Archive | May 2013

Jesus Laughing

523px-Rembrandt_-_Young_Jew_as_Christ_-_WGA19204

(Rembrandt van Rijn)

(1606-1669)

     “Jesus laughed.”  With all the tragedies of our world today—the bombing at the Boston Marathon, the collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh, the horrific tornado that flattened Moore, Oklahoma, to name just a few—it may seem a little strange to be thinking of Jesus laughing.  But laugh I’m sure he did, and I find myself wishing that at least one of the gospel writers had penned the words, “Jesus laughed” at least once.  I grew up with a sober Jesus.  And I’m afraid I often preached a sober Jesus.  Very sober.  Very serious.  Of course, it’s true that in story after story, teaching after teaching, Jesus is presented in all four gospels as a very sober, very serious man.  Nowhere is there a recording of Jesus’ laughter.  Jesus does tell his listeners at one point that those who mourn now will one day laugh.  But we never see or hear him laughing.

          And that seems strange to me.  And yet not so strange either.  Jesus was, after all, the “man of sorrows,” one “acquainted with grief”—and not just his own grief, but the grief of every one of us.  From early on in his active ministry Jesus was aware that one day he would  face a cruel death.  Aware that he would one day serve as the “lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”  So yes, in a sense, it’s really not so strange that we don’t see or hear Jesus laughing in the gospel stories.  He did carry a very heavy load through his life.

          But he must have laughed.  For while his life was truly a difficult one, his task immensely sobering, he did love and affirm life.  All of it.  Spoke of lilies and sparrows.  Was a frequent guest at dinner parties.   And loved children.  Held them and blessed them.  And all of this without a laugh?  With face rigidly set in somber stone?  I don’t think so. 

     For when “the Word became flesh,” that Word didn’t just take on our somber moods, our gravity and grim solemnity.  That Word took on our sorrows, to be sure, but took on as well our laughter and our joy, our dancing, our delight.  And that Word came to be with us, to relate to us, in every aspect of our lives—the happy as well as the sad, the joyous as well as the somber.  That Word came to affirm that all of life is sacred, and I think that herein lies the importance of picturing Jesus laughing at times.  It can be all too easy to isolate our “religious” life in a somber realm of darker colors and drab tones, to be open and aware of the Word living with us almost exclusively in a sepia world isolated from our fuller lives.  And wonderful as it is to know that the Word made flesh does indeed walk with us in all our sorrows, wonderful to know that this Word weeps with us as we watch tragedies unfold in our lives and around our world, it’s also wonderful to know that this Word also shares our joys.  To know that this Word longs to skip and dance with us to make our every laughter deeper, fuller, richer, an echo of the joyous laughter of the God who looked with delight on all that God had made. 

     In almost all classical depictions of Jesus, Jesus is pictured as a deeply solemn man.  Note Rembrandt’s pensive portrait above.  And grateful as we can be for all these rich classical images, I’m also grateful to the contemporary artist Jean Keaton who has reverently moved beyond this classical art to capture some of the joyous laughter of our Lord in her art.  In a number of beautiful pencil drawings, she depicts the delight that I’m sure was very much a part of Jesus’ life.  These drawings give us a fuller sense, I believe, of just who Jesus was in his time here on earth—a man acquainted with grief, to be sure, but a man also who echoed the joy of God in his smiles and his laughter.  Here’s a sample of her work, and you can see more at her website: http://www.jeankeatonart.com.

k1babeup

     To be sure, faith is a serious matter.  To be sure, faith in the Christ of the gospels calls for sober commitment.  To be sure, faith is never to be taken lightly.  But I do believe that our faith and life will be ever so much richer as we become better acquainted with the Man of Sorrows who not only bore the weight of our sadness and our sinfulness, but who also laughed with joy at the goodness of life as he walked the earth so long ago.  Who continues to walk with us today.  To challenge us at times.  To comfort us at other times.  And yes, to laugh and smile with us as well, whether we are responding to the needs of those struck by a natural or man-made disaster, or are simply relishing the beauty and the joy of life in this lavish, exuberant world in which we live.

Pentecost

Pentecost

I looked out my window this morning and saw this magnificent view.

This Pentecost poem followed.

Fiery tongues ablaze amidst

the green of springtime life,

deep-rooted in an ancient soil of

sagas tawdry, bold, triumphant, worn;

drooping, lifting, swaying with the

steady winds of change; ever

new though ever old; each leaf so

fragile in its shining, so feeble all

alone, but coupled, linked along the

branch with other bright red leaves,

a whispered shout of presence and of

power from beyond that shines through all our

broken limbs, blesses every greening of our lives,

infuses all monotonies.

