By Steven Norris
“Laughter is the best medicine.” At least, that’s what the Bible teaches. Some believe that this saying is derived from Proverbs 17:22.
A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I spent five days in North Georgia at a marriage retreat. We were accompanied by approximately 40 other couples who all shared one thing in common: one of the spouses was the Senior Pastor of their church.
By the end of the fourth day, we were all struck by the copious amount of laughter that accompanied our time together. Laughter was served in generous portions around the table as we broke bread together, followed us to our leisure activities throughout the day, and burst forth in stories shared around the evening fire.
Allowed to step out of our roles and expectations, we experienced hearts set free to be joyful and light. Why should this surprise me? In Paul’s description of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, we find joy prominently placed near the top of the list.
In fact, the Gospel starts with a woman laughing. Alright, there’s a bit of the story that comes before it, but when messengers from the Lord show up in the geriatric ward to tell ‘ole Abe and Sarah that they are going to have a baby, she just about fell out of her rocker.
Maybe she was anticipating that conversation with the Medicare agent about whether maternity coverage was a part of her policy. Maybe she laughed because they had long ago put the crib and onesies on Ebay, hoping to get something back for their investment since that dream had shriveled up along with their old bodies. Maybe it was just the sheer absurdity of the angel’s message.
Sarah laughed (and I am certain that Abraham did as well, though we don’t have a record of that in the scripture). She denied it, of course: “I didn’t laugh.” But God wouldn’t let it go: “Yes, you most certainly did.”
When the boy was born, Abraham named him Isaac (meaning “laughter”), further solidifying this detail as a fundamental aspect of the identity of the nation that would emerge from his lineage. When Israel would later call on the God of “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” they were literally calling on the God of “multitudes, laughter, and tricksters.” It doesn’t have quite the same ring as the “Alpha and Omega,” but there it is, enshrined in our holy texts.
The Easter story that we celebrate this week doesn’t give any description of how Jesus emerged from the tomb following his resurrection. I cannot help but think that he came out laughing. Resurrection, after all, reverberates with a kind of holy comedy that no one saw coming. As the Apostle Paul puts it, “The foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans” (1 Corinthians 1:25).
I hope and pray that we all get caught up in the comedy of it all. I pray that you might find a great big belly laugh rising up from your gut and bursting out at the sheer foolishness of it all. Maybe laughter is the true gospel medicine after all.