quaint Easter Monday custom.

In increasingly secularized societies, these old Easter Monday customs have faded away, though they are still practiced in some small villages.

"There have been times in the history of the Lutheran Church when it was customary for an Easter sermon to begin with the telling of a joke," according to Rev. John Nieman of Trinity Lutheran Church, Fairhaven, MA. Reverend Nieman often includes a joke in his Easter sermon - conveying the surprise and joy of the Resurrection story.


Sixteenth-century Flemish peasants dancing in the fields as part of their observance of Easter Monday.
Illustration by Robert Frankenberg. Reprinted from The Easter Bookby the late Francis Weiser, with permission of the Society of Jesus of New England.

 

Tips for celebrating Holy Humor Sunday

from The Joyful Noiseletter, April 2000

Does attendance at your church drop significantly the Sunday after Easter?

It doesn't drop for the increasing number of churches who continue the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus with "Holy Humor Sunday" festivities on the Sunday after Easter.

Here are some ideas to consider for your Holy Humor Sunday ("Bright Sunday") celebration this year:

God's last laugh

Pastor David Meredith of South Oldham Church of the Nazarene in Crestwood, KY, reports: "Our first Holy Humor Sunday last year was a great success. We plan to do it again this year to start the millennium off laughing."

Meredith plans to use the following excerpts from H.A. Williams' book Tensions in his Holy Humor Sunday sermon:

"No wonder the Pharisees, who seem to have been always wholly serious, had to have Jesus put down. He couldn't be allowed to go on indefinitely standing everything on its head and making their piety look ridiculous. Why, in the end, they might even laugh themselves, and that would be the ultimate catastrophe.

"Who in reality had ever witnessed a pious man blowing a trumpet before he put a pound note in the church box? And then there were camels going through the eyes of needles, not to mention camels being swallowed easily by those who choked when they swallowed a gnat.

"And worse: idlers who were given full pay, stewards who were successful cheats, spendthrift and debauched sons being feted on their return home - what had all this pernicious nonsense have to do with religion?

"…but Eternity had the last laugh after all. Here are Caiaphas and all his crowd, Pilate and Herod and all theirs, sitting complacently in a state of grave and dignified self-congratulation. They have done their duty and justified the authority vested in them by efficiently disposing once and for all of a dangerous fool. He is safely dead. And with solemn calm again restored they can concentrate once more on the really serious matters to which their lives are dedicated.

"But behind their backs, without them having the slightest inkling of what is going on, the fool has popped up again like a Jack-in-the-box and is dancing about even more vigorously than before and even more compellingly. People here, there and everywhere are falling under his spell…

"If that isn't funny, nothing is. It (the resurrection) is the supreme, the final, the ultimate joke. And since laughter, although not irresistible is none the less highly contagious, perhaps the brass hats themselves will in time catch the disease, turn around, see the joke, and then laugh with the rest of creation because the kingdom of God has drawn near."

'A Liturgy of Joy in Jesus'

For Holy Humor Sunday, the bulletin of Covenant Moravian Church in York, PA, offered a "Liturgy of Joy in Jesus," according to Rev. Dean Jurgen.

Many joyful congregational responses were incorporated in the liturgy. The songs included: "This is the Day"; "Rejoice in the Lord Always"; "I've Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy"; "I Am So Happy"; and "I've Got Peace Like a River."

'How great our joy!'

Rev. Herbert E. Saunders of the First Congregational Church of Milton, WI, used a hymn called "Resurrection Joy" on the Sunday after Easter. The hymn and the congregation's responses were a compilation of the Christmas hymn "How Great Our Joy" and several Easter hymns: "Good Christian Men, Rejoice and Sing," "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today," "Jesus Christ is Risen Today," "The Strife Is O'er, the Battle Done" and "O Sons and Daughters, Let Us Sing."

The hymn began:
"Good Christians all, rejoice and sing!
Now is the triumph of our King!
How great our joy! Great our joy!
Joy, joy, joy! Joy, joy, joy!
Praise we the Lord in heav'n on high!
Praise we the Lord in heav'n on high!

'No Gloom in the Tomb'

FMC member Mary Wald reported that Bethel Hill United Methodist Church in Lansdale, PA, used articles in JN as the basis for a Holy Humor Sunday celebration.

The sanctuary was festooned with balloons and streamers. Paraments were made with smiley faces for the pulpit and lectern, and a poster of "The Risen Christ by the Sea" was placed on the altar.

The music was light and joyous - from "The Happy Organ" prelude to "Joy to the World." The sermon was entitled "No Gloom in the Tomb."

Each member of the congregation was given a gift of a wallet-sized print of "The Risen Christ by the Sea" and a packet of fish (Goldfish crackers).

"Psalm 144:15 tells us that 'Happy are the people whose God is the Lord.' How often do we remember to express that joy! Bethel Hill reaffirmed that Christ is risen. We are an Easter congregation!" Wald wrote.

Church attendance up

The Holy Humor Sunday bulletin of Corinth Reformed United Church of Christ in Hickory, NC, carried on its cover a reprint of "I Am the Resurrection" by Deborah L. Zeller (No. 9365 in the FMC catalog), and also reprinted several Easter cartoons from JN.

Rev. Robert M. Thompson composed the following "Confession and Creed for Bright Sunday" to begin the service:

Pastor: We believe in God, who made us in His image.
People: We live, we love, we laugh, because we are like Him.
Pastor: We believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Lord and Savior.
People: He had the last laugh on the devil when He rose from the dead.
Pastor: We believe in the Holy Spirit, coequal and coeternal with the Father and the Son.
People: Our counselor, our guide, our motivator - He is our joy!
Pastor: Forgive us, Lord, when we take ourselves too seriously, when we don't claim the happiness that is rightfully ours as your children, when we forget that you will have the last laugh in this world.
People: Restore to us the joy of our salvation, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Rev. Thompson later reported that Holy Humor Sunday is "getting rave reviews around here, and post-Easter attendance just keeps creeping upward!"

Groucho and the pastor

Heidelberg United Church of Christ in York, PA, celebrated its first Holy Humor Sunday last year "and it was a lot of fun," reports Rev. Chris Anderson.

The church bulletin reprinted "The Risen Christ by the Sea" and Rev. Anderson's sermon was entitled "A Funny Thing Happened While I Was Reading the Bible." The pastor used many of the jokes and references in JN.

Anderson told this story: "One day Groucho Marx was getting off an elevator and he happened to meet a clergyman. The clergyman came up to him, put out his hand and said, 'I want to thank you for all the joy you've put into the world.' Groucho shook hands and replied, 'Thank you, Reverend. I want to thank you for all the joy you've taken out of it.'

"This comment tells us a lot about how many people view clergy, Christianity, and God. Most people assume that clergy are to be stern, Christianity is to be humorless, and God is never to be found laughing. It would appear to these people that the Christmas angel announced to the shepherds: 'Behold, I bring you bad news of great sorrow for all the people!'"

Anderson noted that Jesus used humor as a healing tool "to unmask his listeners," and that God indeed does laugh, especially at Eastertime.

'An indescribable joy'

Holy Humor Sunday has become a tradition at the United Methodist Church of Mantua, NJ. Rev. Dr. Karl R. Kraft reported that many church members "arrived in splashy, outlandish clothing, funny hats, and mismatched shoes and socks."

Each member of the choir wore a different headpiece: a safari hat, a hard hat, a fishing cap, a Cat-in-the-Hat hat, even a set of rubberized Mickey Mouse ears.

There were "Humor Breaks" during the service, giving congregation members a chance to tell a funny story.

Rev. Kraft's sermon was entitled "An Indescribable and Glorious Joy," based on 1 Peter 1:8 - "Although you have not seen Him, you love Him… and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy."

A framed print of "The Risen Christ by the Sea" was displayed near the pulpit during the sermon.

How to celebrate Holy Humor Sunday

from The Joyful Noiseletter, March 2002

At the second annual Holy Humor Sunday service of Coloma (MI) United Methodist Church, the pulpit was decorated with a "Lighten Up" parament.

It was created by Mary Ann Bower of Coloma, with the assistance of Rev. David F. Hills.

Pastor Hills wrote: "Thanks for the joy JN brings to the world, and for the consistent challenge you put before me to 'lighten up' a bit. All my usual liturgical resources were written by serious people - more the work of overly pious professionals than a joy-filled people."

High on Easter joy

The First Presbyterian Church of Winter Haven, FL, held its third annual Bright Sunday celebration last April. "The people enjoy it greatly, and so many look forward to its celebration each year," said Rev. C. Alan Harvey. "I take great delight in planning the service with the Worship and Music Committee, and serving as worship leader." Here are some of the things the church did:

  • Publicized its observance in the newsletter and newspaper articles, inviting people to dress in their brightest colors for worship.
  • Reprinted "The Risen Christ by the Sea" (in black-and-white) on the cover of the church bulletin.
  • The bell choir played for a prelude, "Dry Bones" - a very spirited piece with dialogue, singing, and sound effects.
  • Worshipers were invited to bring various cut flowers and to place these on a wooden cross covered with wire, transforming it into a glorious floral cross.
  • Helium-inflated yellow balloons with the words "Christ is Risen! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!" were placed in the windows and in the chancel area, along with some smiley face balloons. The choir processed in carrying beautiful jewel-colored balloons.
  • During the children's sermon, Rev. Harvey taught them the song "I'm Gonna Sing" (See p. 16 of "Songs" by Yohann Anderson), adding the lines, "Jesus scattered fear and gloom, when He came out of the tomb." Each child then selected an Easter egg filled with candy from a basket.
  • A soloist sang "Gather Gladness from the Skies" by Charles Callahan, with the refrain, "Make each morn an Easter Day."
  • The sermon was entitled "Getting High with Easter Joy" and was based on Luke 24:1-9 and Ephesians 2:4-7. It incorporated humorous stories and jokes.
  • The service was framed musically with Beethoven's "Hymn to Joy." The congregation began by singing an Easter hymn, "Christ is Risen! Shout Hosanna!" and concluded by singing "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee."

Uninflated balloons with "Christ is Risen! Alleluia!" were distributed to worshipers as they left the service "as a reminder that Easter joy lifts us from doubts, despair, and death."

An upside-down service

Rev. Susan Hamilton, pastor of Parkside Community Church - United Church of Christ, wrote: "I am still receiving comments about our second annual Holy Humor Sunday celebration."

"I placed my collection of joyful Jesus pictures around the altar, along with large smiley faces on the paraments and on balloons in the chancel arrangements.

"While everyone was invited to dress as crazy as they liked, it was the choir who really outdid themselves by arriving in bathrobes instead of their regular choir robes. They sang, 'Are You Dressed for the Wedding?' by Martin/Angerman, while the youth blew bubbles from little bottles.

