Revelation 21: 1-6
John 13: 31-35
Fifth Sunday of Easter
April 24, 2016
TEXT: "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.
Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another."
- John 13:34
God, keep my heart attuned to laughter when youth is done, when all the days are gray days -- days without the sun.
God keep my heart from bitterness when life seems cold.
Let my heart be filled with laughter in my days of growing old.
Then the pastor added, "That is a lovely prayer that can be answered. Even in their last days, our lives can have the stamp of joy upon them."
He was on his deathbed, his anxious relatives gathered around, waiting. After a time of silence, one of the relatives quietly said, "I think he's gone." Another relative standing at the end of the bed, felt the old man's feet and said, "No, his feet are still warm. No one ever dies with warm feet." Whereupon, the old Church History Professor raised his head and said, "Joan of Arc did." And then he laughed his final laugh, and died.
Joy and laughter give us strength for the journey as we run the race to its end. But even more, joy and laughter give a spirit to life that makes it more worth living.
It's one of the questions new fathers and mothers enjoy talking about most: What shall we name the baby? It's a frequent question and, in a way, it is easier to answer now than it was in ancient times. In those days, names were given that had a specific meaning, and this seemed especially unfortunate for children of the ancient prophets. Their dads were always making preaching points with the names given.
The Prophet Hosea, for example, named his daughter "Loruhamah," (which means "Not loved") because it happened to be the title of the sermon he preached that day. Isaiah called one of his sons Mahershalalhashbaz, which means, in a sense, "Bad times are coming!" (which happened to be how he was then feeling and preaching about the immediate future.)
"What shall we name the baby?" The Old Testament tells us that for Sarah and Abraham It was a no-brainer. "Let's call him Laughter," they said, and that's exactly what they did. The word, in Hebrew, is "Isaac." And Isaac means "laughter." Why did they call him laughter? Because Sarah and Abraham had been without children, and long after the natural childbearing age had passed, Sarah became pregnant, and when Isaac was born, Sarah said, "God has given me good reason to laugh, and everyone who hears his name will laugh with me" (Gen. 21:6).
There is an Egyptian papyrus that depicts the "Last Judgment." It was believed by ancient Egyptians that, at the moment of judgment, in order to determine whether or not the individual could continue his or her journey to the afterlife, the pagan god, Osiris, would ask each person two questions. The first question was: "Did you find joy?" And the second question was, "did you bring joy?"
It is particularly appropriate for us Christians to ask ourselves how much laughter and joy we've managed to find and to bring with us. The question, of course, is thoroughly Biblical as we read in the recurring rhythms of the Psalms, for example:
"Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the lands. Serve the Lord with gladness" (100:12)... "Break forth into joyous song and sing praises ... Let the floods clap their hands, let the hills sing for joy" (98:4,8)... "Our mouths are filled with laughter, and our tongues with shouts of joy" (126:2).
That same spirit, so abundant in the Psalms, is echoed by the Lord Jesus. In John's Gospel we hear Him say,
"You may be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy" (John 16:20)... "Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be full" (John 16:24).
And when He described, in a parable, the entering into Heaven of the faithful, he said,
"Well done, good and faithful servant ... enter into the joy of your Master" (Mt. 25:21).
In today's Gospel Lesson, Jesus says to His disciples, " I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn. 13:34-35). And, a bit later in John's Gospel, He says to them, "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love... I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (Jn. 15:10,11).
Erma Bombeck, whose writings over the years have evoked much laughter and joy, once described her late-in-the-afternoon strategy when her husband would soon be coming home from work ...
She said that the first thing he does when he comes in the front door is to take a deep sniff to see what's cooking in the kitchen. Therefore, when he's due home in twenty minutes and she hasn't the faintest notion what's for dinner, she goes to the cupboard, pulls an onion out, turns the oven on and plops the onion inside. In about fifteen minutes the house is filled with the wonderful aroma of that onion in the oven. And when her husband comes in the front door, he takes a deep breath, smiles in satisfaction, and heads for the evening news while Erma has time to figure out what on earth she's going to have for dinner that evening. (These days, of course, it is not uncommon for a married couple to reverse these roles, in which case Erma Bombeck's onion strategy would be carried out by the husband, when the wife is coming home from work).
In a round-about sort of way, there ought to be an onion in the oven (at home or at Church) all the time, so that when people first come in the door, they can immediately sense a warmth, a pleasing fragrance. This is a joyful place. This is a place where people love one another. There is a family here. There is a faith here that has produced joy and laughter -- and Jesus' prayer is being fulfilled: "I have spoken all this to you so that your joy may be complete."
A generation ago, Norman Cousins suffered a critical illness, and in his book called "Anatomy of an Illness," he describes how important laughter and joy were in his move back toward health. Indeed, following his observations, some hospitals for chronically ill patients began to set up "Laugh Rooms" where humorous periodicals and books and movies can be used by patients -- and with remarkable results. Isn't it striking to read about this modern development in medicine, and then read a 3,000-year-old verse from the Book of Proverbs. "A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones" (Prov. 17:22).
There are times in our lives when things go badly, when no one is very happy with anyone else, and all is tension and despair. What we need at that moment is what God offers us in abundance -- more laughter, more joy!
Sarah and Abraham named their child Laughter, and it must have sweetly flavored that family's life together from then on. Hopefully, there is someone in your home, and in your family of faith, whose very life means laughter and joy. It could very well be you ... and you ... and you ... and you.
Did you find joy? Did you bring joy? Then enter the Kingdom of Heaven!