Ever heard of Laughter Sunday? I hadn’t until just yesterday.
The idea of setting aside one Sunday each year to celebrate God’s gift of laughter and joy may be new to me, but it’s got a long and rich history in many congregations around the world.
Laughter Sunday (also known as Holy Humour Sunday, Hilarity Sunday, God’s Laughter Sunday, Bright Sunday or Holy Fools Sunday) has its roots in a number of different Christian traditions.
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, people would gather together to play practical jokes on one another and tell funny stories. 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 the Orthodox tradition, people would gather on Easter Monday to tell jokes and funny stories, and to dance and eat together.
Other traditions celebrate Laetare Sunday (also known as ‘Mothering Sunday’) on the fourth Sunday in Lent. “Laetare” simply means ‘rejoice,’ and comes from the opening collect for that day: ‘Rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow.' On this Sunday, the usual Lenten purple vestments and altar cloths are replaced by rose-coloured ones instead. Flowers (not normally present during Lent) are also brought into the sanctuary.
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.
If this is something you might want to explore with your congregation, here are a few resources which might be helpful:
You’ll find lots of articles and ideas for how other churches have celebrated “Holy Humour Sunday” in the Joyful NoiseLetter.
The Kir-shalom website has information on the history of Laetare Sunday, along with worship resources and sample sermons.
Paul Thigpen has written a wonderful article called “God has Given Me Cause to Laugh: Toward a Theology of Humour.”
Thom Shuman has posted a sample liturgy for Holy Humour Sunday on his blog.
There are lots of other ideas out there—have fun!
G.K. Chesterton once wrote:
“Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.
Never forget that the devil fell by force of gravity.
He who has the faith has the fun.”