(The first of this two-part piece was posted on June 30, 2015. Access it by scrolling backward on our website.)
There are no comedians in Scripture and no jokes. But there is a great deal of humor.
Elton Trueblood’s classic “The Humor of Christ” nowhere mentions the Lord as telling jokes or trying to be funny.
In times of grief–the subject before us today–it’s humor that eases the pain and lifts the spirits. Not funny business, although there are notable exceptions.
I’m all for fun and laughter. But mostly, we save that for another time.
At moments of grief, something a little gentler and sweeter is in order: Something humorous.
Tom Brokaw’s new book “A Lucky Life Interrupted: A Memoir of Hope” tells of his battle with cancer in recent years. Multiple Myeloma is serious stuff, and it required his putting his life on hold to deal with it, and the involvement of Mayo Clinic as well as Sloan-Kettering.
Brokaw was speaking to an audience in Portsmouth, New Hampshire recently, and it was being telecast. I happened upon it in the middle. Throughout his presentation, the audience was often laughing. Since I’ve been working on a paper dealing with “grief and humor,” I paid attention.
Due to fractured vertebrae in Brokaw’s back, doctors had to go in and “pump in cement between the cracks.” Later, a nurse informed him that “you may have been 6 feet tall before, but now you are 5 foot 9.” That took some getting used to, mostly mentally. At one point, Tom’s daughters said, “Dad, you’ll always be the big man in our lives. But you’re just not as big as you were.”
And they all laughed.
I’ve noticed something.
The humor we share in times of pain and grief is not actually funny.
It would not provide material for a standup comic. On paper, it doesn’t read funny at all. What makes it “funny” (it’s hard to get away from that word) is the context: the comment is a surprise and is oddly appropriate.
A friend says some years back when her mom’s stepfather died, her mother and grandmother went to the funeral home to choose a casket. In the showroom, grandma walked around pressing on the cushioning. Finally, she announced, “This one has the best springs; he’ll be comfortable in that.”
The family wanted to say, “Grandma! He’s dead and won’t feel a thing.” But all they did was laugh and keep their sentiments to themselves.
Lucy sent me a note concerning the death of her parents. Her mom was dying of cancer at home, while her dad was in the early stages of dementia and had been hospitalized. The family was concerned how dad would ever be able to get along without mom. Then, they both died the same day, an hour or two apart and separated by a few miles.
As the family gathered to grieve and comfort one another, Lucy’s little daughter Ann said something that will live in that family forever. “Granny had to get to Heaven in time to fix Papaw’s supper!”
The family still smiles at that. It was so perfect, so surprising, and coming from a child, so right.
Do angels have a sense of humor? I think I spotted one.
The crucified Lord was risen. That morning, as two women arrived at the tomb, an angel was dispatched to let them in on the great news.
“For behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it” (Matthew 28:2).
He not only rolled away the stone, but then he sat down on it.
That’s a funny picture. And a neat little touch from an angel who possibly had a sense of whimsy about him.
I can hear him saying, “Piece of cake.” Nothing to it. Take that, death!
Scripture taunts death, you know.
After the incredible insights and revelations concerning our immortality throughout the 15th chapter of I Corinthians, Paul then says, “Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, ‘O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?” (15:55)
Isn’t he taunting death, maybe rubbing it in a little? Would the referee flag him for poor sportsmanship? Does Paul give a rip?
I don’t know. There’s so much I do not know. But I do know that He “gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (15:57).
If that doesn’t tickle you, you’re not paying attention.
“No guilt in life, no fear in death, This is the power of Christ in me…. No power of hell, no scheme of man, Can ever pluck me from His hand!”
So, go ahead and laugh at death. Some will think you’re into denial and wishing upon a star. But you know different.
On the other side of death is a party. And you’ve been invited.