"The upside-down worship service began with the postlude and benediction, and proceeded in free-form order to the ending invocation and prelude. During the 'joke breaks' in the service (noted by happy faces in the bulletin), as I traveled the aisles with a cordless microphone, humor was shared by many members, ranging from a five-year-old to an 80-year-old.

"At the conclusion of the service, we released and let drop the 100 colorful balloons suspended from the ceiling. Everyone left worship in the most joyful and spirited manner that I've ever seen in my six years of serving here! Shouldn't that be the way we leave God's house every week?

"Thank you for the information and inspiration for this truly unique worship experience, and for leading the way in recapturing Christ's Spirit."

Blessings of joy

Central Wesleyan Church in Jackson, MI, held its first Holy Humor Sunday service last April, and it was so successful the church plans another one this year. Dr. Brad Snyder, the pastor, reported:

"We purchased some of the posters of 'The Risen Christ by the Sea' and wallet-size prints, and gave them out to everyone in attendance. My secretary created banners with many of the one-liners we found in JN, and placed them all over the walls of the sanctuary, foyer, and entrance to the church.

Pastor dressed as jester leads Eastertide service

from The Joyful Noiseletter, March 2003

Pastor Robert M. Thompson and his staff at Corinth Reformed United Church of Christ in Hickory, NC, dressed up as jesters and clowns to lead the church's Holy Humor Sunday service (the Sunday after Easter) last April.

The theme for the service was taken from the Apostle Paul referring to himself and the early Christians as "fools for Christ's sake"

(1 Cor. 4:10). And Pastor Thompson's sermon - "God's Fools" - was based on 1 Cor. 1:18-31 - "For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom."

Thompson and his staff researched the role of jesters in history via the internet, and also used Os Guinness' book, The Call, as a resource.

"Holy folly is central to the call of discipleship," Guinness wrote.

Assistant Pastor Bill Howell, Youth Minister Paul Cummings, and Music Director Peter Corneliussen also wore patchwork jester and clown costumes.

Ushers passed out a neon-colored bulletin in a variety of colors. Cartoons from The Joyful Noiseletter were inserted in each bulletin, and people were invited to share their cartoon with their pew neighbors before the start of the service. Every child was given a balloon.

The bulletin cover proclaimed, "Holy Humor Sunday" and carried an artist's conception of a smiley face, saying: "This is the required face for church today! Wear it, share it, and follow the smiles through the order of service."

The service began with a local brass quartet playing joyful/fun hymn arrangements, and the singing of joyful hymns.

A member of the church's "Class of Joy" - mentally challenged adults - led the congregation in prayer.

The announcements were given in an acrostic, jester-style.

Thompson began his sermon as follows:
"Fool, clown, moron, buffoon, idiot, joker, madman, cretin, jester. Few people in our day would want to be labeled with any of those words - unless it's a party. Even the Bible uses words like that negatively all the way through - except in Paul's letters to the church at Corinth."

Thompson observed that, like Paul, St. Francis of Assisi became "God's jester, God's fool." G.K. Chesterton wrote that St. Francis "wore the word 'fool' as a feather in his cap. He would go on being a fool; he would ever become more and more of a fool; he would be the court fool of the King of Paradise."

Thompson noted that the "jester" or "fool" was a staff position in the royal court in the Middle Ages. "Jesters were jugglers, comedians, musicians, and acrobats. Many suffered from physical and mental disabilities. They were both men and women, young and old. Almost all were peasants."

He said that "etymologically, the word 'cretin' - a stupid or silly person - derives from the word 'Christian.' A Christian is the one who has chosen the folly of wholehearted commitment to Christ."

There are all kinds of fools in the world, he said, but "the kind of fool Paul talks about chooses holy folly and lives in humility. He or she chooses to think and act out of line with the world's priorities."

Thompson closed his sermon with "The Fool's Prayer" by Edward Rowland.

At the offertory, the bulletin noted: "God loves a cheerful giver, so smile while you drop that cash in the plate!"

The final hymn was Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." The bulletin exhorted people to "leave smiling, with a blessing."

(For further information on this Holy Humor Sunday service, you may write to Pastor Bob Thompson, Corinth Reformed UCC, 150 16th Ave. NW, Hickory, NC 28601 or e-mail him at pastor@crucc.org. He says he will be glad to share a manuscript of his sermon, the order of worship, the bulletin, and the alliterated announcements.)

Resurrection celebrations bring back large crowds

from The Joyful Noiseletter, April 2003

In a variety of ingenious ways, FMC-member churches from different traditions continued the celebration of Jesus' resurrection on the Sunday after Easter last April.

The Holy Humor Sunday services brought back large crowds on a Sunday when church attendance normally drops dramatically.

Sunshine in their souls

Continuing a tradition, Zion United Church of Christ in Owensboro, KY, again celebrated "Mirth Sunday." The church bulletin reprinted "The Risen Christ by the Sea" on its cover, as well as nine cartoons from JN inside.

Church members, who look forward to the annual event, showed up wearing bright red, yellow, and blue clothing. The church was decorated with smiley faces and bright yellow balloons emblazoned with "Smile! God Loves You!"

The sermon of Rev. Michael J. Marx, Sr. was entitled "Joyful We Adore Thee." Halfway through the sermon, a church member strolled down the aisle and began tossing a softball to a choir member. And a girl dribbled a soccer ball up and down the aisle.

"There's a lot of joy in Scripture," declared Rev. Marx (only distantly related to Groucho Marx). "How many of you have prayed and asked for joy? If we want joy, we have to go to the Holy Spirit. If there's not enough joy in our lives, we have to go to the Producer."

The choir played kazoos, and the service ended with the singing of "Sunshine in My Soul." "O there's sunshine, blessed sunshine, when the peaceful moments roll; when Jesus shows His smiling face, there's sunshine in my soul."

Sleeping bags in pews

A sign outside Maplewood (MO) Christian Church on Holy Hilarity Sunday announced: "If you must sleep in on Sunday, sleep in here." Every worshiper received a wrapped gift and a booklet of humorous stories about church people.

Two women came dressed in overalls; one woman wore a nightgown over her overalls and a curler in her hair. Another wore sleepers and carried a teddy bear. One woman wore a cowgirl hat.

The sanctuary was filled with colorful helium balloons. Sleeping bags on the back pews invited people to reserve a few minutes for naps during the service.

Some people told humorous stories. Reports Norm Linville, the church's pastor: "There was a serious point to all this: Faith taken too seriously becomes deadly, and loses the joy of the resurrection. If the resurrection of Jesus can't bring a smile to your lips, nothing can!"

He added: "Why have Holy Hilarity Sunday? Because we're Easter people, celebrating the resurrection. Because everyone who is trapped in the tomb of defeat and sorrow needs to hear the joy of the Good News!"

God's last laugh

The Holy Humor Sunday bulletin of Cross & Crown Lutheran Church in Chamblee, GA, carried eight cartoons and reprints of articles on the resurrection from JN.

The bulletin declared: "God has a sense of humor. God has the last laugh and the last word. That word is Resurrection in Jesus Christ! He is Risen! The joke is on human reason and rigidity. Rejoice!" according to Rev. Dr. James A. Clark.

The congregation sang the post-communion canticle, "This Joyful Eastertide."

An ice cream social followed the service.

Joy before Tax Day

Highland Park Church of the Nazarene in Seattle, WA, celebrated its first Holy Humor Sunday on April 14th. "There was more laughter and joy than I've ever heard and seen on the day before taxes were due," reports Jeff Adolphson.

Adolphson, the drummer in the choir, banged his drums after every joke the pastor and others told.

Plastic Easter eggs, each with a joke inside, were passed out. Adolphson also gave gifts of the small prints of "The Risen Christ by the Sea."

"The high school students did a skit on fishing, and cast their fishing rods into the congregation, reeling people onto the stage, as an illustration of sharing the Good News."

A very joyful noise

Rev. Bonnie McGraw, pastor of the Jackson-Idetown-Lehman (PA) United Methodist Churches, asked her congregation to save funny stories and bloopers for the church's first Holy Humor Sunday celebration. She "picked through issues of JN to create a humorous bulletin with theological content.

"I also dragged out my collection of percussion instruments - clickers, clackers, dingers, dongers, tooters, shakers, rattlers - and had everyone make a joyful noise unto the Lord," she said.

"People came through with all sorts of humorous stuff. We had a wonderful time."

Messianic mirth

Hope of Israel, a Messianic Jewish Congregation in Charlotte, NC, had a "Messi-antics" celebration of Messiah's resurrection at a Saturday service on April 20, congregation member Stephanie Smith reported.

It was the congregation's "Saturday version of Holy Humor Sunday," she said. Jokes from JN were used in little booklets, and gift boxes given to the members of the congregation.

'A great success'

Westminster United Church of Christ in Spokane, WA, celebrated its first Holy Humor Sunday last year. "It was a great success for many reasons," reports Rev. Stuart Wells, Interim Co-pastor. "An example: one man forgot his hearing aid, so he came to church on Monday to get a copy of the script so he could find out what his wife had been laughing at the day before."

Wells said the stories used that day came from JN. "We didn't just read them. Wherever possible, we acted them out. We had four readers. One person was the narrator, and three others would read the parts of the characters involved."

Some young people carried signs through the sanctuary during the service. Examples: "Insomnia? Come in for the rest of your life!" and (during the offering) "Tithe if you love Jesus. Anyone can honk!"

'Three cheers for Jesus'

With the blessings of his pastors, James Paul Cole, a layman, has organized and led four Holy Humor Sunday celebrations at Roscoe (IL) United Methodist Church since 1999. "All four services were well received, with increased interest every year," he reports.

"The youth of our congregation - 'E.T.C.' (Exciting Theater for Christ) - did the whole service last April," he said.

The service concluded with this prayer:
People: "Lord, grant me a joyful heart and a holy sense of humor. Please give me the gift of faith, to be renewed and shared with others each day. Teach me to live this moment only, looking neither to the past with regret, nor to the future with apprehension. Let love be my guide, and my life a prayer."
Leader: "Go in laughter; go in grace. Keep the Lord in your heart and a smile on your face."

Butterfly theme

After the fourth annual Bright Sunday celebration at the First Presbyterian Church of Winter Haven, FL, Rev. C. Alan Harvey commented, "I think I can honestly say that they keep getting better and better. People enjoy it greatly and look forward to it."

The church adopted the image of a butterfly - a Christian symbol for the resurrection - for last April's celebration.

"We sponsored a contest for the children to draw the Bright Sunday bulletin cover. Each pen-drawn entry was required to incorporate a butterfly."

Large butterflies made of wood, brightly colored paper and wire decorated the sanctuary.

Each child was given a magnet that displayed a butterfly and these words: "Christ victorious! Risen glorious!"

The service concluded with an old hymn, "I'll Fly Away," as the congregation moved into the church courtyard. There those who had lost loved ones since Easter 2001 were invited to release real live butterflies in their memory.

Two donors had purchased the butterflies from a local "Butterfly Garden," and the butterflies were enclosed in special triangular envelopes.

