Scripture: John 20:19-28
Somehow during divinity school, I was friends with a lot of members of Duke Divinity’s Improv group, Acts of the Apostles. Yes, that was an actual group. (Get it… “acts” “apostles”) To be clear: I was only an observer of their antics, but I learned a lot from watching them. One of those things is that “yes/and” is a great improv prompt.
For example, let’s say your improv partner starts off a scene saying “Wow, Bob, it’s amazing being up here on the moon.” If you shut them down by saying “um, actually we’re at the mall and it’s a rainy day,” then the scene falls flat. It’s not fun; you’re an instant party pooper. Instead, if you respond with “yeah, and who knew these nifty Neil Armstrong t-shirts we got at the mall would come in handy,” then the scene can build. The absurdity can be woven into the scene.
The humor ends up coming through in the absurdity.
This yes/and approach is actually great theology and philosophy, as well. When we don’t immediately shut down a comment/thought/observation and instead approach it with a “yes/and” response, then we’re essentially saying “yes, I hear you...and I’m going to build on it. I don’t have to shut down one idea in order to include another. We can hold these two things at one time.”
My friend, Lauren (I know too many of them) from divinity school, was in the improv group. She admitted to me this past week that she never thought of herself as funny, but by participating in the group and having them use the yes/and method, she felt more supported, more recognized, more “scene.”
In John’s gospel, I feel like the scene where the disciples tell Thomas Jesus had risen probably felt like an improv act to Thomas. Thomas’ reaction to the disciples could have been “yeah, and Mary told me Jesus had a twin brother.” (That’s not true.) I imagine Thomas was waiting for one of them to drop the ball “Just kidding!” and it being a joke. The whole situation, under normal circumstances, is absurd. Could those two things be held at once: burying your teacher one day and then hearing he was walking around town 3 days later?
In other Bible verses, we hear about a camel going through the eye of the needle and a donkey that speaks to its master! Craziness! Many of us know the story of Abraham and Sarah - and after being told they would have a child in “old age,” Sarah laughed at God! In any rational world, a camel can’t fit through the eye of a needle, donkeys only speak to you if you are dreaming, and women at 90 years old aren’t likely to bear a child.
Perhaps the most absurd story - a man that rises out of a tomb after being dead three days! The Easter message of Jesus returning to life after being dead and buried for three days reminds us that the Gospel message carries with it absurdity.
Love your enemy!?
Give away your possessions?!
The least in society will be the greatest!?
Right now, in April 2020, I feel like we may want to take what the world is telling us and say “uh-uh! That’s not true!” and completely shut down the scene. Instead, what could happen if we take a lesson from improv and say “yes, and….” How can we take this scene and build on it?
I’m not suggesting that we need to make fun of what is happening in this world right now and not take the facts seriously, because it is very serious. I AM suggesting, though, that we can build on it in helpful and productive ways. In the midst of that, if we can laugh as well, then it shows there is hope and joy still to be found.
This Sunday after Easter is Holy Humor Sunday so that we celebrate the joy found in the absurdity of Jesus living after death. After all, it is the biggest prank God could play on the Devil to let the world think that Jesus had died, and then raise Jesus back to life!
Who’s to say if the disciples enjoyed a good laugh when they saw Jesus in the upper room; however, I would not be surprised if they let out a few delighted chuckles when their confusion over what had happened was cleared up.
We laugh for so many reasons - we laugh at things that are absurd, we laugh at silly jokes and strange things kids say, we laugh when we are nervous, we laugh when we’re on the edge of a mental breakdown and delirious from sleep, etc.
And it’s good because laughter has so many benefits. It decreases stress hormones, increases endorphins (feel good chemicals) and immune cells, improves function of blood vessels and protects against heart attack, and, at a rate of 40 cal per 15 minutes, burns calories! (Not enough to skip the gym, though.) A study from Norway even suggests that those people who laugh more live longer and healthier lives! (My grandmother is living proof of that at nearly 99 years old. I suggested she do cartwheels down the hall before they put them on quarantine and she let out the biggest cackle!)
And so I wonder if the disciples joyously laughed at realizing Jesus rose from the dead - and if that laughter was contagious among them. I wonder how often the disciples looked back on that moment and let out a little chuckle at how God had fooled the world.
“Yes, we stood at this man’s grave AND here he stands before us today!”
My hope is that we, not only after, but also during, this time of hardship in social restrictions, will laugh with delight. I believe doing so will help build upon it in good ways - it will help us acknowledge each other - it will help to not shut down new ideas - it will help us in the future to know how we can support one another.
“Yes, we were not allowed to hug our neighbors AND we found new delight in connecting.”
“Yes, we couldn’t go to the grocery store without masks AND we learned to plan what we needed more intentionally.”
“Yes, we couldn’t meet in person for worship AND we were reminded of what fellowship means to us.”
Friends, we have to laugh. I believe that God knows we need it because of the absurdity in the Bible: a 90-year old woman (Sarah) having a baby, a donkey speaking, waters parting, and the prank played on the Devil when Jesus rose after three days in the tomb. Laughter may seem a trivial or surface thing at times - but the need for it is deeply embedded in us. Our minds need it. Our bodies need it. Our spirits need it. Amen.