Yesterday we celebrated Holy Humor Sunday in church. Along with many other Christian fellowships, my congregation honors resurrection joy the week after Easter with a time of worship dedicated to laughter. We tell jokes and share funny stories. In the past, we’ve even decorated our worship space with balloons. But yesterday I didn’t feel much like laughing.
Saturday evening, over 100 tornadoes swept across the plains of Kansas and carried along with them trees, sheds, shingles as well as years of hard work and more than a few dreams. When the winds died down, cattle were left lying on their sides in the fields, felled by broken bones. Tin twisted around trees. Telephone poles were snapped in half.
Friends of ours will more than likely watch their old farmhouse get bull dozed later today. This old family home shook its fist at the violent storm and stood strong even while the tornado bore down upon it. It sheltered its family, hunkered down in the cellar. But its bones were also irreparably damaged. While we are so thankful no one was hurt, we grieve over the devastation of what such a short time ago was their well tended homestead…their home.
And from a distance, we add our heartfelt sorrow to those mourning the loss of loved ones in neighboring Oklahoma.
No, my heart wasn’t laughing yesterday. And yet, the resurrection stories we reflected upon in worship were comforting. I was reminded of the disciples’ grief following Jesus’ death. Not only had they lost their friend, they had also lost their religion, so to speak. Everything that had come to give their life meaning and direction had been stripped away and they felt betrayed, duped. Their despair is palpable in these stories. They hide themselves away from the public out of fear and according to the gospel of Mark, they spend their time together weeping and mourning.
Then something interesting begins to happen. There, in the midst of despair, Jesus/God begins to resurface in predictably unpredictable ways. He floats into the room where the disciples are cowering. He comforts Mary. He warms the hearts of believers on the Emmaus road. Most poignant perhaps is a story from the book of John. Peter decides to go fishing and his friends go with him to lend physical and moral support. They fish all night and catch nothing. Then around daybreak, a stranger hollers at them from the shore to cast their net on the other side. Idiotic suggestion, but they hadn’t anything to lose, so they give it a try…..and haul in a mother lode of fish! It clicks. Peter feels the presence of God and throws himself overboard, running for shore, running for God.
In a very similar way, God came near in my hometown of Little River Saturday night and through much of the day on Sunday, breaking through despair and grief. I was frustrated driving off to church yesterday morning, to serve my congregation which resides outside my home community, because I knew the most profound expressions of church were already forming at these sites of devastation around Little River. God was breaking in through fear, sorrow and loss as family, friends and neighbors gathered together to form a community of love and support around those who were hurt. Most often we see the face of God, we experience God, through our relationships with others.
There, surrounded by uprooted trees, flattened buildings and broken hopes, tears and laughter intermingled. Despair and grace embraced. Crucifixion and resurrection were honored, not in words, but in action.