"Our attendance was up over the previous year's Bright Sunday celebration, in spite of this being the Sunday after Easter and the Sunday when our clocks sprang forward one hour!" Rev. Harvey said. "Word has gotten out that this is another Sunday in the church year that you don't want to miss."

'Bowling Sunday'

In his Holy Humor Sunday sermon, Rev. Dr. Jim Moiso of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Portland, OR, noted that the Sunday after Easter once was called "Bowling Sunday" because "one could roll a bowling ball through the sanctuary, and not hit anyone."

Rev. Moiso told some jokes from JN. And he observed that "in our western, technological world, we have not been particularly receptive to the idea of a resurrection appearance.

"Imagine the delight it was for Jesus to show up, to appear again and again to his followers."

An ongoing tradition

Holy Humor Sunday celebrations have become an ongoing tradition at the United Methodist Church of Mantua, NJ.

Last April, the service opened with this quote from Arthur Gafke: "Blow the trumpets; play the lute and harp; shake the tambourine; hear the strings and pipe; dance. We praise God. Let the praise break forth in the most unlikely places and in silly ways. Let the laughter be deep, for we are God's people."

The senior choir sang an anthem that was an arrangement of children's Sunday school songs. The choir entered the chancel in their choir robes, as usual, but after singing the first stanza, the choir members pulled off their robes, revealing that they were all wearing little kid outfits, reports Rev. Dr. Karl R. Kraft.

In his sermon, Rev. Kraft observed that "no greater joy has ever been experienced in history than that joy which entered the world following Jesus' resurrection."

Preparing people

Pastor Paul Bascom Guffin of Downieville, CA, who serves three United Methodist Churches in that area, prepared people for his three Holy Humor Sunday services by suggesting in an earlier bulletin that they:

  • Practice smiling a lot (try looking in the mirror).
  • Get those jokes and stories ready to tell.
  • Begin rejoicing in God now (no need to wait).
  • Try on a few good belly laughs.
  • Prepare a few practical jokes.
  • Invite someone who likes to laugh.
  • Invite someone who needs to laugh.

Good Humor bars

After the Holy Humor Sunday service at Oakwood Presbyterian Church in New Bethlehem, PA, Rev. T. Donald Hamilton and his staff passed out Good Humor ice cream bars to churchgoers. "We had a good time," Pastor Hamilton reports.

Easter Carols

from The Joyful Noiseletter, April 2004

JN consulting editor Paul Lintern, a Lutheran pastor, composed the lyrics to the following "Easter carols," based on the music of Christmas carols. ©2004 by Paul Lintern. Reprinted with permission.

God Bless You Merry Sinner
(Tune: God Bless Ye Merry Gentlemen)

God bless you merry sinner,
you're forgiven it is true;
Remember Christ your Savior
has lived and died for you,
And lives again as King of Kings
of saint and sinner, too.
Oh, tidings of Easter peace and joy,
peace and joy.
Oh, tidings of Easter peace and joy.
In Jerusalem at Calvary
that dismal Friday morn,
Amid the pain and suffering
eternal life was born.
It came with arms outstretched to us,
right through the curtain torn.
Oh, tidings of Easter peace and joy,
peace and joy.
Oh, tidings of Easter peace and joy.
So sing an hallelujah,
for our Savior's victory,
And shout to all Hosanna,
that we have been set free,
From sin and death and devil's grip throughout eternity.
We'll have tidings of Easter peace and joy, peace and joy.
Glad tidings of Easter peace and joy.

Hark The Herald Angel Said
(Tune: Hark the Herald Angels Sing)

Hark the Herald Angel said,
Why seek Jesus with the dead?
He's not here, as you can see,
Gravecloths lie where he would be.
On your way now, tell the others,
Jesus will be with his brothers.
Sisters, too, he wants to see
on the hills of Galilee.
Hark the Herald Angel said,
He is risen from the dead.

Deck the Halls

Deck the halls with Easter lilies,
Fa-la-la-la-la-le-lu-ia!
Dance a jig and sing the sillies,
Fa-la-la-la-la-le-lu-ia!
At the devil, mean, old bloke,
Fa-la-la-la-la-le-lu-ia!
On whom God has played a joke,
Fa-la-la-la-la-le-lu-ia!

Devil thought he'd won the battle,
Fa-la-la-la-la-le-lu-ia!
Pranced around high in the saddle,
Fa-la-la-la-la-le-lu-ia!
Did not know God's special plan,
Fa-la-la-la-la-le-lu-ia!
To resurrect the Son of Man,
Fa-la-la-la-la-le-lu-ia!

Merry Christians rejoice and sing,
Fa-la-la-la-la-le-lu-ia!
Now's the triumph of our King,
Fa-la-la-la-la-le-lu-ia!
Lord of Life is ris'n this day,
Fa-la-la-la-la-le-lu-ia!
Let the world rejoice and say,
Fa-la-la-la-la-le-lu-ia!

Songs of joy to Christ our head,
Fa-la-la-la-la-le-lu-ia!
Lives again who once was dead,
Fa-la-la-la-la-le-lu-ia!
Life was purchased by his loss,
Fa-la-la-la-la-le-lu-ia!
Died our death upon the cross,
Fa-la-la-la-la-le-lu-ia!

(Paul Lintern is a humorist and motivational speaker available for special events in churches and schools. He may be contacted at Isaac's World, P.O. Box 2801, Mansfield, OH 44906, or at [419] 524-7923.)

One day isn't enough to celebrate Resurrection

Here are the creative ways other FMC-member churches from different traditions continued to celebrate Jesus' Resurrection on Holy Humor Sunday (the Sunday after Easter).

The Holy Humor Sunday services brought back large crowds on a Sunday when church attendance normally drops dramatically.

A focus on joy

"Our congregation, the Sandpoint (ID) United Methodist Church, joined thousands across the country in a growing renewal of a very old Christian tradition: celebrating the Sunday after Easter as Holy Humor Sunday," reported Rev. Paul Graves, a retired UMC pastor.

"We focused on 'joy' as essential to our daily living. During the service, we had a lot of fun-filled 'holy interruptions.' Persons in the sanctuary stood up, politely interrupted our pastor, and shared a funny story or comment. We had a wonderful time laughing with each other throughout the service.'

"Humor," Graves added, "becomes holy when we recognize God in between our aspirations and our limitations, ready to laugh with us, and heal us."

Easter eggs with cartoons

Plastic Easter eggs containing copies of cartoons from JN were distributed at the second annual Holy Humor Sunday at Niantic (CT) Baptist Church.

The church bulletin cover featured "The Risen Christ by the Sea," and the order of worship was punctuated with "joy breaks" (for joke telling), reported Rev. Jill E. Harvey.

Rev. Harvey read Judith Viorst's "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day," which set up her sermon: "Jesus and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" (John 20:19-31).

The choir, she said, "contributed wonderfully fun and joyful music."

A fun outdoor service

"We observed Holy Humor Sunday at an outdoor service," reported Pastor Dale A. Schoening of the Slater and Sheldahl (IA) United Methodist Church. "I got my jokes, stories, and cartoons together from my back issues of JN. The sermon text was the story of David dancing before the Ark of God - an example of joy if ever there was one - and a story that also includes Michal, the quintessential party-pooper."

Job finally laughed

The Holy Humor Sunday sermon at Lynnhaven Colony Congregational Church in Virginia Beach, VA, was titled "Lighter Moments" and was based on Job 8:19-22. "The message of Job is that God gives laughter and joy," said Rev. Dick Dinges. "Today let's laugh together."

The pastor started it off with a string of jokes. "Our church has had several names during its history," he said. "One of my peers at a clergy meeting asked me recently if I was at Lynnhaven Christian Church. I told him, 'No, our church has never been a Christian church.'"

Dinges concluded the service as follows: "Let us develop cheerful hearts that will be able to cheer others. The peace of Christ be upon you; the joy of Christ be within you, and the love of Christ be among you."

The pastor as jester

At the Holy Hilarity celebration at Eastern Hills United Methodist Church, Fort Worth, TX, the pastor was dressed as a jester and the choir showed up in bathrobes, reported Curtis Andersen. The choir anthems were "Zipadee Do Dah" and "Apple Red Happiness."

"Throughout the service, we would ring a cowbell and request someone in the congregation to tell a joke," said Andersen. "We did a humorous skit involving Moses, God, the Ten Commandments, and a computer. We also did a takeoff on the Gettysburg Address, called 'the Golgotha Address,' to show that Christ was not dead, but had risen."

'Victory celebrations'

At First Presbyterian Church of Winter Haven, FL, Rev. C. Alan Harvey's children's sermon on Holy Humor Sunday focused on "Victory Celebrations," and he taught them this cheer, which he wrote:

V-I-C-T-O-R-Y
That's the Christian's shout and cry,
Jesus rose on Easter Day,
So we cheer, Hooray! Hooray!

V-I-C-T-O-R-Y
Watch the little butterfly,
Once seemed dead upon a tree,
Now soars in sky - gives us glee!

V-I-C-T-O-R-Y
That's the Christian's shout and cry,
Jesus lives and so can we,
Beyond the grave, eternally!

'Goofy prophesies'

Pastor F. Christopher Anderson's Holy Humor Sunday sermon was titled "When Christ Will Not Return" at Heidelberg United Church of Christ in York, PA.

Anderson, the author of a joke book called The Revised Heidelberg Catechism, noted that Jesus himself in Mark 13:32 declares, "But about the day or the hour no one knows, neither the angels in Heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."

Date setters for Christ's return have always been wrong, said Anderson. Jesus also said, "Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he returns." (Mt. 24:46)

Said Anderson: "This business of speculating on when Christ will return blinds us to what Jesus really wants. Jesus said that we are to love God and our neighbor. This is how we are to busy ourselves. This is our work. He did not say that we are to waste time writing goofy books that incorrectly predict when he is to return."

Belief in the Resurrection an antidote to depression

Belief in the Resurrection and the hope of everlasting salvation offered by Christianity are antidotes to the fear and anguish that lead to depression," according to Portuguese Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins.

At an international conference on clinical depression in Rome, Cardinal Saraiva Martins observed that several of the Psalms are full of "expressions of a depressive state" (for example, Psalms 55 and 102).

But he also noted that many of the Psalms provide a remedy for depression, exalting the goodness of God and the created world, and the conviction that people "are always loved by God" (for example, Psalm 139).

The Cardinal maintained that "a healthy spiritual life can prevent neuroses, including reactive depression" by moderating negative and stressful experiences.

(Precisely what Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox writers have been saying in The Joyful Noiseletter for almost 20 years. Humor, good nutrition, and physical fitness help, too.)

Blues Brothers lead at Holy Humor Sunday

from The Joyful Noiseletter, March 2005

The Blues Brothers showed up at the ninth annual Holy Humor Sunday of the United Methodist Church in Mantua, NJ, and led the service from the opening announcements to the benediction.

