“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.
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.