“No Gloom in the Tomb”

1 Corinthians 15: 54 -55Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN

A young monk arrives at the monastery. He is assigned to helping the other monks in copying the old laws of the church by hand.

He notices, however, that all of the monks are copying from copies, not from the original manuscript. So, the new monk goes to the head monk to question this, pointing out that if someone made even a small error in the first copy, it would never be picked up! In fact, that error would be continued in all of the subsequent copies.

The head monk, says, “We have been copying from the copies for centuries, but you make a good point, my son.”

He goes down into the dark caves underneath the monastery where the original manuscripts are held as archives in a locked vault that hasn’t been opened for hundreds of years. Hours go by and nobody sees the head monk.

So, the young monk gets worried and goes down to look for him. He sees this head monk wailing and wailing. Over and over again, he says,

“We missed the R!
We missed the R!
We missed the R!”

He is crying uncontrollably. The young monk asks the head monk, “What’s wrong, father?”

The head monk with tears in his eyes replies, “The word is celebrate.” Yes, these celibate monks had missed the R.

Thank you, Fran, for that joke. We can build our entire life on a scribal error. And we do build our entire lives on faulty belief systems.

For example, there are some who insist that religion is serious business. We must be somber in church and approach worship with solemnity. In fact, one day Groucho Marx was getting off an elevator and he happened to meet a minister. The minister 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. Many people assume that clergy are to be stern, Christianity is to be humorless, and God is never to be found laughing. As if the Christmas angel had announced to the shepherds: ‘Behold, I bring you bad news of great sorrow for all the people!”

Some people build their entire faith on this faulty belief system. When we take joy out of faith, all that is left is a dead and dry religion. When we take the humor out of the gospel, all that is left is meaningless piety.

Yes, the Bible is filled with humor and laughter and funny stories. There is Noah who builds a boat in the middle of a desert.  There is Ezekiel who literally eats a scroll, the word of God. And strangely it tastes like honey.  I am pretty sure the pages from our own Bible won’t taste so good. And then the story of Eutychus – Daniella’s favorite story in the whole Bible. Do you know the story of Eutychus? The Apostle Paul is preaching and preaching and preaching. Eutychus is sitting on the window sill listening to Paul go on and on and on…as preachers sometimes do. Eutychus fell asleep in the middle of Paul’s sermon and fell out of the window.  Mommy Karen and Daniella act out this scripture passage frequently. It’s a favorite bedtime story in our household…and an important reminder to this preacher not to go on and on and on. And, of course, Jesus used humor often – jokes, irony, satire, parables.  He talked about camels going through the eye of a needle, good Samaritans helping Jews in trouble, the blind leading the blind, and prodigals welcomed home with parties.  Jesus had a wild sense of humor!

And today we celebrate the ultimate joke in which God raised Jesus from the dead. And speaking about death, did you hear the one about the woman who after a long illness dies and arrives at the Gates of Heaven. While she was waiting for Saint Peter to greet her, she peeked through the Gates. She saw a beautiful banquet table. Sitting all around were her parents and all the other people she had loved and who had died before her. They saw her and said, “Hello” “How are you! We’ve been waiting for you!” “Good to see you”. When Saint Peter came by, the woman said to him “This is such a wonderful place! How do I get in?” “You have to spell a word.” Saint Peter said. “Which word?” the woman asked. “Love.” The woman correctly spelled “Love” and Saint Peter welcomed her into Heaven.

About six months later, Saint Peter came to the woman and asked her to watch the Gates of Heaven for him that day. While the woman was guarding the Gates of Heaven, her husband arrived. “I’m surprised to see you”, the woman said. “How have you been?” “Oh, I’ve been doing pretty well since you died,” her husband told her. “I married the beautiful young nurse who took care of you while you were ill. And then I won the lottery. I sold the little house you and I lived in and bought a big mansion. And my wife and I traveled all around the world. We were on vacation and I went water skiing today. I fell, the ski hit my head, and here I am. How do I get in?” “You have to spell a word”, the woman told him. “Which word?” her husband asked. “Czechoslovakia,” she replied.

Yes, Holy Humor Sunday is a day in which we laugh at death. Our scripture passage asserts, “Where is your sting, O Death? Where is your victory, O Grave?”

On Easter Sunday, we heard the story of the resurrection from the Gospel of John. Mary comes to the tomb early on Easter morning. And she sees that the stone has been rolled away. The stone that is to keep animals out and keep the body in – that stone has been rolled away. And she assumes that someone has stolen Jesus’ body.

Throughout the scripture passage, on three different occasions, Mary shared with others that someone has stolen Jesus’s body, it must have been grave robbers, she thinks. That was something people did in those days to get at the gold and jewels buried with and on the body. People even robbed graves to study anatomy. The famous painter Michelangelo used cadavers, brought out of the grave, to study the shapes of human bodies for his painting. They are still robbing the graves of Egyptian pharaohs today: King Tut’s body is shipped around the world so people can look at it in museums. And just this last week nearly two dozen royal mummies were paraded down the streets of Cairo in what was called a “once in a lifetime” event. Pharaoh’s Golden Parade. These kings were buried 3000 years ago. We just won’t let them rest in peace. And Mary believes that Jesus’ body has been stolen. Grave robbers, she thinks.

But standing on this side of the resurrection, we know that the only grave-robber that morning was God.  Yes, we worship a grave robbing God who renders the place of burial useless. Robs it. Empties it. Vacates it. Where is your victory, O Grave? Where is your sting, O Death? On this Holy Humor Sunday, we celebrate that there is no gloom in the tomb! So, shout your alleluias. Honk your horns as you drive past the cemetery. For Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. And so are we. Alleluia and Amen.