Rev. Gene Wilkins came as "Eliot" and Rev. Dr. Karl R. Kraft came as "Jake."

Helium-filled balloons with smiley-faces were tied to pews. "Humor Breaks" were inserted throughout the service. The choir, wearing silver-sequined hats, sang "Can't Stop Praising His Name."

(Later, in August, Rev. Kraft led a very well-received workshop on his church's Holy Humor Sunday services at the Northeast Jurisdiction of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts, held in Williamsport, PA.)

Here are some of the creative ways other FMC-member churches continued to celebrate Jesus' Resurrection on Holy Humor Sunday (the Sunday after Easter).

'We had a great day!'

"If Easter seems to come and go too fast, there is a way to keep the holiday spirit going. Churches around the world are extending the holy season with 'Bright Sunday' services (also known as Holy Humor Sunday) - a day that focuses on the joy of Jesus' resurrection. Faith Community United Church of Christ in Toledo is one such congregation that observes Bright Sunday each year on the Sunday after Easter." ("We had a great day!" reported Gloria Parker, church librarian.)

-David Yonke
Religion Editor, The Toledo Blade

Campfire joy

Crossroaders, an interfaith Christian camping club representing seven churches in four denominations, celebrated Holy Humor Sunday at Bonita Ranch campground in Lytle Creek, CA.

Campers sat around a fire and read scriptures on the back of "The Risen Christ by the Sea." Jokes and thoughts about joy from JN were distributed on prescription labels to worshipers. The bulletin was filled with cartoons from JN, reported Ivy Conklin.

Facial transformations

Pastor Harlan Nonhof, who serves Hayes (KS) and Ebenezer (KS) United Methodist Churches, reported that after the sermon, each person was given a postcard of the "Risen Christ by the Sea" - with the picture turned down so that they could not see what it was, and instructed not to peek.

The choir then began singing the song "Jesus Laughing" from Mark Lowry's CD "Some Things Never Change." When the song's words came to "Jesus Laughing," Nonhof told the congregation to turn the card over and look at it.

"What a transformation on their faces!" reported Nonhof.

Clowns and kazoos

At the "Holy Play Sunday" at Westminster Presbyterian Church, seven clowns passed out kazoos to the congregation. The organists and the kazoos played "Jesus Christ Is Risen Today!" reported Bud Frimoth.

During his sermon, Rev. Dr. Jim Moiso wore a decorated dunce hat that a clown gave him. Another clown interrupted his sermon midway and gave him a note telling him that the sermon was over.

Clowns also tossed paper airplanes with prayers on them to the congregation.

Rev. Moiso used jokes and quotes from JN in his sermon "The New Testament," Moiso said, "tells us that in the early Christian community, the prevailing mood was anything but funereal. Good Friday had come, for sure, with devastating effect. But so had outrageous Easter and empowering Pentecost. Of all people, Christians had reason to be glad. When we take ourselves too seriously, we miss the Gospel entirely."

Knock-knock jokes

The choir sang, "All God's Critters Got a Place in the Choir" with one verse on kazoos at the Ho-Ho-Holy Humor Sunday service of Key Biscayne (FL) Community Church.

Rev. Bud Schroeder said a lot of "knock-knock" jokes were used to introduce various parts of the service:

Prayer: Knock knock, who's there? Lettuce. Lettuce who? Lettuce pray.

Offering: KK… Phillip. Fill up the plate as it's passed to you.

Scripture reading:
KK… Rita. Read a Bible if you want to hear the good news.
KK… Luke. Look all around you at the smiles on your neighbors.
KK… Gladys. Glad it's Sunday, aren't you?
KK… Oliver. All of our joys come from the Lord.

More Easter Carols

from The Joyful Noiseletter, April 2005

Here are some more lyrics to "Easter carols," composed by JN consulting editor Paul Lintern, a Lutheran pastor, based on the music of Christmas carols. ©2004 by Paul Lintern. Reprinted with permission. They may be sung in your church.

Joy to the World

Joy to the World, the Lord's alive, Awake, rejoice and sing!
It's just as He had said,
He's risen from the dead.
Salvation now He brings,
Salvation now He brings,
Salvation, salvation now He brings.
Joy to the World, the empty tomb,
Proclaims a victory.
Of light compelling,
A great dispelling
Of darkness in the world,
Of darkness in the world,
Of darkness, of darkness in the world.
Joy to the World,
Our Savior reigns,
Let Heaven and earth proclaim
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders of His love.

It Came upon a Sunrise Bright
(Tune: "It Came upon a Midnight Clear")

It came upon a sunrise bright,
that glorious promise anew,
That Jesus, though he was crucified,
now lives for me and for you.
Peace on earth, goodwill to all,
from Heaven rejoicing on high,
The world with joyful dancing
shares the news that He is alive.
The women with their spices came,
the body to anoint,
They found the tomb was empty
and they heard an angel appoint.
The time, the place, the reason why,
you'll find your Jesus on high,
And then in joy the woman shared
the news that He is alive.

Beautiful Day
(Tune: "Silent Night")

Beautiful Day, Glorious Day
All is new, all's okay!
'Round the tomb
There is dancing and song,
See inside that the body is gone.
Christ, the Savior's alive,
Christ, the Savior's alive.
Beautiful Day, Glorious Day,
Soldiers quake and run away,
The stone is cleared from heaven above,
Heavenly host says "Hallelujah,"
Jesus, Lord, at new birth,
Jesus, Lord, at new birth.
Beautiful Day, Glorious Day,
Sing and shout, tell and say,
Radiant beams from this sinner's face,
Show because of amazing grace,
Christ, the Savior's alive,
Christ, the Savior's alive.

Go tell it on the Mountain

Chorus:
Go tell it on the mountain,
over the hills and everywhere,
Go tell it on the mountain
that Jesus is alive.
While soldiers watched the gravesite
That quiet Sunday dawn
There came a big commotion
and then the storm was gone.
The women found no body
their spices to anoint,
Instead they found an angel,
God's message to appoint.
Go from where He isn't
to where He said He'd be.
An Eastertime reunion,
the hills of Galilee.

(Paul Lintern is a humorist and motivational speaker available for special events in churches and schools. He may be contacted at Isaac's World, P.O. Box 2801, Mansfield, OH 44906, or at [419] 524-7923.)

A very old Easter sermon

(The following are excerpts from the famous Easter sermon of St. John Chrysostom [347-407 A.D.], still read today as part of the Easter midnight service in Eastern Orthodox Church liturgies.)

"If anyone is devout and loves God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If anyone is a wise servant, let him rejoice and enter into the joy of his Lord.

"He gives rest to him who comes at the 11th hour, even as to him who has worked from the first hour. And He shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first.

"Let all then enter into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, keep the feast. You sober and you heedless, celebrate the day.

"Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast… Let all receive the riches of loving-kindness.

"Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior's death has set us free.

"O Death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? Christ is risen, and thou art overthrown.

"Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and the tomb is emptied of the dead. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen."

Holy Humor Sunday Services Flourishing

from The Joyful Noiseletter, March 2006

Some folks in our society did their best to take Christmas away from us in December. Let's not let them take Easter away from us, too.

We'd still like the right to say "Happy Easter!" - not "happy holiday."

An increasing number of churches are continuing to celebrate Jesus' Resurrection on Holy Humor Sunday (the Sunday after Easter - this year April 23).

Holy Humor Sunday celebrations have become an annual event for many churches, attracting large crowds on a Sunday when church attendance typically declines sharply. Some pioneer churches have been celebrating Holy Humor Sunday annually for 10 years.

It's time for your church to begin planning for a Holy Humor Sunday celebration. Here are some of the creative ways FMC-member churches celebrated last year.

Baseball theme

The third annual Holy Hilarity Sunday of the First Congregational Church of Royal Oak, MI, had a baseball theme. It was billed as "the funniest Sunday this side of spring training."

People came dressed in baseball uniforms, and hotdogs were served at the potluck which followed.

In the bulletin Senior Minister John F. Miller was listed as the bat boy; the minister of music as the park organist, the business manager as the team manager, the custodian as the grounds keeper, etc.

The prelude was "Warming Up." The order of worship was divided into nine innings.

The second inning included the prayer: "Heavenly Father, we ask You to bless Your children at play… Keep us from praying piously and then talking trash… Spare the contestants from injury and the spectators from embarrassing themselves and their schools and teams…"

A Gospel Quartet sang, "Life is a Ballgame," and Rev. Miller's sermon was titled "The Joys of Summer."

(The Detroit Tigers, however, ended up with still another losing season.)

10th annual celebration

JN consulting editor Rev. Dr. Karl R. Kraft, pastor of Mantua (NJ) United Methodist Church, and his congregation were pioneers in celebrating Holy Humor Sunday in many creative ways. "They've been a huge success," Kraft said. All of those services were videotaped, and for the 10th annual Holy Humor Sunday celebration last April 3, video clips from past celebrations were shown on a large screen.

"Ho Hum" (from "HOly HUMor") Awards were presented to the best performers. And everyone who came to church got a kazoo to play.

For its Holy Humor Sunday service, the church - like many other churches - used a church bulletin with a full-color "Risen Christ by the Sea" on its cover. (These bulletins are available from the FMC catalog.)

(For more information on the Mantua church's celebrations, write to Rev. Kraft, 225 Mantua Blvd., Mantua, NJ 08051-1023.)

'Holy Humor Communion Service'

Rev. Realff H. Ottesen, pastor of the Shell Rock (IA) United Methodist Church, reported: "Since Holy Humor Sunday happened to fall on what would ordinarily be a Holy Communion Celebration for our congregation - a normally quiet formal worship service - I concluded that we needed to go ahead with Holy Communion, but to do it in the spirit of the day."

Rev. Ottesen put together a revised version of the United Methodist Book of Worship Communion Service"designed for the light, yet contrite, heart," and called it the "Holy Humor Communion Service."

The revised version began: "Giving thanks to God is a good and a joyful task, to be done with smiles on our faces and laughter in our hearts; for it is God who created us creatures of mirth and joy… the God who helped us overcome the gloominess in our own lives."

"My congregation thought it was pretty cool," Ottesen said. "Perhaps some other churches can find a use for the revised version, too."

For more information, write to Rev. Ottesen, Shell Rock UMC, P.O. Box 117, Shell Rock, IA 50670-0117. E-mail: srumc@netins.net

'Crooked Lutherans' rejoice

The three congregations in the Crooked Creek Cooperative Lutheran Ministries in Ford City, PA (aka "the Crooked Lutherans") had a "hilarious time" at their Holy Humor Sunday service, reported Pastor April Dailey.

"We encouraged people to wear silly clothes, and did they ever!" said Rev. Dailey. The organist wore a jester's cap with bells. A choir member dressed like a hillbilly, braided his long beard, wore ribbons in it, went barefoot, and painted his toenails red with "Hi" written on the big toes.

