{This morning’s mug, another in a series of forty, one for each day in Lent 2017. Must be a huge cupboard, right?}DSC07383

One of the seminaries related to the Presbyterian Church USA is Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I have only two connections to that school. I visited LPTS when I was a senior in college, over five decades ago. I was checking out what my denomination’s seminaries had to offer, and Louisville had that all-new campus, very friendly professors, and, well, Louisville! But I was growing interested in media ministry and the school didn’t have much more than a couple of Wollensak tape recorders in a closet back then.

My other connection is this mug. I guess that’s the school’s logo, a combination of Christian symbols arranged around a variation of the Chi-Rho cross. Word and Sacraments, the foundation of Reformed theology. Open Bible, chalice and loaf, pitcher and font. This is one of the most (pardon the expression) blatantly “Christian” mugs in our cupboard. It almost makes drinking the morning coffee a sacramental experience. Somewhat.

But the mug is a joke. It is masquerading as a pious vessel, marked with a seminary’s theological identity, serving, as many institutionally-endorsed mugs do, as a community building device. That is, look…we’re all drinking from the same cup. We are one in the spirit, one in the schoolhouse. But wait, there’s more to this than meets the eye on this side of the mug. Turn it around, and there’s this:DSC07384

If you are of a certain age, you’ll recognize an image copied from a library “card catalogue,” from one of the seminary’s many, many drawers of cards listing every book in the joint. Look closely at the title of the book, if you haven’t already caught it. John Calvin: a stud. Now Calvin was known for many things, but Alister E. McGrath must have found another side of Calvin never before explored in Reformed studies. A stud?

It turns out, of course, that there is only so much room on those small descriptor cards in the drawer. So the lengthier titles get chopped and what is missing is the full subtitle, “A Study in the Shaping of Western Culture.” Sounds intriguing, but not nearly as much fun as what’s printed on the card (and mug).

Good for Louisville Seminary to see the humor in it all. Some student must have run across this card doing some serious research, chuckled enough to be shushed by a librarian, who then also saw the humor there, and the word went out to others on campus, until someone said, “Hey, let’s put this on the mug!”

Much of what is genuinely funny is due to its being unexpected. The last panel of a comic strip carries its humor, and whether we chuckle or laugh out loud, we are struck by the punch line, the twist, or the pun. My wife and I got giggling last week when I tried to fill the birdfeeder on snowshoes. (Well, I was on snowshoes; not the birdfeeder.) The snow was a very fluffy three feet deep, and the snowshoes were worthless. I fell face first into the deep snow and couldn’t get up. It didn’t help that we were both laughing at the unexpected silliness of the situation! The video would have gone viral.

I’m not going to try to explain humor here. I trust E. B. White’s words: Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.

It’s enough to reiterate that it is the unexpected that prompts good-natured smiles. (That said, I agree that sometimes the “unexpected” can be eerie, scary, or troubling, too. The old gag about slipping on a banana peel is funny if a comic does it, but if Aunt Fannie falls on hers, and breaks her hip…nothing funny there.)

While we may be in Lent right now, and while there’s little humor in it by its very nature, be assured that some preacher-types are already planning past Easter to the Sunday following Resurrection Day. Some will join in the ancient (really?) tradition of Holy Humor, a Sunday service celebrating the totally unexpected. Some run the service backward, opening with the benediction and closing with the Call to Worship. Others will lace their sermons full of jokes and/or funny stories. One pastor I know wears a jester’s hat (I hasten to add that I don’t know the guy very well) to add to the fun.

Why Holy Humor Sunday? I quote something I stole freely from the “The Joyful Noiseletter:”http://www.joyfulnoiseletter.com/hhsunday.asp

The custom was rooted in the musings of early church theologians (like Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom) that God played a practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. “Risus paschalis – the Easter laugh,” the early theologians called it.

In 1988 the Fellowship of Merry Christians began encouraging churches and prayer groups to resurrect Bright Sunday celebrations and call it “Holy Humor Sunday,” with the theme: “Jesus is the LIFE of the party.”

I offer this little caution though. This Sunday had better be well-promoted a few weeks ahead of time. If I were to offer this special post-Easter day of joy and laughter, I wouldn’t want someone to show up for worship that week who had just experienced a heavy loss and came seeking spiritual comfort and quiet support. Losing a friend or a job or suffering a recent diagnosis of a serious illness — perhaps another church might be a better choice. Then again, even funerals find some folks smiling, even laughing, a kind of relief from sadness or tension, a salve for grief.  Everybody’s different. I’m just saying, be careful. One person’s humor may well be inappropriate or hurtful to another.

Another caveat: not every pastor can pull this off. Some are just not funny. Odd, but not funny.

Bottom line…(well, ten lines up from the bottom!): While the gospel accounts have Jesus hinting, suggesting, or proclaiming that “after three days” he would be raised from death, for his disciples it was still unexpected. In fact, put a capital U on it: Unexpected! A cosmic surprise! An event worthy of lots of exclamation points! That morning was not filled with joy at first. There was confusion, still some fear, puzzlement. But eventually, yes, joy and laughter at the Unexpected act of God that prompted the stud John Calvin to write:

“…We are not only invited through the example of the risen Christ to strive after newness of life; but  we are taught that we are reborn into righteousness through his power.”

Insert your own smiley face here.