Christ had the last laugh

Published 4:35 pm Thursday, April 4, 2024

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By Alan Neale

It was about six years ago, the Bishop of Rhode Island was visiting the historic church of Trinity, Newport. I was serving as assistant priest (one of my several forays from retirement). It was then that I was introduced to the ‘Risus Paschalis’ – the Easter Laugh!

The venerable Bishop explained that it was a tradition of the Orthodox Church for the minister at Easter to tell a corny, shaggy-dog type of story that would cause the congregation to laugh aloud. Since then, I have learned that this custom began in 15th-century Bavaria; preachers would include elaborate jokes in their Easter preaching. And I quote: “The tradition captures something of the euphoria which is part and parcel of the Easter feast and festivities. Christ conquered death. A church ringing with laughter announces the Good News of the Resurrection. Christ has the last laugh.”

So, for the past six years I have sought to find a joke that was not too long, was a little corny and provided a surprise and funny ending. This past Easter day at Zion Episcopal Church, I told such a story… after the first hymn, after the welcome to members and guests. It was good but I will not be sharing it here; stop and ask me when you see me next. Episcopalians have sometimes been naughtily called, “God’s Frozen Chosen”; well, it was not true on this past Easter as roars and waves of laughter responded to the Risus Paschalis.

For decades on Easter Day, I have told a true and amusing story that dates to one of my first Easters as an ordained minister in St. Andrews, Plymouth, Devon, UK.

Like many a young minister (this is over forty decades ago), I was given charge of the youth group. The senior minister asked that I prepare the young people carefully to recognize and exchange the traditional Easter greeting – when they heard “Christ is Risen,” they should respond, “He is risen indeed.” On the day, all was going well, and I was proud of my training and their attention. Yes, all was going well until one young lady approached the senior minister; he said, “Christ is Risen” and there was silence, a befuddled and confused look came over her face, I could almost hear the brain cells working and then… she produced the reply, “Oh… and the same to you!”

The young lady’s response was definitely not the traditional Easter greeting, but it occurred to me that it was profoundly theological and wonderfully true.

You see, the historical Resurrection of Christ has and will always affect our lives, whether consciously or not. “The same to you…” applies to our human needs for healing and newness of body, mind, and spirit. “The same to you…” applies to anger and resentment that need to be put to death and raised to new and unbelievable life. “The same to you…” applies when we are confused, fearful or anxious.

When I served at The Church of the Holy Trinity, Philadelphia, the choir became so accustomed to this story that they would join with me in the young lady’s response “Oh… and the same to you.” Something, at least, was taking root in
hearts and minds.

There is no area of my life in which Christ’s Resurrection has not, is not, and will not have a transforming affect.
“Christ has Risen” … “He is risen indeed and… also to you, and to me.”

Alan Neale is the Rector of Zion Episcopal Church in Washington.