Others wore tie-dyed T-shirts and Dr. Suess hats. One man wore shorts over long johns. Another man wore his wife's straw hat with a big red bow in it.

The choir and congregation sang the Easter carols, composed by Lutheran Pastor Paul Lintern, which appeared in the April, 2005 issue of JN.

"St. Paul said, 'Rejoice in the Lord always!' We sure did!" Rev. Dailey concluded.

(Rev. Dailey may be contacted at Rt. 1, Box 118, Ford City, PA 16226.)

Butterflies and hats

The First Presbyterian Church of Winter Haven, FL, celebrated its seventh annual Bright Sunday celebration, decorating the sanctuary with large butterflies - a Christian symbol for the Resurrection - made of wood, brightly colored paper and wire.

People dressed in their brightest colors. The Presbyterian Women encouraged the women of the church to "resurrect" the custom of wearing hats to church that day - and many did, reported Rev. C. Alan Harvey, Associate Pastor. "They would have made quite an Easter parade."

Worshipers were invited to bring various cut flowers and to place these on a wooden cross covered with wire, transforming it into a glorious floral cross.

The anthem, specially composed for the day by Charles Callahan, was titled, "Come Let Us Join Our Cheerful Songs." The sermon was titled, "Sing a New Song to the Lord! Rejoice!"

(For more information, write to Rev. Harvey at First Presbyterian Church, P.O. Box 911 Winter Haven, FL 33882-0911. Fax: [863] 294-1105.)

On Holy Humor Sunday, the bulletin of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Columbus, TX, opened with the statement, "Humor becomes holy when we recognize God in between our aspirations and our limitations, ready to laugh with us, and heal us."

The congregation sang Paul Lintern's Easter Carols to the tunes of Christmas carols.

Holy Humor Sunday Fun

from The Joyful Noiseletter, April 2006

What greater gifts can you give to your church?

Many churches are resurrecting an old Easter custom begun by the Greeks in the early centuries of Christianity - ongoing celebrations of Jesus' Resurrection on the Sunday after Easter. Here are more inspired ways that FMC-member churches observed Holy Humor Sunday last April. The celebrations brought joy and lots of fun and laughter to many congregations. What greater gifts can you give to your congregation?

'A Litany of Holy Fools'

Rev. Robert R. Smith, rector of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion in Norwood, NJ, began his Holy Humor Sunday service with this question: "Is God's vision for our salvation a comic vision?" His answer: "Yes!"

He then traced the history of post-Easter celebrations and traditions in Christianity. Everybody coming to church that morning was given a button with a quote from G.K. Chesterton: "Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly."

Smith passed out a satirical newsletter titled "Vox News" with this mission statement: "The Seven healing Words of a Healthy Church - Laughter Heals the Church of Deadly Seriousness."

The church bulletin featured a print of "The Risen Christ by the Sea" on the cover. The bulletin that day was intentionally riddled with typos and bloopers. Parishioners were told that the person who guessed the correct number of typos and bloopers in the bulletin would win a subscription to The Joyful Noiseletter.

The service ended with "A Litany of Holy Fools," including St. Paul, who said, "The foolishness of the cross is the power of God," and St. Francis of Assisi, "God's Joker, and preacher to creatures."

'The Funny Side of Aging'

Corinth Reformed United Church of Christ in Hickory, NC, celebrated its ninth consecutive Holy Humor Sunday with the theme "The Funny Side of Aging."

The bulletin was printed in very large print, and there were lots of jokes about growing older. Pastor Bob Thompson sprayed his hair white.

'Solidly grounded theologically'

The First United Methodist Church of National Park, NJ, celebrated its first Holy Humor Sunday last April. Pastor Frank Robinson reported that the congregation "fell in love with the idea so much that they want to do it twice a year."

The choir, wearing comical hats and equipped with tambourines, sang a variety of funny and happy songs, including "Spread the Good News." The church was decorated with balloons.

The Gloucester County Times did an advance article on its front page on the church's celebration. Pastors who saw the article discussed it at their monthly Ministerium meeting.

"We discussed the matter of laughter in church, the thread of joy that permeates the Scriptures from beginning to end, and that Holy Humor Sunday is solidly grounded theologically and historically," reported Rev. Karl R. Kraft, of Mantua (NJ) United Methodist Church.

Pastor debuts as clown

Bethel Lutheran Church of Phoenix, AZ, put together a special order of worship for its first Holy Humor Sunday, starting with this declaration: "Today we come to celebrate and praise our living, loving, and laughing God."

"We sang all the joyful songs, like 'I Will Enter His Gates,' 'I've Got the Joy, Joy, Joy…,' 'If You're Happy…,' 'Joyful, Joyful,' and 'He Arose,'" reported Pastor John G. Lemnitzer.

"The Risen Christ by the Sea" bulletin cover was used, and the church was decorated with balloons and smiley faces. For the first time in his life, Rev. Lemnitzer dressed as a clown with big shoes and flashing lights, and made his entrance running down the center church aisle. His sermon: "The joy of the Lord."

Throughout the service, people in the congregation shared their jokes.

"It was a lot of fun and we plan on making it an annual affair," said Lemnitzer.

'Them bones gonna rise again'

At the urging of a 96-year-old member, Holy Ghost United Church of Christ, St. Louis, MO, celebrated its first Holy Humor Sunday.

The congregation, composed mostly of retired persons, sang "Dry Bones" - "Them Bones, Them Bones Gonna Rise Again," complete with hand-arm motions.

The church bulletin was printed upside down, and people told knock-knock jokes.

One visitor told Rev. I. David Thompson when he arrived, "I saw your announcement in the newspaper, and I came because I needed an uplift." After the service, the visitor said with a big smile, "I needed an uplift and I got it."

"It was a good day, and people left with smiles on their faces," Rev. Thompson said.

Handbells & Easter carols

The congregation at First United Methodist Church in Billings, MT, loved the lyrics of Rev. Paul Lintern's "Easter Carols" when they were sung and played by the adult and junior and senior high handbell choirs and the children on the Sunday after Easter.

Joyce Jensen, director of the children & youth chime & bell choirs, said the kindergarten and first-graders used chime blocks, the second and third-graders rang choir chimes, and the fourth, fifth, and sixth-graders rang handbells.

"We thank JN for publishing the type of material that can be used successfully in so many ways to bring the joy of the Lord into people's hearts," Jensen wrote.

Galloping Overture

The Handbell Choir opened the Holy Humor Sunday service at Mountainhome (PA) United Methodist Church with a section of the William Tell Overture.

Rev. Barbara L. Housley began the responsive dismissal: "Oh God, on Easter the thunder of your voice caused the stone to roll away from Christ's tomb." The congregation replied: "Make the ground shake beneath us, so that our feet shall dance, so that we shall leap up and run out the door, and carry love to a waiting world."

The Handbell Choir concluded with the familiar "Lone Ranger" section of the William Tell Overture. "The congregation galloped out into the world," said Rev. Housley.

'And God Laughed'

The first Holy Humor Sunday service of Velda Rose United Methodist Church in Mesa, AZ, "was a great success," reported Rev. Stewart Lewis.

"We used Paul Lintern's songs in JN with Christmas tunes and Easter words," Lewis said. "The choir wore red clown noses, and we sang the Doxology to the tune of 'Hernando's Hideaway.'"

Rev. Lewis' sermon was titled, "And God Laughed."

'An epidemic of smiles'

For his first 23 years as a United Methodist Pastor, Rev. Edd Myers said he "dreaded the Sunday after Easter because it was depressing. The large Easter congregation shrank so much by the next Sunday that I often wished I had taken that day off.

"Six years ago that all changed when I read in JN about Bright Sunday/Holy Humor Sunday and decided to give it a try. Now I look forward to the Sunday after Easter, and so do many of our church people at Centerville/Taylor United Methodist Churches in Brownsville, PA. Each year more and more of them contribute items for the service and participate in it. Thank you for resurrecting my Sunday after Easter."

The Call to Worship began with the leader declaring:
"Smiling is infectious. You catch it like the flu."
The congregation responded: "When someone smiled at me today, I started smiling, too."
Leader: "I passed around the corner, and someone saw my grin."
Congregation: "When he smiled I realized I'd passed it on to him."
Leader: "I thought about that smile. Then I realized its worth."
Congregation: "A single smile just like mine could travel the whole earth."
Leader: "So if you feel a smile begin, don't leave it undetected."
Congregation: "Let's start an epidemic quick, and get the world infected!"

Pastor Myers' sermon was titled "Faith and Laughter Go Together."

Persistence pays off

FMC member Richard A. Grudt of Shoreline, WA, reported: "After years of rejection, the congregation at Edmonds (WA) Lutheran Church last year finally accepted my encouragement to celebrate the Sunday after Easter as Holy Hilarity Sunday. It was a tremendous success, and the people overwhelmingly decided to celebrate it again this year and, hopefully, far into the future."

Picnic & knock-knock jokes

The First Presbyterian Church of Thunder Bay, Ontario, waited till June 12 to celebrate its first Holy Humor Sunday with a congregational picnic.

"We told a lot of knock-knock jokes, and passed around a smiley face bucket full of balloons and Joyful Noiseletter cartoons," reported Rev. Mark McLennan. "The reaction - we should do this every Sunday!"

Celebrate joy!

Commenting on Mel Gibson's film, "The Passion of the Christ," CrossWays, the newsletter of the Canadensis (PA) Moravian Church added, "It is time to acknowledge that we can and are so often, as C.S. Lewis wrote, 'Surprised by Joy!' The mind-blowing, heart-stopping, skin-prickling, lung-filling JOY of knowing in that instant a unity with God and all creation, and feeling the cemented, solid assurance that God is in charge and Jesus is alive.

"Laughter is the best medicine whether healing is needed for the heart, soul, or mind. Celebrate JOY! Harvest God's laughter!"

Br. Dean Easton is pastor of the church.

'The joke is on you!'

River of Life Lutheran Church in Troutdale, OR, celebrated its second annual Holy Hilarity Sunday - "a reflection of the freedom and joy we have because of the Resurrection of Christ." The previous week's bulletin announced the sermon title will be "The Joke is on You!" - and added, "Don't forget to set your clock ahead an hour Saturday night in keeping with Daylight Saving Time, or the joke really will be on you!"

Sierra Christian Church of Las Vegas, NV, also celebrated an "exciting" second annual Bright Sunday celebration, "rejoicing in the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ," reported Senior Pastor Jo Ann Bynum.

At your Holy Humor Sunday service this year, you can help us by telling people about FMC and urging them to subscribe to JN. Many thanks. The editors.

