“A time for crying and a time for laughing.”
Ecclesiastes 3:4a (Common English Bible)
Samuel Butler said, “The one serious conviction that a man should have is that nothing is to be taken seriously.” I remember early in my ministry a man took exception to my humor during worship, “Worship should be religious and not a time for laughter.” In fairness, he didn’t object to laughter. He had a wonderful sense of humor and his laughter was contagious. His contention was that laughter didn’t belong in worship. I suppose he could have built a sturdy argument from this lesson in Ecclesiastes. There is not present in this book of the Bible an objection to laughter. Only that there is a proper time for it and, perhaps, worship is not that time.
On the other hand, I remember the prominent preacher, Thomas Long once commenting that worship is “dress rehearsal” for life in the kingdom – for our eternal life with God following our resurrection from death. In the drama of worship we learn the vocabulary for that life, specifically, the language of praise and adoration of God, and the posture for that life, the posture of humility. But – and perhaps most importantly – we learn something of the nature of God and how God desires to be in relationship with us. Worship becomes a moment that provides a glimpse of ordinary life with our creator. If that is true, then laughter belongs in worship. Without it, we could easily lose it.
Naturally, we are to be serious about some situations. When someone becomes ill or suffers an injury there is simply no room for laughter. The death of a loved one or news of the devastating loss of a marriage, financial security, or estrangement from someone we hold dear present moments when we rather quickly become serious. Samuel Butler would concur with Ecclesiastes that these are moments not for laughing but for crying and mourning. Yet, we should not let these moments last for very long. Not any of the moments represent the sum total of a life. That is precisely the argument of Ecclesiastes. When we lose our ability to laugh, those other moments have the potential to tear our life apart.
Recently I learned of the work of artist Deb Minnard. She has completed nearly a dozen paintings of Jesus laughing. These works are a delightful contrast to the wide depiction of Jesus as serious or somber. On February 3, 2013 I stood in the pulpit to welcome the congregation to worship. That Sunday was Super Bowl Sunday and the Baltimore Ravens were facing the San Francisco 49ers for the NFL championship. With my own team, the Philadelphia Eagles eliminated for the season, I threw my support to the Ravens. In my welcome that morning I simply noted for the congregation that I was wearing a purple necktie – the Ravens’ team color. I believe that Deb Minnard captured in her paintings Jesus’ response.