King Solomon starts Ecclesiastes 3 saying that “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” In verse four he says there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh.” There is a time to mourn, to complain, to shed tears, to lament … and then there is a time to laugh, a time to have joyful laughter.
We need laughter. We all need a good laugh. It’s actually quite healthy for us to laugh. According to the Mayo Clinic, the short-term benefits of laughter include things like enhancing your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs, and muscles. Laughter increases the endorphins released to the brain which reduce pain and boost pleasure. Laughter cools down your stress response and can decrease your heart rate and blood pressure. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid in muscle relaxation.
Long-term effects of laughter include things like improving your immune system, relieving pain, increasing your personal satisfaction, and improving your mood. All joking aside, these experts say that laughter is the best medicine.
Not all laughter is good though. Let me set the scene up for you of our gospel lesson for this morning.
Jesus and his disciples are met by a large group of people as they come off the Sea of Galilee. Fighting his way through this large crowd is a synagogue ruler, a church ruler, by the name of Jairus. Jairus pleads with Jesus, “Please, my daughter is dying, my daughter is at the point of death! Come, put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live” (Mark 5:22-23). Knowing this isn’t a laughing matter, Jesus agrees and with Jairus heads toward Jairus’ house.
Along the way, with the large crowd pushing in around Jesus, there is this woman who for the past twelve years has suffered from a bleeding disease. She had heard about Jesus and the miracles he had done and so she tries to get to him thinking, “if I just touch his clothes, I’ll be healed” (5:28). With the hands of the crowd pushing against him, Jesus suddenly stops when her hand touches him and asks, “who touched me?” The disciples, probably laughing and are like “You serious Jesus? All these people are touching you and you want to know who specifically touched you? Everybody’s got their hands on you!” Jesus is persistent though on knowing who touched him. Jairus though has to be going out of his mind. “What about my daughter? Forget about who touched you, get to my daughter!”
The women with a bleeding disease comes forward and out of fear she falls trembling at Jesus’ feet. There she tells him the truth. Jesus looks at her and say, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering” (5:34). As Jesus tells her this, some men from Jairus’ house come up and say, “Your daughter is dead. Why bother the teacher anymore?” Jesus turns, looks at Jairus, “Let’s go, don’t fear, just believe” (5:35-36).
Jesus, Jairus, Peter, James, and John go into Jairus’ house. Standing there in the living room are these people. They are standing there making this big ol’ commotion. They are sobbing, weeping, and wailing loudly, almost uncontrollably. Jesus asks, “Why all the commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep” (5:39).
Notice what these people do. They instantly go from weeping and wailing to laughing. These people are professional lamenters or professional criers. Yes, that was really a thing in Biblical times. Professional lamenters would come in and cry, weep and wail at the death of someone as a means to help comfort and entertain grieving families.
So after hearing Jesus say that Jairus’ daughter is not dead but asleep, these lamenters go from this fake weeping and wailing to laughing. The lamenters are not laughing in the sense that Jesus is this great stand-up comedian who just made an awesome joke. No, instead they are laughing at Jesus. They are jeering at him, mocking him, scorning him. They are laughing down at, deriding Jesus … they’re making fun of him.
These frauds doubt Jesus. There’s no way that this girl who very realistically seemed to have died is just asleep and will wake up. But that is exactly what Jesus does. He gets rid of the lamenters, goes to the girl’s room with the child’s father and mother and the three disciples. Jesus takes her by the hand and says, “Little girl, I say to you, get up” (5:41). At the command of Jesus’ voice, the little girl gets up.
The crowd in the house laughed at Jesus when he said about the girl not being dead. It really shouldn’t surprise us then that the reaction of the crowd when Jesus himself was “at the point of death” (5:23) is very similar. Only ten chapters later Mark tells us about another crowd laughing. Another crowd laughing to scorn, mock, and ridicule. Soldiers standing in front of a beaten and weak Jesus dress him a purple robe, crown him with a crown of thorns, strike him on the head with a reed, spit on him, salute him as “King of the Jews,” and bow down on their knees in a contrived form of worship (Mark 15:17-19). The soldiers laugh at Jesus.
Nailed upon a cross, spectators and those passing by taunt and hurl insults at Jesus saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” (15:29-30). The crowd laughs at Jesus.
The chief priests, possibly thinking about Jairus’ daughter, joined in mocking and laughing Jesus to scorn by jeering at him, “He saved others, but he can’t save himself!” (15:31). Mockingly, they offer to believe in Jesus if he would descend from the cross (15:32). The chief priests laugh at Jesus.
Watching Jesus suffer at the hands of sinful men, watching Jesus suffer the divine wrath of God as he was forsaken by his Heavenly Father, watching Jesus speak his last words, breathe his last breath, watching Jesus being wrapped up and laid in a tomb … Satan laughs at Jesus.
People laugh Jesus to scorn at Jarius’ house and they laugh him to scorn while he’s on the cross and being placed into a tomb. Yet both times … Jesus does his greatest miracle. … Jesus replaces death with life. The young girl gets up from her deathbed; Jesus rises from his tomb. The young girl walks and eats in front of her parents; Jesus walks in a garden and eats fish with his disciples.
People laugh, society laughs. They laugh at the Christian who they think should have everything going for them, but still suffers. They laugh when a Christian suffers heartache from a failed marriage. They laugh when one suffers financial hardship from loss of an income or from a gambling addiction. They laugh when one suffers from depression, doubt and despair.
Satan laughs when a Christian gets pulled away from church because of laziness, drugs, alcohol, or just wrong priorities. Whether it be through an accident, naturally, or from an illness, death laughs as it takes a loved one away from their family.
So much laughter, so much unhealthy laughter. Everywhere we turn, people, Satan, death … they are all laughing, jeering, scorning. They laugh because they don’t understand. They laugh because living for others instead of living for oneself sounds ridiculous.
And yet, in the midst of the laughter … the woman with a bleeding disordered reached out to just touch Jesus’ clothes, the synagogue ruler reached out to Jesus to heal his daughter, Jairus continued to walk with Jesus even when he received the news of his daughter’s death. Why? Because they have something which those who laugh at Christians don’t have. The woman, Jairus, you and me … we have faith. Jesus told Jairus, he says to you and me … “Let’s go, don’t fear, just believe, just have faith.”
Faith is a hard thing to understand. Marin Luther once said, “One of the noblest and most precious virtues of faith is to close one’s eyes to this, simply give up (my words) exploring the why and the wherefore, and cheerfully to leave everything to God. Faith does not insist on knowing the reason for God’s actions, but it still regards God as the greatest goodness and mercy. Faith holds to that against and beyond all reason, sense, and experience, when everything appears to be wrath and injustice” (LW 43:52).
Faith in God, faith in Jesus is what allows us to joyfully laugh in the face of trials, temptations, and death. People, Satan, and death do not have the last laugh, Jesus does, “For he who sits in heaven laughs” (Psalm 2:4). When Christ comes again, we too will be joyfully laughing as we enter into his eternal presence. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.