10 ways to rejoice in the Resurrection

In honor of their 100th anniversary, Wheat Ridge Ministries of Itasca, IL, a Lutheran ministry, offered these "10 Ways to RE-Joice in the RE-surrection":

  1. RE-Joice… He is Risen… Indeed!
  2. RE-Fresh… your body by sound sleep and good eats!
  3. RE-New… acquaintances and habits of health and hope!
  4. RE-Deemed… Know that you are loved forever by the Lord!
  5. RE-View… your past lumps and bumps… and know you're forgiven!
  6. RE-Late… Talk, and listen closely, to those around you!
  7. RE-Store… "unto me a clean heart, O God." (Psalm 51:10)
  8. RE-Vive… your faith through the Word and Sacraments!
  9. RE-Focus… on all the great gifts the Lord has given you!
  10. RE-Member… those special people around you!

-via Dr. Rich Bimler
Itasca, IL

HOLY HUMOR SUNDAY

from The Joyful Noiseletter, March 2007

A way to shore up belief in Jesus' resurrection

By Cal Samra
Editor, The Joyful Noiseletter

The majority of Americans don't believe in the resurrection, according to the findings of a Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll released a week before Easter Sunday last year.

The poll reported that 54% of Americans do not believe in the resurrection of their bodies after they die, 10% were undecided, and only 36% said they believed in their own resurrection.

The poll findings dismayed many theologians and pastors of all faith traditions because it pointed to a failure to teach the basic tenets of the Christian faith as expressed in the Nicene Creed and the Apostles' Creed.

Ironically, the poll results were released about the same time that an increasing number of churches were holding ongoing celebrations of Jesus' resurrection on Holy Humor Sunday (the Sunday after Easter).

Since The Joyful Noiseletter began encouraging churches to celebrate Holy Humor Sunday (or Bright Sunday) 15 years ago, it has become an annual event for some churches.

More and more churches are discovering that an ongoing celebration of Jesus' resurrection brings back large crowds on a Sunday when church attendance typically declines dramatically.

The popularity of Holy Humor Sunday services suggests a keen public interest in the resurrection. But this phenomenon, with few exceptions, has been generally ignored by the news media.

For years, The Joyful Noiseletter has been urging churches to resurrect a very old Christian tradition, begun by early Greek Christians, as a way of shoring up people's flagging belief in the resurrection.

In May, 2004, after viewing a premiere showing of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," JN editors were disappointed that there was so little in the movie about the resurrection - only a brief glimpse of the Risen Christ about to emerge from the tomb.

We wrote to Gibson noting that "the resurrection and the Risen Christ's many appearances to his disciples afterwards led to an explosion of joy and celebration." We suggested that he do a movie sequel titled "The Resurrection of the Christ." We never got a reply. We're not sure he ever received our letter.

It's time to play for this year's Holy Humor Sunday celebrations (April 15). Here are some of the creative ways FMC-member churches celebrated last year:

'Butterfly Sunday'

For their first Holy Humor Sunday, the youngsters at Tabor Lutheran Church in Rockford, IL, made paper butterflies which were used to decorate the hats of the girls and as bow ties for the boys. The youngsters and choir sang Brian M. Howard's "The Butterfly Song" for the entrance hymn.

After the children's sermon, they returned to their seats as the church's newly formed Tabor Kitchen Band played "The Easter Parade." (The kitchen band included a drummer, a jug and harmonica player, a washboard player, a pianist, and several kazoo players.)

"The service went amazingly well," reported Pastor Amy Nyman, who composed the following lyrics for the sending hymn, sung to the tune of "Amazing Grace" and based on John 15:11. She called the hymn "Butterfly Sunday," and gives permission to other churches to use it.

Amazing creatures, small they are -
Bright wings carry them afar!
Our spirits soar for we can see
Our Lord has set us free!
Our fellowship is based on love,
The love Christ gave for all!
Bright colors fly - below, above -
And, yes, beyond the pall!
Our Savior said, "My joy in you -
Your joy may be complete."
Each life transform, our church renew -
To share God's love is sweet!

'Risen Christ' bulletins

Dravosburg (PA) United Methodist Church used "The Risen Christ by the Sea" church bulletins for their first Holy Humor Sunday. Pastor Ed Herald wore his tie backwards, and delivered a sermon as if Jesus was surrounded by his disciples at a campfire, telling jokes from the Old Testament.

During three "holy humor breaks," acolytes took wireless mikes into the congregation, and people shared stories and jokes.

"There were many favorable comments about the service," said Rev. Herald.

11th annual celebration

For the 11th annual Holy Humor Sunday at Mantua (NJ) United Methodist Church, Rev. Karl R. Kraft and Rev. Gene Wilkins appeared as muscle-obsessed Hans and Franz from "Saturday Night Live." They led the two morning services around the theme of building up ("pumping up") the body of Christ. The two pastors enhanced their biceps with kiddie-size water wings worn beneath their sweat shirts.

The pair was surprised when several members of the congregation pummeled them with soft toy balls.

"Holy Humor Sunday is a highlight of our church year," said Rev. Kraft.

St. John's Lutheran Church in North Versailles, PA, celebrated its third annual Holy Humor Weekend with the theme "Sailing with Jesus." The organizers came dressed as Olive Oyl (Sue Harer), Popeye (Pastor Richard Krug), and the Captain (Bishop Donald McCoid).

"Jesus is our anchor in the storms of life, our lifesaver, and our pilot," declared Olive Oyl. "Thanks be to God!"

Holy Humor Sunday stoles

For the Holy Humor Sunday service of Choteau (MT) United Methodist Church, Rev. Kama Hamilton Morton wore a stole bearing a cross, a smiley face, and a butterfly. A couple of parishioners with sewing skills gave it to her as a birthday gift. She can be reached at umc@3rivers.net.

For the Holy Humor Sunday service of Quaker Hill (CT) Baptist Church, Rev. Jill Harvey designed a stole with a cluster of multi-colored smiley faces on a black background with a bright red fringe. "I also wear it with a white alb for Children's Sunday and VBS Sunday," she said.

"Stoles are not too difficult to make. I found the fabric in a local fabric store and traced the design out on tissue paper. I've received many compliments about it." She can be reached at revjeh@charter.net.

Holy Humor Sunday Fun

from The Joyful Noiseletter, April 2007

Here are more inspired ways that churches celebrated Holy Humor Sunday (the Sunday after Easter) last April.

'Building on Fun'

The Corinth Reformed Church, Hickory, NC, celebrated its 10th annual Holy Humor Sunday, "so we borrowed at least one idea from each previous year," reported Pastor Bob Thompson. "We had a Habitat house on the church's front lawn (later moved to its permanent location), so our Holy Humor theme was 'Building on Fun.' I wore my Habitat shirt, jeans, hard hat, and tool box, and used my work bench as a pulpit."

Grumpy old men jokes

Rev. Steven A. Miller, pastor of Algonquin and Central United Methodist Churches in Sault Ste. Marie, MI, reports: "I approached our first Holy Humor Sunday last year with excitement, but a little hesitation because the two UMC churches I serve are more traditional. I'm glad to say we had a grand celebration.

"We passed out plastic Easter eggs with JN cartoons inside. We had two men in the balcony imitating the two grumpy old men named Statler and Waldorf on the Muppets. When we paused for a 'Holy Humor Break' during the service, they told humorous stories. Many said it was a wonderful time of worship, and have been asking when we can have another Holy Humor Sunday."

April Fools for Christ

Grace United Methodist Church, Cambridge, MD, celebrated its sixth annual Bright Sunday with a host of bright, cheerful songs, bells, and noisemakers. Everyone dressed colorfully, some as clowns and Easter bunnies who delivered small potted flowers to people in the congregation. There was a necktie exchange for the men.

Pastor Doug Ridley read a poem he composed titled "April Fool":

The devil knew it was a trick,
a trap, 
but couldn't help himself.
He had to try to seize 
the opportunity 
to fry the Son of God.
He knew that God could snap 
the trap at anytime, 
and change the map, 
so Jesus would go free.
To crucify God's chosen one 
would mean he'd won; 
and give Almighty God a slap.
Then Easter dawned: 
an empty tomb! Praise God! 
The devil lost again.
He'd hoped he'd won, 
but, no, his evil scheme 
had come undone.
Oh, what a trick 
God played on him 
- and called him 'April Fool!'
Gee whiz - 
Oh, what an April Fool 
the devil was, and is.

'Outrageous outfits'

Parishioners arrived in their "most outrageous outfits" for the Holy Humor Sunday celebration at Coloma (MI) United Methodist Church. The church bulletin featured cartoons from JN.

How to attract the young and the unchurched

from The Joyful Noiseletter, January 2008

By Cal Samra
Editor, The Joyful Noiseletter

With this issue, The Joyful Noiseletter begins its 23rd year of service to Christian churches of all faith traditions - and as a friend to the religious press.

One of our subscribers, Janalie Robeson, who teaches Sunday school class at Flora (IN) Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), wrote us recently asking our advice on how to attract and bring unchurched people to church.

"In many communities, including our rural area, 50% of the population is not affiliated with any church," she wrote. "Many of the old ways, such as door-to-door calling, etc., no longer work. So how do we reach others?"

Sadly, both Protestant and Catholic churches are having difficulty reaching not only the unchurched, but also teenagers and young adults.

The editor of one national Protestant publication recently lamented that the publication had lost a third of its circulation in the past four years.

A national Catholic publication, which 20 years ago had a circulation of 160,000 is now down to 60,000 - most of them subscribers over age 60.

Where is the 'good cheer'?

Dare I suggest that some churches and Christian publications may be failing to attract young people and the unchurched because they are viewed as offering a joyless and humorless Christianity?

We have a Savior who, knowing that he was about to be betrayed, tortured, and crucified, told his disciples before his arrest: "These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full." (John 15:11)

Where is the joy?

We have a Savior who told his disciples: "Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

Where is the good cheer?

Whatever happened to the joyful, robust, soaring spirit and wit embodied in Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Philip Neri, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Henry Ward Beecher, G.K. Chesterton, Charles Spurgeon, Will Rogers, C.S. Lewis, Elton Trueblood, Malcolm Muggeridge, and many other Christian guideposts?

'The laughter of the redeemed'

Where is "the laughter of the redeemed?" That's what Protestant theologian Jurgen Moltmann called it. While languishing in a Nazi prison, Moltmann became fascinated by the ongoing celebrations of Jesus' Resurrection by the early Christians that continued long after Easter Sunday.

For centuries, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant churches celebrated the Resurrection after Easter Sunday with parties, picnics, joke-telling, pranks, songs, and dancing.

These post-Easter celebrations faded away in the past century, but with the assistance of The Joyful Noiseletter, many churches are reviving this old custom on the Sunday after Easter (what the early Greek Christians called "Bright Sunday" but what is now being called "Holy Humor Sunday.").

Holy Humor Sunday celebrations have become an annual event for some churches, attracting large crowds on a Sunday when church attendance typically declines sharply.

More importantly, young people, as well as old people, and the unchurched, are attracted to, and greatly enjoy, Holy Humor Sunday services.

