Here's my central contention:
Comedy is serious. And Christianity is comedic.
Now maybe that's a shocking shift in perception for you - in some ways I hope it is. But that's my contention: Comedy is serious. And Christianity is comedic. The bible is comedic. The Christian message is comedic:
I mean that in two senses.
In the classical sense the bible is a comedy. It is a comedy as opposed to a tragedy. In the classical use of the word, comedy refers to a certain genre of story in which people or cultures struggle and collide and through that struggle and collision you have a eu-catastrophe - a good catastrophe. A clash that resolves into a happy ending.
A modern example of the classic comedy genre would be the movie Shrek. Even if you haven't seen the film you'll recognize the happy ending - basically the good guys win, the bad guys gets their just deserts, there's a wedding and you finish with a song. That's the age-old recipe for a comedy. And the bible is the archetypal comedy. If you want to read the ultimate comedy ending, read Revelation 19 when you get home. There you see Jesus Christ riding into town on a white horse - the Victor over sin, death and every evil. You see the bad guys, the forces of darkness, the devil and all who follow him cast into the pit. You see the ultimate wedding - the wedding to which all other weddings point: the joyful union between Jesus and His people. And you see singing - the Hallelujah chorus is taken straight out of Revelation 19. Hallelujah. In biblical language even the rocks will cry out and the trees of the field will clap their hands. The whole creation will be released into noisy, joyful praise. The plotline of all history according to the bible is a comedy. Not everyone will get it. Nonetheless the Christian story is a comedy. It's called the Gospel which literally means GOOD NEWS. Christianity is the announcement of Good News - Jesus has triumphed, the bad guys lose, history is heading to praise and joyful relationship - Good News. Christianity is a comedy.
e.g. of Life of Brian - it topped channel 4's poll of the hundred greatest comedy films. And it's very funny. I've used clips from the first half of the film in sermons to illustrate many ridiculous truths about Christians. The film does an excellent job of sending up religious people - not as good a job as Jesus does of sending up religious people. But it's a pretty good effort. My problem is the ending - it's actually not a comedy, it's a tragedy. The finale has its hero whistling a wry ditty on the cross. "Life is quite absurd and death's the final word." Now it's a fine film. A funny film. But in the end it's gallows humour. In the end, it's just a tragedy. The problem with the Life of Brian is not that it is a comedy. The problem is it's not a comedy. Without the resurrection truth of Christianity, the Life of Brian is just one more tragedy sprinkled with gallows humour. And that's a pretty depressing prospect to be honest.
And Christian faith means hearing the Good News and getting it. Just like you get a joke, you need to get the Good News about Jesus. And faith is what happens when a person understands the Good News as Good News. They have a shocking shift in perceptions and they start to see Jesus in a different light, God in a different light, themselves in a different light, the world, the future, life and death in a different light. It's a shocking shift.
And so, in the bible the call to become a Christian is the word "repent." And literally the word repent means "change of mind". It is this shocking shift that happens when you GET the Good News. And the bible says whenever that happens the angels in heaven rejoice. There's laughter all round when people get the Good News. Christianity is comedic.
So the overall plotline of the bible is comedic. But what I want to do with our remaining time is show you how the bible tells this comedic story in a thoroughly comedic way.
Because some of you will be thinking - alright so laughter's allowed at the end, with the happily ever after. But what about now in our broken world full of death and wickedness. Is comedy really a spiritual, godly thing now? Yes. Absolutely.
We'll begin with the garden of Eden and the story of how all this death and wickedness came about. Christians call this event the Fall and it was the greatest Fall from grace there's ever been. Humanity fell away from God and were cast out of His presence. It was a dreadful event, the worst and most serious in human history. And yet - it is described in richly comedic terms.
Remember comedy is serious - there's no such thing as ‘only joking' and ‘laughing matters' are no less ‘serious matters' for all that. But the biblical story of the Fall is comedic.
You have Adam and Eve - before they disobey the LORD they are naked and feel no shame. Harmony, bliss, openness, beauty, freedom, satisfaction, joy. And Satan slides up to Eve and says "Can you believe the LORD, all these trees and He's forbidden you to eat from any of them!" And Eve says ‘No we can eat from any tree in the world - there's only one tree that's off limits.' The devil says ‘What a kill-joy! Are you really going to let this Miser tell you what to do?'
We hear this temptation from this side of the Fall and so it doesn't seem so ridiculous to us. But really that should seem like the most ridiculous suggestion ever put. Of course we should trust God to tell us what's what. Of course we should let Him set the agenda. Of course we should believe His words - He's the LORD. But we hear this temptation on this side of the Fall. And it's a mark of how deeply the Fall has settled into all our hearts that we understand Adam and Eve's sin. We commit it every day. It's the cry of every sinful human heart. If I were to ask you "Who's got the right to tell you what to do? Who's got the right to tell you what's what?" We naturally reply - No-one! No-one's going to forbid me what I want - not even you LORD. It's ridiculous, but it's exactly what Adam and Eve do. And immediately upon believing a ridiculous truth, they become ridiculous people. As soon as they eat the forbidden fruit they become fearful and ashamed. And they sew fig leaves together to cover their nakedness. An hour ago they had walked around paradise like kings and queens, naked and loving it. Now - fig leaves, sewn together. How the mighty have fallen. But of course the fall of the mighty is rich ground for comedy. And so Genesis tells this tragic story in deeply comedic terms.
The next thing that happens, the LORD God Himself comes to walk with His favourite couple in the cool of the day. And the bible says "They hid from the LORD God among the trees." They HID from the LORD God, behind some trees. It's tragic, but you can laugh, because comedy is also serious. And the LORD confronts Adam. Adam says "This woman you put here made me do it." This is brilliant comedy. Adam manages to blame both the LORD and the woman in a single sentence and we say "How ridiculous" and "How typical". And that's great comedy. Makes you laugh, makes you think. We laugh at him but we also see ourselves in him. Same with Eve. She gives the age old excuse "The devil made me do it." Again - ridiculous and typical. So Adam blames Eve, Eve blames the serpent and then the serpent doesn't have a leg to stand on. (boom, boom).
But here is the worst event in human history and the bible portrays it in thoroughly comedic terms. Comedy is serious. And Christianity is comedic. Because when people become ridiculous it is right to ridicule them.
Which is what the bible does from cover to cover. The bible takes the Fall seriously - which means it sees humanity as the ridiculous bundle of contradictions that we are. We have rejected the LORD who loves us. We're like a drowning cat clawing and scratching its Owner who's only trying to rescue it. We've been estranged from the LORD our Maker and all our efforts to get back to paradise are laughable...