“God’s Little Laughter”
By Rev. Ivan Gregan, Port Wallis United Church
The Sunday after Easter is designated as “Holy Humour Sunday” with two-fold origins.
First, after the theologically in-depth Holy Week and Easter celebrations, this Sunday provides a lighter Sunday that brings humour back into our celebrations with God.
Secondly, Easter, itself, has been described as “God’s little laughter” meaning that in the face of death’s terribly offensive and highly pertinacious claims that it would rule over human destiny, God brings about the resurrection where life triumphs over death and God defeats death. It was said that on Easter Sunday morning, God laughed at death and that every Sunday in Eastertide, we hear “God’s little laughter”.
Now humour has many different expressions. There are some here who would find the “Big Bang Theory” on TV as highly humourous and others who would fail to see any humour in it whatsoever. There are some who find ‘slap-stick’ very humourous and would enjoy the movie “The Three Stooges”.
There are some who enjoyed “Archie Bunker” , “Red Skeleton” and “the Golden Girls” .
Other enjoy humour when it is presented in a book. Others when it is found in the “Comics” or as I used to call them, “The Funnies”.
Humour is found through many different media,
in many different situations, and
by many different means by many different people.
I love what the French call, “Double Entendre” or two ways of hearing the same thing. After listening to this sermon, you might say, “That was all most interesting” or you might say, “that was almost interesting.”
In the Gaelic Culture and Language, everything has three different meanings: The surface meaning, the implied meanings and the deeper meaning of what you are really saying.
For example the word, “morag”. On the surface, it is simply a girl’s name, translated into English as “Sarah”. The implied meaning is a play on words meaning “mightiness, greatness, majesty and dignity” and another play meaning “a big refusal, a big doubt or a big hesitation” . The deeper meaning is that ‘morag’ was a code word for “Bonnie Prince Charlie” and still implies the hidden and well guarded truth in any situation.
So the fiddle tune, “Morag of Dunveagan” could mean “sarah of Dunveagan” or “the majesty of Dunveagan” or “The great hesitation at Dunveagan” or that Bonnie Prince Charlie was hidden at Dunveagan Castle in 1746 or it implies that when a person whistles it or plays it, that there are great hidden truths within the person and they are looking for someone with whom to share them. It’s quite complicated.
The Biblical writers were no different. The languages that they used had many different layers of meaning and they used these to convey meaning to the readers. However as we moved away from the Biblical languages, we have also moved away from the “double entendres”.
The Gospel for today has one of those ‘double entendres’. The verse says, “Now Thomas, called Didymus”. Didymus in Greek means “a twin” and was both a common name for a person and a common descriptive of two siblings born at the same time.
Just as in French, “Pierre” is both a person’s name and the word used for a ‘building stone’.
So Didymus means twin in Greek but what we don’t pick up on is that “Thomas” is the Aramaic word for ‘twin’ as well.
So John in another display of one of his brilliant writing techniques, basically says, ‘the twin who is called the twin’ but the Greeks would have heard, “Thomas who is called the twin” and the Aramaic speakers would have hear, “the twin who is called Didymus”.
Complicated? It gets better.
Of whom is Thomas or Didymus the twin?
In 1945, at a place called Nag Hammadi, about 550 kilometers up the Nile from Cairo, a group of Arab farmers digging nitrate (bird droppings) for fertilizer, discovered a hidden cache of papyrus documents that were written in Coptic, the ancient Church language of the Egyptian Christians.
In that Cache they discovered two very important writings both of which had been known before this only through partial fragments of manuscripts in Greek.
The first was a copy of the Gospel of Philip and the second was a copy of the Gospel according to Thomas.
Tradition has taught that the sayings of Jesus were recorded by three of the apostles: Matthew, Philip and Thomas but only Matthew’s survived persecution and became included in the Bible. There were no great revelations. Of the 114 sayings attributed to Jesus in Thomas only 40 are somewhat unique. The rest are exactly the same. But it sure is good to have copies of the books that were only rumoured to have existed.
What was unique, was another document entitled “The Book of Thomas the Contender”. It’s a dramatic conversation between Jesus and Thomas where Thomas is described as Jesus’ twin brother. Now Dan Brown and the DaVinci crew have taken this literally to mean that Thomas must have been Jesus’ biological twin. Once again a prime example of people literally reading the surface literally and missing all the layers of meaning.
What they should have asked is, “who is Jesus’ Thomas, or who is Jesus’ Didymus or who is Jesus’ twin?”
You see, in the “Book of Thomas the Contender”, you and I are his twin and we are picking up from and carrying on the conversation that we read in John’s Gospel. “Unless I see…. I will not believe.” This is a conversation that we are still having today. “Unless I see…” or “unless I have proof…” or “Unless….”
You see, when John wrote his Gospel, he continued the work of a master craftsman – Jesus and the Gospel was written to include us.
AS Jesus Christ believes everything
and knows everything
and understands everything,
while we, the unholy twin are not as certain,
not as believing and
not as able to grasp everything yet we are
flesh of the same flesh,
bone of the same bone and
created in the same image and born of the same love.
I doubt that there ever was a real person called “Thomas” although I do believe that there were and are many Thomas’.
And I’m glad that these doubting Thomas’ have a place in the Bible.
And I think that when God looks at his many Thomas’, God smiles and, the humourous part is, that God knows that, in the end, His Doubting Thomas’ are welcomed into the flock and, in the end, they come to believe.
Once again, God laughs at death and the glory of Easter rises up.