Janalie Robeson has taught Sunday school at her church for 30 years. "I think one of the reasons we thrive as a class," she writes, "is that not only do I encourage discussion, but I like to make them laugh. I've made a page of funny stuff from JN for eight years now."

Humor an evangelistic tool

Janalie has discovered that humor is a powerful evangelistic tool.

Her church celebrated its second annual Holy Humor Sunday service last April, and it was "lots of fun," she wrote.

Even during these turbulent times, it's possible to follow Jesus' instructions to his disciples to "be of good cheer" and to bring some joy, laughter, and healing humor to your church family.

"The horrors are poor bait," said the great English Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon, who had a keen sense of humor. Good humor makes good bait.

Why not try a Holy Humor Sunday service in this year?

John 20:19-31 a la Dr. Seuss

from The Joyful Noiseletter, March 2008

It took Rev. Dr. Jim Moiso, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Portland, OR, twice as long to write his sermon for the church's annual Holy Humor Sunday service last April.

It was a restatement of John 20:19-31 - the story of Mary Magdalene discovering the empty tomb and the Risen Christ appearing to his disciples - written in the meter and rhyme of Dr. Seuss.

Here are some excerpts from that sermon, which Moiso prefaced "with apologies to Dr. Seuss":

Well, we had all gone hiding
and we wondered what to do.
Our lives, our dreams all broken
and his God seemed absent too.

Now saviors are not s'posed to die,
but save us with God's power.
Least that is what I used to think
before that strange encounter.

Absent was I the night he came,
I don't remember what doing.
We had not trusted Mary's word,
"The Lord I've seen," proclaiming.

Impossible. Preposterous.
How could she believe such things?
She's just a woman, that we knew.
In grieving, to him she clings.

And then he spoke, here's what he said,
"Peace be with you, my friends."
They must have looked all startled then
'cause "Peace" he said again.

Amazed, remembered they his word
the night before he died:
God's peace he'd bring to us in life,
our joy'd be multiplied.

But then a strange thing happened.
Why, Jesus appeared once more.
He came right up before me,
without even op'ning the door.

No condemnation in his eyes,
no judgment on his tongue.
No halo, overwhelming light,
just presence, wounds and love.

My knees they shook, my eyes were blurred,
a realist I always had been.
In his presence I blurted out
"My Lord and God," who'd risen.

'NO JOY IN MUDVILLE'

Why can't we identify with Christ's joy?

"Oh, somewhere in this favored land
the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere,
and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing,
and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville -
mighty Casey has struck out."

-"Casey at the Bat"
by Ernest Thayer, 1888

By Cal Samra
Editor, The Joyful Noiseletter

As Christians, we all identify with Christ's sufferings, especially during Lent. But why is it so difficult for some Christians to identify with Christ's joy, a joy Jesus spoke of frequently, even shortly before his crucifixion?

Many Christian publications, whose circulations are declining, applauded the artistry of the relentless violence, brutality, and blood-letting in Mel Gibson's movie, "The Passion of the Christ," but seemed uninterested in the fact that Gibson's movie devoted barely 60 seconds at the end to showing a crucified Christ about to emerge from the tomb.

Gibson's movie completely ignored the explosion of joy and celebration that followed Jesus' resurrection.

A focus on blood & gore

One Christian publication recently featured an article on the torture and murder of a couple of Christian missionaries by terrorists, with all the grisly details. The description of the blood and gore was so gruesome that one suspected they had hired Hannibal Lecter as a staff writer. But the editors of the same publication expressed no interest in reporting on churches' Holy Humor Sunday festivities.

Certainly we all revere the cross. Who among us hasn't suffered and experienced illness, dark nights of the soul, the death of loved ones, emotional and physical pain? But is Good Friday all there is?

An unbalanced Christianity

Is modern Christianity, like Mel Gibson's movie, out of balance? Do we spend so much time and energy whining about our personal Good Fridays that we can't even celebrate our healings and our personal resurrections - or the Resurrection of our Savior?

Can we expect to attract young people and the unchurched if we continually offer them the same melancholy sermons, theological nit-picking, and super-serious psychobabble they get from the secular news media?

Can we attract and keep them by offering a joyless and humorless Christianity focused more on Jesus' crucifixion while giving only fleeting lip-service to the healing joy of Jesus' Resurrection?

'Fools for Christ'

Easter Sunday arrives early this year (March 23). Holy Humor Sunday (Bright Sunday) is March 30, a couple of days before April Fools' Day, giving us all ample opportunity to be "Fools for Christ" to celebrate Jesus' resurrection with joy, fun, and good humor.

RALLYING AROUND THE RESURRECTION

The Butterfly church

At the ninth annual "Bright Sunday" celebration of First Presbyterian Church in Winter Haven, FL, on the Sunday after Easter, Rev. Dr. C. Alan Harvey, associate pastor, appeared in a clown suit with multi-colored butterflies (a symbol of the resurrection). His hair and beard were dyed a vivid orange.

He announced that he was responding to an emergency call reporting that some Presbyterians are being "frozen chosen."

Instead of taking up an offering, Harvey gave out gifts of jelly bean prayer bags to the children and "God Loves the Clown in Me" stickers to adults.

He then baptized everyone as "joyful Christians," using a trick bucket which they saw him fill with water, but which, when thrown, sent a shower of confetti over them.

The sermon was titled, "What Kind of Fool Am I?" The choir sang, "In Thee Is Gladness."

It has become a church tradition on Bright Sunday for those who had lost loved ones since the previous Easter to release live butterflies in their memory in the church courtyard.

The service concluded with a new hymn titled "On Bright Sunday," which Harvey composed:

On Bright Sunday we clap and sing,
Whistle, laugh and praise Christ our King.
Lord of heaven and Lord of earth
He's our source of joy and new birth.

Refrain
Now Good Friday's past,
Easter's here to last,
Celebrate the news - Jesus lives!

Caterpillar on a branch crawls,
Forms a chrysalis large or small.
It begins to change once inside,
Soon breaks out as a butterfly.

Jesus died and rose from the grave.
Easter joy and new life He gave!
And the butterfly now set free
Is that symbol for you and me!

On Bright Sunday the butterflies
Are released into springtime skies.
They remind us of saints above
With us held in God's wondrous love.

(©2007 by Alan Harvey. Reprinted with permission. For further information on the hymn, write to Rev. Dr. C. Alan Harvey, First Presbyterian Church, 637 6th St., NW, Winter Haven, FL 33881.)

Uproarious Laughter on Holy Humor Sunday

from The Joyful Noiseletter, March 2009

It's that time again - time for your church to begin planning for a Holy Humor Sunday celebration on the Sunday after Easter. Here are some of the creative ways churches of all faith traditions celebrated last year.

Quick-change artist

The 12th Annual Holy Humor Sunday at Corinth Reformed Church, Hickory, NC, was "our most successful" Holy Humor Sunday service, reported Pastor Bob Thompson.

Thompson was raised in Pakistan by missionary parents. On Holy Humor Sunday, the bearded Thompson arrived at church with his face darkened and his hair slicked back, posing as his "long-lost twin brother from Pakistan."

Using a Pakistani accent, he began by announcing that he was Pastor Thompson's long-lost twin brother from Pakistan, and was subbing for him. He concluded his sermon with the Lord's Prayer in the language of Pakistan's Urdu:

"Ay hamareee bop
Too jo asman par haah
Therea naam pak maana ja-ee…"

Then his "twin brother" departed, washed his face, shaved his mustache and beard, and returned to the service as the clean-shaven Pastor Thompson, whom the congregation had never seen without a beard and mustache in 15 years.

"After the service, there were still people unconvinced it was me," Thompson said. "It was wonderful having a full sanctuary on the Sunday after Easter, when attendance usually drops for most churches. Holy Humor Sunday is such a great part of our church tradition now."

Humor is the best medicine

At the 13th Annual Holy Humor Sunday of Mantua (NJ) United Methodist Church, Rev. Dr. Karl R. Kraft and his assistant, Rev. Gene Wilkins, came in doctor's garb with stethoscopes provided by a couple of nurses in the congregation.

The order of worship was reworded so that each part was interpreted in medical terms. For example, the greeting was called "Welcome to the Clinic." The children's message was the "Pediatric Moment." The intercessory prayer was a "Consultation with the Head Physician." After the offering ("Collection of Deductibles") was received, the congregation sang the "Docsology."

"Humor Breaks" were spread liberally through the service, allowing "patients" to share a joke of their own.

The senior choir dressed in lab coats and scrubs, and sang a Christian parody of The Sound of Music song, "A Spoonful of Sugar" while holding large spoons in their hands.

"For the message," Dr. Kraft said, "my assistant and I sat on either side of a small table and held a consultation, comparing notes on several 'patients,' and telling medical jokes.

"We ended by citing a number of Scripture verses encouraging laughter, joy, cheerfulness, etc., especially Proverbs 17:22 - "A cheerful heart is a good medicine."

'Smile - God loves ya!'

Niantic (CT) Baptist Church celebrated its sixth annual Holy Humor Sunday with the theme "Smile, God Loves Ya!" The sanctuary was decorated with smiley-face balloons and garlands.

Everyone was given a nametag that said "Hello, My Name is Smiley," and Rev. Jill Harvey "wore my now-traditional smiley-face stole."

"The Niantic Baptist Church embraced the concept of Holy Humor Sunday from the very start," said Rev. Harvey. "They are a happy and joyful congregation, and I am very blessed to be their pastor."

In praise of a 'God of Joy'

The First Presbyterian Church of Harwell, GA, used JN's church bulletins with "The Risen Christ by the Sea" on the cover for its Holy Humor Sunday Service.

The service began with a choral prelude - "He Has Made Me Glad," and other hymns included "Celebrate with Joy and Singing," "I Have the Joy, Joy, Joy down in My Heart," and "Come Sing, O Church in Joy."

The theme was: "Gather joyfully in God's name," and the prayer of confession began, "God of joy, we come to you as a people hungry for good news…"

And the service ended with this benediction: "Let us go forth in peace and be led out in joy. In a world full of hate and hurt, doubt and despair, darkness and pain, let us sow love and pardon, faith and hope, light and joy."

"It was our first Holy Humor Sunday service," reported Brenda Vail, RN, "and it was very successful."

Pastor's message: 'LOL'

At Westville Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Mathews, VA, Rev. Tim Dice started "Holy Humor Week" with a potluck dinner on Wednesday night. He asked those attending to share good clean jokes, safe pranks that they may have pulled on someone, and funny things that happened at church functions.

His sermon title for the Sunday worship was "It's O.K. to Laugh." The children's message drew from the text message abbreviation "LOL" (laugh out loud). Dice asked the kids to "LOL" each time they found something funny about the story of Balaam's talking donkey in Numbers 22. "It helped elicit LOLs when I spoke like TV's Mr. Ed when I read the voice of the donkey," Dice said.

Holy Humor Sunday - Funday Roundup

from The Joyful Noiseletter, April 2009

Here are more inspired ways that churches celebrated Holy Humor Sunday (the Sunday after Easter) last year.

