Irenic Thoughts

Irenic. The word means peaceful. This web log (or blog) exists to create an ongoing, and hopefully peaceful, series of comments on the life of King of Peace Episcopal Church. This is not a closed community. You are highly encouraged to comment on any post or to send your own posts.


Risus Paschalis

"The very essence of sin is taking ourselves too seriously."
Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

Risen Christ by the SeaRisus Paschalis means "the Easter Laugh" and refers to God playing a trick on Satan by letting him kill Jesus, thereby letting him think he had won, only to raise Jesus back to life on the third day. Since 1988, The Fellowship of Merry Christians has been working to bring back the laughter following Easter with what it calls Holy Humor Sunday on one of the two Sundays following Easter. There are churches that call it Bright Sunday and encourage wearing Hawaiian shirts and the like.

Our Episcopal neighbors down at St. Peter's, Fernandina are celebrating this today. The idea is new on me, though I like it. I've tried to do some research and I find quoted widely this exact phrase from the Merry Christian website,
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.
I did also find a reference in the Catholic Encyclopedia which notes the much more solid background for the tradition:
This strange custom originated in Bavaria in the fifteenth century. The priest inserted in his sermon funny stories which would cause his hearers to laugh, e.g. a description of how the devil tries to keep the doors of hell locked against the descending Christ. Then the speaker would draw the moral from the story. This Easter laughter, giving rise to grave abuses of the word of God, was prohibited by Clement X (1670-1676) and in the eighteenth century by Maximilian III and the bishops of Bavaria.
I also found this reference in an 1898 book Curiosities of Popular Customs and of Rites, Ceremonies, Observances, and Miscellaneous Antiquities by William Shepard Walsh
The Buddy Christ, from the movie DogmaIt was a time of exuberant joy. Gregory of Nyssa draws a vivid picture of the joyous crowds who by their dress, a feature still preserved and their devout attendance at church, sought to do honor to the festival. All labor ceased all trades were suspended. It was a favorite time for baptism, the law courts were closed, alms were given to the poor slaves were freed. Easter Sunday became known as Dominica gaudii "Sunday of Joy." In the reaction from the austerities of Lent, people gave themselves up to enjoyment popular sports dances and farcical entertainments. In some places the clergy to increase the mirth recited from the pulpit humorous stories and legends for the purpose of exciting the Risus Paschalis or "Easter smile."
It seems unlikely that the tradition can really claim the early Church Fathers as Augustine praised weeping and condemned laughing, as did John Chrysostom, and within the monastic tradition is the idea that "weeping alone unites with God, while laughter leads a person away from God." I find this overly austere as Jesus was known to be the life of the party (Matthew 11:19). Yet, I couldn't find proof of the pratice among the early church fathers or among the Orthodox Churches (as is otherwise widely noted but not attributed). If anyone knows a source for that, I'd appreciate learning about it. The earliest reference I found was in the 15 hymns that Peter Abelard (1079-1142) wrote for Good Friday and Holy Saturday which each ended with the stanza,
Grant us, Lord, so to suffer with you
that we may become shareres in your glory,
to spend these three days in grief
that you may allow us the laugh of Easter grace.
which is quoted in Farce and farcical Elements, from a series on Medieval Theatre. That same book goes on to tell at length appaling stories of medieval preaching in this tradition which is deplored in the writings of Oecolampadius and Erasmus who relate stories of Easter sermons salted with rude gestures and Erasmus writes in 1535 of hearing fables told in Easter sermons "so full of obscenities that a decent man could not tell them at a dinner party without shame." Amazing.

In any case, the worst of this tradition aside, it is easy to see why Christians should be the most joyful people around, especially in this Easter season. Recapturing the Easter Laugh (without the Easter obscenity) is a good idea. So enough scholarship on the is something like humor:

Some Not So Holy Humor

  • After the birth of their child, an Episcopal priest, wearing his clerical collar, visited his wife in the hospital. He greeted her with a hug and a kiss. She commented on how the baby's nose looked just like his. They talked more and then he gave her another hug and kiss when he left. The wife's hospital roommate said, "Your priest sure is friendlier than mine!"
  • During a long sermon, a child was overheard asking his mother, "Mommy, are you sure this is the only way we can get into heaven."
  • You may have heard of the man who had been shipwrecked on a remote island in the Pacific, and was alone for 20 years. When a ship finally arrived, his rescuers were impressed with the three buildings he had built and asked him about them. "Well," the man replied, "this is my house, and that building over there is my church. It's a wonderful church and I hate to leave it." "And what's the third building yonder?" a rescuer asked. "Oh, that's the church I used to go to," the man replied.
  • Sign seen on a sanitary hot air hand dryers in the rest rooms of a church, "For a sample of this week's sermon, push the button."

"Among all of God's creatures,
human beings are the only animals who both laugh and weep
—for we are the only animals who are struck with the difference
between the way things are and the way things ought to be."
William Willimon (1946 - )



  • At 4/06/2008 5:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The idea that the Resurrection was a mere practical joke on Satan...that's just wrong. I don't appreciate it.That's not something I see God doing. Being happy that Jesus was resurrected for us makes more sense.

  • At 4/07/2008 7:42 AM, Blogger King of Peace said…

    One can see readily how this could have devolved into bad theology, which led to its being banned. And yet, joy at the resurrection still makes sense.

  • At 4/07/2008 8:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    very true Father Frank!!

  • At 4/07/2008 8:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Why did we not have Kids In The Kingdom yesterday?

  • At 4/07/2008 11:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    We couldn't have Kids in the Kingdom without Fr. Frank could we?
    He'd miss all the fun!

  • At 4/07/2008 12:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Your correct the kids would miss the "Hopping Priest". (lol)

  • At 4/08/2008 7:33 AM, Blogger King of Peace said…

    As I had to go to Our Savior at Honey Creek Sunday, I could not lead Kids in the Kingdom, which we'll move to April 20. I am sorry for the change. The move though will make some sense as I was doing the Kids in the Kingdom on "The Passover" and the 20th is the day for our Passover Seder. So while the move was unintentional, it will make some sense on the day.


  • At 4/10/2008 3:57 AM, Blogger JesusBranded said…

    No intentions of spamming up your blog, but would you consider looking ove rand possibly reviewing some shirts from http://www.JesusBranded? I noticed you posted up some clothes from givitup... would love it if we made a review too. Just ping us (we have an affiliate program too).




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