Many American churches are resurrecting an old Easter custom begun by the early Greek Christians — “Bright Sunday” or “Holy Humor Sunday” celebrations on the Sunday after Easter. For centuries in all Christian faith traditions, the week following Easter Sunday was observed by the faithful as “days of joy and laughter” with parties and picnics to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. It’s okay to have fun in church!
The Sunday after Easter has sometimes been called “low Sunday” because of the drop off in attendance following the highly attended Easter services. However, Skipwith UMC has bucked the trend of low attendance that Sunday by observing an old Easter custom that was started by the Greeks in the early centuries of Christianity–Laughter Sunday or Holy Humor Sunday.
History informs us that churches in 15th century Bavaria used to celebrate the Sunday after Easter as Risus Paschalis (‘God’s Joke,’ or ‘the Easter Laugh’). Priests would deliberately include amusing stories and jokes in their sermons in an attempt to make the faithful laugh. After the service, churchgoers and pastors played practical jokes on each other, drenched each other with water, told jokes, sang and danced. It was their way of celebrating the resurrection of Christ – the supreme joke God played on Satan by raising Jesus from the dead. The observance of Risus Paschalis was officially outlawed by Pope Clement X in the 17th century. Perhaps people were having too much fun.
In 1988, the Fellowship of Merry Christians began encouraging churches to resurrect some of these Christian traditions—to celebrate the grace and mercy of God through the gift of laughter and joy. For example, they encouraged congregations to center the worship service around the theme: “Jesus is the Life of the Party.”
Although some people were raised to think that laughter in the church is almost sacrilegious, that is not the case. In fact, the scriptures tell us that “for everything there is a season… a time to weep and a time to laugh.” (Eccl. 3: 1, 4) And there is a famous drawing of Jesus raising his chin with his mouth wide open in laughter.