Abide in Love

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 April 16, 2023

                                             Abide in Love

          Good morning and Happy Easter!  In many churches, the Sunday following Easter often has the lowest attendance of the year.  I guess after the Lenten preparations and Holy Week, people just get tired of showing up; but it feels rather ironic because we finally have arrived at the good part. We’re called to rejoice and celebrate the good news of Easter.  Love is stronger than death.  We have the promise of new life even on the darkest days.  Last year, I ran across something in my reading that said that this Sunday in some churches was long referred to as Holy Humor Sunday.  Have any of you ever heard of that or did you hear of it growing up?

 What is “Holy Humor Sunday”? On this day we celebrate the incredible joy of the good news of Christ’s resurrection!  “Holy Humor” Sunday, is  a tradition which dates to some of the earliest Christian theologians who believed that God played a practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. As one article noted, Easter was “God’s supreme joke played on death.” So the Sunday after Easter became a “bright Sunday” filled with joy and laughter as people played jokes on each other, sang, danced, told jokes and had fun. It is a time to experience joy more fully as we worship God together!  There is always room to celebrate and to laugh in my mind.  I recall the line from the film It’s Complicated where one actor says, “Fun is not overrated.” 

 Let us pray, O Gracious God, we thank you for the Good News we share as believers; we thank you for the beauty of spring days, the simple pleasures that lift our hearts, and the message of your Son that Love is and will always be the meaning of life and the foundation of our relationship with you and one another. Amen.

I have spoken in the past about humor and faith and there are  several passages in Scripture that lift up that theme, including in the book of Job, whose life is filled with suffering and yet we hear,

Job 8:21 “He will yet fill your mouth with laughter, and your lips with shouting.” And that lovely passage from Ecclesiastes 3:4  which reminds us that there is…“4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,” The Psalmist in Psalm 126 sings out…“Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’”

          Our passage from the first letter of John this morning is a tender word of encouragement to the early community of believers.  This letter was believed to have been composed following the Gospel of John by what scripture scholars call the Johanine Community.  In it, we hear these words, “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” 

          Just this week during my time in Boston, I was reminded of what it means to live love in action.  I was sitting outside one afternoon and saw a tender scene.  Earlier, I had seen a young woman accompanying an older woman in a wheelchair as she motored down the street. It was 90 degrees out but they were traveling at a brisk pace.  The older woman in the chair appeared to have cerebral palsy or something similar and the younger woman, very slender,  had a big smile on her face, tattoos covering her arms and back and a mohawk haircut;  the two of them really seemed to be enjoying their time together.  They must have made a full circle because I later saw them again across the street where they had paused.  The younger woman, who may have been family or a companion, had her arm on the shoulders of the woman in the chair and they were looking at something and enjoying a moment.  After they left, I saw a small bunny hopping away.  It was a moment in time; I don’t know the full challenges that either of them may face in their lives, but what I saw was a relationship of kindness, of comfort and yes, of love.

          Later, when I was listening to NPR, I heard coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing as this yesterday marks the 10th anniversary, if you can believe that?  I recall that day vividly, because my own niece and nephew, who were in high school at the time, were near the finish line that day and narrowly escaped injury because of sheer luck.  They had stepped away briefly to grab some food and then the bomb went off.  We thank God every day for that.  On the local Boston PR station, they shared the story of Dr. David King in his own words.  He had served as a combat surgeon during the Iraq war and ran the marathon that day.  As he finished the course, his phone lit up with text messages of family asking if he was okay.  He didn’t know what had happened but instinct told him to get to the hospital, so he hopped in a cab and went to Mass General where he was a trauma surgeon.  He spent the next 36 hours helping save the lives of the many victims of the bombing who had been brought to the hospital that day.  Because the area hospitals had prepared for such an event, and because of course, there are several Level 1 trauma hospitals so close to the finish line, I heard that everyone who made it to the hospital that day survived…and there were hundreds who were injured. 

          We know that there were many trained medical staff who worked until they were completely exhausted to care for the wounded and to save lives.  We also know that there were many spectators and runners who ran towards the bombing to try to rescue others, in fact, risking their own lives to care for others.  Love in action….

          In our brief reading from Matthew, we hear of one of the times when Jesus appears to his friends following the resurrection.  First, he meets the women and he says to them, ‘Do not be afraid.’  Those words were something he had shared many times during their travels together.  Then he asks them to go and tell his disciples to meet him at Galilee where they worship him and yet, some doubted, we are told.  It is there that he commissions them to go out and baptize others and to share all that he has taught them.  The were probably lost and confused in the days after his death; would they go back to fishing and their old lives?  What would it mean for each of them, but he gives them a purpose; he lets them know what he needs from them “to make disciples of all nations.” And he knows that they may be afraid; he knows it will take courage and strength to travel about and teach others what he has taught them.  They saw how he ended up and so he assures them,  “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

          When we read Scripture, we have to read closely for hints about what the bigger story is.  If we listen carefully, we can gain a fuller picture of the events and so in our passages today, we hear a reminder to love in truth and action; we hear of the early followers feeling afraid, reluctant, confused, doubting…it’s all in the mix.  No story is without complexity and certainly the Gospels invite us to look at the big picture and to find ourselves in this story.  Yes, we rejoice at Easter and then we’re back to our lives.  Do we feel afraid about something going on in our lives?  Have we been through periods of doubt and confusion?  Do we forget what it means to love through concrete action?  And, have we forgotten that promise that Jesus shared, “I am with you always?”

          I began by speaking about Holy Humor Sunday. Sometimes when we most need a laugh is when life is pressing in upon us on all fronts.  We need to find humor in the most challenging of times or we will truly go down.  In the story I shared earlier of Dr. David King, he ended his reflections by sharing a funny story of that most awful day.  After the medical team had finished with the many surgeries, a group of them collapsed in a break room on the hall.  He realized then that he was feeling light headed and recalled that he hadn’t eaten anything since the banana and water he had during the race, so he turned to a med student nearby and asked him to find the food closet and grab him some juice and crackers or whatever he could.  He felt like he might pass out.  In any case, the young med student returns with a bio hazard bag filled with some items to eat.  It turns out, he had raided the staff fridge and taken somebody’s salad, someone else’s leftovers…and Dr. King who was beyond famished just laughed and ate them anyway.  He said he went back and later apologized to some of the nurses whose food had been taken.  This year, he will run the marathon again for the 14th time.  He says one takeaway from that day is this, “everyone has something left to give, even when they think there’s nothing left in the tank.”  Perhaps that was what Jesus was telling his friends that day.