Come Spirit Wind–eternal, tender, fierce.

St. Brigid at Downton Abbey

downton-abbey-dinner-table

       Watching Mrs. Patmore cook and then seeing the lavish feasts spread across the candlelit dining table at Downton Abbey is truly a delight.  Lobster Rissoles with Mousseline Sauce.  Strawberry Charlotte Russe.  Six—that’s 6!—spoons needed for the partaking of these rich feasts.  And who knows how many forks—all, of course, gleaming and polished under the careful scrutiny of the august Mr. Carson.

      A world removed from our experience.  An extravagant world, but not an unkind world.  The Earl of Grantham and his family are quite generous and kind to their servants and to the folk who live and work on the larger estate.  But kind as they are, they are nevertheless aloof, separated by a powerful, invisible barrier from those not born to their status and rank.  No maid or valet would ever be invited to dine at their lush table, and woe to the maid or the valet who did not stand to attention if one of their masters or mistresses were to enter their humble “downstairs” dining room.

      I love watching “Downton Abbey,” but I can’t help but think that the lives of Lord Grantham’s family are considerably impoverished in spite of, maybe even because of, all their wealth and aristocratic status.  For it is indeed their wealth and titled status that create such a distance from all of those around them, including even those specially prized servants of whom they are really very fond.

      Recently I’ve learned a bit about St. Brigid of Ireland, a woman of an earlier time who also loved feasts, but feasts of quite a different kind.  As I’ve read about her life, I’ve had some fun trying to imagine this ancient feast-loving saint suddenly appearing in the Downton Abbey dining room in the middle of one of their bountiful spreads.  An Irish abbess in the 5th-6th centuries, Brigid lived and worked alongside the nuns in her Kildare community, spinning, weaving, milking cows, all to provide for the poor and the destitute in her area.  The poor—not a people  she saw as “beneath” her, but rather a people she saw as God’s children who, at her kind of feast, would “sit with Jesus at the highest place.”

      I like to imagine St. Brigid entering the magnificent dining hall at Downton Abbey, a train of indigents in her wake.  I like to imagine her quietly drawing up chairs and seating them beside (heaven help us!) the Dowager Empress and Lord Grantham himself.  In my mind’s eye, she works calmly but determinedly, not to make the Downton people feel horrified or even guilty, but rather to make their feast even richer!  Richer by helping them to see, to really see, their oneness with these poor.  Richer by helping them to sense a shattering of that invisible barrier that keeps them set apart from Daisy and Mrs. Patmore and dear Anna Bates.  Richer by enlarging their souls to know their deep connectedness to all of God’s creatures, not just to those born with 6 silver spoons in their mouths!

      Brigid once wrote this lovely poem about the feast she would like to give, and I can imagine her singing these  words to the gathered Downton family:

          I should like a great lake of finest ale

          For the King of kings.

          I should like a table of the choicest food

          For the family of heaven.

          Let the ale be made from the fruits of faith,

          And the food be forgiving love.

          I should welcome the poor to my feast,

          For they are God’s children.

          I should welcome the sick to my feast,

          For they are God’s joy.

          Let the poor sit with Jesus at the highest place,

         And the sick dance with the angels.   

         God bless the poor,

         God bless the sick,

         And bless our human race.

         God bless our food,

         God bless our drink,

         All homes, O God, embrace.

      Such joy—contagious joy!—in her vision.  I can almost see Lord and Lady Grantham, the eyes of their souls suddenly opened, rising to toast St. Brigid, to toast their ragged guests, and then calling down for all the downstairs folk to come up, too, to join in the feast-dance of the angels and of the Christ!

      We don’t live in a Downton Abbey world any longer, but I think there’s often an invisible barrier between those of us who live in relative affluence and those who live in deep poverty.   We sometimes ignore the poor.  We sometimes feel pity for them.  We sometimes generously give of our resources to help them.  We sometimes even work for legislation that will help to improve their lot.  But do we feel connected to them?  Do we think of them as God’s special children who will sit with Jesus at the highest place?  Not really, I think. And we are the more impoverished because of this.

      St. Brigid’s ancient words call to us even as they called in my imagination to the gathered elite of Downton.  Call to us to join in the joy of her feast, a feast where the poor are given the highest seats of honor, where the sick dance to the music of God’s angels.  A feast where all barriers are torn down, and where all who eat know themselves to be deeply connected with every other guest, and deeply connected to the Lord of the Feast who always honors especially those who are in need.