'Holy foolishness'

"We had another great Holy Humor Sunday," reported Bud Frimoth of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Portland, OR. "Everybody in the congregation was asked to move from their favorite pews to another place so that they could have another perspective of worship."

Rev. Dr. Jim Moiso's sermon was titled "Foolish Joy."

"Holy Humor Sunday?" he began. "My guess is that most people would not associate Presbyterian flavored Christians and humor in the same sentence. After all, in large part, we come from Scotland and we take our faith pretty seriously.

"Worship is presented decently and in order, out of reverence for God - not a bad thing. In the process, even Easter, our great day of joyful gladness, can be reduced to less than it might be.

"Holy Humor probably began as 'Bright Monday' in the ancient Greek Orthodox tradition. It was set aside as a day of joy and laughter at Christ's triumph over death. The zest and games and high spirits of the day continued through what was called 'Bright Week.'

"The whole thing may have been inspired by the fourth-century Greek preacher, John Chrysostom, who envisioned the risen Christ laughing at the devil.

"We Christians testify to the fact that this Galilean peasant's life and death and resurrection make a revolutionary difference for the whole world, and for our own lives, now and forever. It is the most important event in all of human history.

"What absolute foolishness! The Tuesday of Holy Week, I started thinking about this sort of foolishness, the foolishness of our proclamation, the foolishness of our efforts to live into this event, the foolishness of seeking ways to allow this person to live into us. How amazing!

"And I started to laugh inside. And my spirit started saying 'yes,' and 'yes,' and 'yes.' How wonderful to spend one's life in such foolishness.

"Here we spend a lifetime discovering a new way of life, anchored in a living hope. Here in this foolishness we connect with the Holy One. Here in this foolishness, we are bound together, brothers and sisters: crying, laughing, encouraging, praying, enjoying, and serving.

I cannot imagine trading such foolishness for anything else."

Easter treasures

On Holy Hilarity Sunday, the congregations of Coloma and Watervliet (MI) United Methodist Churches "celebrated the joy and blessings we receive as children of God."

Excerpts from the sermon of Rev. O'Ryan Rickard:

"According to an old story told by an old Scotsman, ever since the first Easter there has been a vast treasure accumulating. Not gold or silver nor anything like that. It is an invisible treasure house of all the thoughts, all the emotions that Easter evoked in countless minds and hearts down through the centuries.

"All the reverence, the awe and wonder, the love and yearning, the gratitude and prayers. These things, the old Scotsman said, did not just happen and vanish. They had their own permanence; none was ever lost.

According to the Scotsman, in the legacies of past Easters there is faith to be borrowed, strength to be sought, courage to be found.

"Think about Easters past. Remember the light pouring over the rim of the world into the beauty of an Easter day. We all have great memories of Easter. The prayers, the songs, the sermons, and the joyous times in community with God and his people.

"The resurrection is not frozen in time. It repeats and repeats. In fact, it doesn't happen just on Easter or Good Friday or during Holy Week. It happens day after day. He calls us to love all humanity, too. We who answer him have been resurrected to life in Jesus Christ.

"And I pray that you will create Easter treasures this month in your personal devotional life and in our worship services."

Surprised by joy

Two Baptist pastors, Robert and Luann Ketcham of Wolfeboro, NH, saw in their local newspaper an announcement of a Holy Humor Sunday service at the First Congregational Church of Wolfeboro, and decided to attend. "It was an experience, in the somewhat staid and cold North!" reported Luann Ketcham.

The opening hymn was "Joy Dawned Again on Easter Day," and each choir member displayed a stuffed animal during the singing of "A Place in the Choir." The offertory hymn was sung to the tune of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

The congregation sang this response:

"The joy-filled Easter faith is ours."

The worship leader was Nancy Harwood. The pastor was Rev. James Christensen.

'Funday Sunday'

The congregation of Park Memorial United Methodist Church in Macon, GA, called their first Sunday after Easter celebration "Holy Hilarity Funday Sunday."

"Everyone joined in the fun," reported Rev. Nancylee R. Cater. "It was great! And people asked, 'Why don't we do this more often?'"

The opening hymn was "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee." There were balloons everywhere, and candy was handed out with the offering plates. The congregation sang "Halle-lu, Halle-lu, Halle-lu, Halle-lu-jah" in three different languages.

"Thanks to everyone at JN for all your support, ideas, and encouragement to keep our faith in Christ real in every way, including the freedom He gives us to turn loose and laugh," said Rev. Cater.

Laughing away gloom

"As an apple a day keeps the doctor away, so a laugh a day keeps despondence away," Interim Pastor Don Leckrone of Trinity Lutheran Church, Bryan, OH, wrote in The Trumpet, the church's April newsletter.

Leckrone contributed some anecdotes and one-liners from Mark Twain. He noted that a hypocritical businessman once told Twain, "Before I die I mean to make a trip to the Holy Land. I will climb to the top of Mount Sinai and read the Ten Commandments aloud."

"I have a better idea," Twain replied. "Why don't you stay right at home in Boston and keep them?"

After the Resurrection, when the disciples met "the stranger" in the Emmaus journey and recognized who he was, "my guess is that they went back to Jerusalem with considerably more spring in their footsteps" to tell the other disciples, Leckrone said.

Or, as Mark Twain said, "Grief can take care of itself; but to get the full value of joy you must have somebody to divide it with." Pastor Leckrone concluded: "I trust that the reality… the beauty… the message of Easter is a joy you share."

'A Smiling Joyful You'

"I love the month of April - Holy Humor Month," wrote Pastor Don Blinn, Jr., of Verona (PA) United Methodist Church, in the church's April newsletter. "The weather is warming; creation is coming alive again. The chill of winter is no longer; spirits are buoyed and lifted. We are prone to laugh more freely and more often. So what a wonderful time to celebrate holy humor.

"I celebrate all the more envisioning that Jesus was one who laughed and smiled with great regularity. He was fun to be around and to be in His presence was to be blessed with joy."

The newsletter included a reproduction of "The Risen Christ by the Sea" print, along with a poem titled "A Smiling Joyful You." The poem was composed by Linda Mainard of Milwaukie, OR, who teaches a fifth-grade religion class and a Bible study at her church:

Today I saw a picture of You with a smile upon Your face.
My heart became so joyful, I felt filled with loving grace.
So many times You've been remembered with expression full of pain.
As if the thought of portraying You happy would somehow be a shame.
Surely as a baby You giggled and filled Your Mother's heart with joy.
And there must have been some mischief too as You grew to be a boy.
I try to just imagine You at play or happily climbing up a tree.
At twelve, when You amazed the teachers, it must have set Your heart to glee.
When You became a man and others gathered in curious fascination,
I picture Your handsome face filled with wit and absolute jubilation.
That first miracle You performed, quietly at the wedding festivities,
Records a time of merriment in Your amazing life's activities.
Those very solemn images have been depicted a million times it's true.
But I'm so glad I can now envision a smiling and joyful You.

'Cries of gladness'

"The Risen Christ by the Sea" also appeared on the bulletin cover of Fort Hill United Methodist Church, Lynchburg, VA, on the second Sunday of Easter.

The Call to Worship:
Leader: "God has burst the bonds of sorrow. Life has crushed the most horrible death."
People: "Our hearts shall swell with cries of gladness; our silent tongues, rejoice!"
Leader: "The daughters of God are lifted up; the sons of God are risen!"
People: "Our spirits shall dwell in Heaven's hope!
"God is always with us!"

In search of a joyful Christ

Dr. Hubert Eaton, the founding director of Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, CA, where many Hollywood stars are buried, for many years sought in vain for a painting of a smiling Christ.

He offered cash prizes to artists who could turn out the most suitable close-up painting of a smiling Christ for Forest Lawn. But he rejected all the entries.

"I believe, most of all, in a Christ that smiles and loves you and me," Dr. Eaton told Time magazine. "Now what I'm looking for is a Christ filled with radiance and looking upward with an inner light of joy and hope. I'm going to keep on trying, and keep on running contests, if necessary, to get what I want."

But Dr. Eaton died in 1966 before he could get what he wanted.

"The Risen Christ by the Sea" was painted in 1985 at the suggestion of a pastor-friend by an artist, Jack Jewell, who until then had done only seascapes near his home in Massachusetts. Before he died, Jewell donated the painting to the Fellowship of Merry Christians, and it became FMC's and JN's trademark.

We're sure that Jack Jewell, a humble man, would have been astonished at the growing popularity of his painting among Christians of all faith traditions. And we suspect that Dr. Eaton finally got what he was looking for.

Here are some other churches (listed alphabetically by state) which have held Holy Humor Sunday celebrations:

  • United Methodist Churches of Downieville, CA
  • Niantic Baptist Church, Niantic, CT
  • North Bay Community Church, Clearwater, FL
  • Ortega United Methodist Church, Jacksonville, FL
  • First Presbyterian Church, Winter Haven, FL
  • Cross and Crown Lutheran Church, Chamblee, GA
  • Mililani Presbyterian Church, Mililani, HI
  • Sandpoint United Methodist Church, Sandpoint, ID
  • Roscoe United Methodist Church, Roscoe, IL
  • Goshen City Church of the Brethren, Goshen City, IN
  • St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, Decatur, IN
  • Trinity Presbyterian Church, Williamsport, IN
  • United Methodist Churches, Slater and Sheldahl, IA
  • South Oldham Church of the Nazarene, Crestwood, KY
  • Zion United Church of Christ, Owensboro, KY
  • Maplewood Christian Church, Maplewood, MO
  • Mantua United Methodist Church, Mantua, NJ
  • Hope of Israel Messianic Congregation, Charlotte, NC (Saturday service)
  • Corinth Reformed United Church of Christ, Hickory, NC
  • Scotch Ridge United Presbyterian Church, Bowling Green, OH
  • Westminster Presbyterian Church, Portland, OR
  • United Methodist Churches, Arlington and Wasco, OR
  • Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, Royersford, PA
  • Bethel Hill United Methodist Church, Lansdale, PA
  • Covenant Moravian Church, York, PA
  • Heidelberg United Church of Christ, York, PA
  • United Methodist Churches, Jackson, Idetown, and Lehman, PA
  • St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, Bernville, PA
  • Eastern Hills United Methodist Church, Fort Worth, TX
  • St. John’s United Methodist Church, Port Arthur, TX
  • Highland Park Church of the Nazarene, Seattle, WA
  • Westminster United Church of Christ, Spokane, WA
  • Freedom Moravian Church, Appleton, WI
  • First Congregational Church, Milton, WI
  • Bethel Lutheran Church, Hudson, WI

 

Jesus loves a good party!

He performed His first miracle at a wedding reception in Cana, turning water into wine. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus tells us that the overjoyed father threw a big party for his returning son. “We are going to have a feast, a celebration,” the father declared, “because this son of mine was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:23-24)