No Laughing Matter
"That's no laughing matter," you sometimes have to sternly say to a person. Mostly kids have to be told, "That's no laughing matter," because they don't know, don't understand, or are just out of sync with a situation. But sometimes adults need to be instructed about what is and isn't a laughing matter.
Death is no laughing matter. Our Bible story wants to bring this point home by bringing out all the heartrending, tear-jerking, tender details. The girl in our text is dead. Matthew tells us she's dead already even as her dad is begging for Jesus to come and save her. Dr. Luke, ever the doctor, says she is far gone, all but dead. Mark preserving for us the very words of the daddy records he is not even able to use the word "dying" or "dead." All he can say is literally, "My daughter is at the end." You've been there, haven't you? You choke up every time you try to use "death language" in reference to someone you love dearly. And Jairus loves his daughter dearly. Luke tells us she is his only child.
Jairus' daughter dying is like losing a high school graduate on prom night, a college graduate on her way to her first job, a parent on the eve of their big anniversary, a spouse right before the second honeymoon. So you can understand the scene at Jairus' house, can't you? There's loud crying and wailing that sounds like the screeching of rock on rock. And don't pooh -pooh the mourning because they were professionals. This was the custom then. Even the poorest man had a minimum of 2 flute players (Matthew mentions that flute players were there.) and one paid mourner at the death of a loved one. Jairus was prominent, so there would've been many mourners, and the grief would be extreme.
Death is serious business. It's a preaching of loss. Gone was Jairus' daughter from his house. Gone were the times of laughter and fun. Gone was his chance to give her away in marriage. Gone were the grandchildren that might have been. Death preaches of loss and it preaches of sin. The cause of death is always the same. Sin. God told our first parents, "Eat and you die." They ate, and we've been dying ever since. "Sinner, sinner, sinner, " death preaches to us, and we are bothered and frightened because where sins and sinners are divine judgment must follow.
Death is no laughing matter, so if you're laughing in the face of it, you're like the child who doesn't understand the gravity of a situation. Death doesn't deliver all dogs to heaven let alone all people. Death in fact delivers all to judgment and most to hell, to eternal pain, to a second dying that doesn't stop but goes on and on and on. So wipe that smug smile off your face. The Grim Reaper is on his way for everyone of you because everyone of you is a sinner. Laugh all you want. He is going to get the last laugh because you're going to be dead.
Death is no laughing matter, but neither are the words of Christ. The people in our text correctly knew the first truth but not the second. Death was serious to them, but the words of Christ were not. When He arrived on the scene and said, "The child is not dead but asleep," they literally "laughed Him down." It's like the Johnny Cash song, "Don't Take Your Gun to Town." The mourners were laughing Jesus down in ridicule, mockery, scorn. "Doesn't this fella know a dead body when He sees one?" Is this Jesus like the child who on first seeing a dead bird or puppy thinks it will get up at any moment?
Jesus' words are no laughing matter. He is God of God, very God of very God, all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily in Him and He says, "The child is not dead." God speaks reality. Reality is not what we feel, what we think, what we believe, or what science, technology, and psychology tell us. Reality is what God says. He said, "Let there be light" and there was light. He said, "Let the waters bring forth fish and the sky bring forth birds," and the fish swam in swarms and the birds flew in flocks.
Think of it this way. You know what someone means when they say to another person, "You're dead to me." That means the person is no longer a part of their life. He or she is as good as dead. He or she will not be in the other person's thoughts, words, or deeds. Jesus here says, "This girl is alive to Me." If you're alive to God, dear friend, then you are most certainly living no matter how many doctors pronounce you dead, how deep they bury you, or how much science protests that no heart beat, no respiration, and no brain waves mean you're dead.
The words of God are not like our words. I can stand over a dead body and say, "He's not dead," or "She's not dead," and nothing changes. My words only speak what I believe reality to be, what I hope reality is, what I think reality is. God's words are reality. So when I say to you, by God's command and promise, "I forgive your sins" these words are reality. God says you're a saint, that is, a forgiven sinner, and that's what you are no matter how many people pronounce you sinful, how deep the devil would bury you in your sins, or how much your conscience protests that you're a miserable wretched sinner.
Baptism isn't simple water only because God declares it to be a washing of regeneration and a renewal by the Holy Spirit. So no matter how many Protestants pronounce it just plain water, how deep the devil would bury Baptism under the lie that physical things cannot work spiritual miracles, no matter how much your reason can't fathom how God can attach His new birth to the same old water you drink and bathe in, your Baptism is in reality what God says it to be: a gracious water of life that clothes you in all the holiness and righteousness of Jesus. A divine water that you can cast in the face of an accusing conscience, a threatening devil, or leering death.
Christ's words are no laughing matter. They speak absolute reality, so when He says, "This is My Body; this is My Blood," these are really present in this Bread and Wine. So no matter how many Protestants pronounce these just plain bread and wine, no matter how deep the devil would bury Communion under the lie that finite things are not capable of containing or doing infinite things, no matter how much you struggle to get your head around the fact that God the Son comes down to this altar, to my hands, and into your mouths, Holy Communion is really what God says it to be. A sharing of the same Body of Christ that was nailed to the cross and resurrected from the grave; a sharing of the same Blood of Christ that was poured out for your sins.
Samuel Johnson, the 18th century English author, said, "The size of a man's understanding might always be justly measured by his mirth." I'd say his understanding can be measured by what he laughs at. This is Biblical. While God is said to laugh at those who plot against Him, He never laughs at His children in pain, sin, or death. An understanding person doesn't laugh at the words of Christ even when they seem contrary to the facts right before his face. This earthly water is heavenly life. The words from this man's mouth on earth are God's Words from heaven. This Bread and Wine is the Body and Blood of Christ. This girl is not dead but merely asleep. Our dead in Christ are no more dead than the little girl. They merely sleep in Jesus who will wake them to new life as easily as we woke them from sleep in life.
Jesus word's are no laughing matter. Therefore, sin, Satan, and even death itself can be laughed at. Sheep of the Lord Jesus are always troubled by their sins. Not a day goes by that their sinfulness is not evident. O how they mourn their wretchedness at times. O how heavy their sins feel. They shouldn't have done this; they should've done that. And why O why did they do this again. Tut, tut. Where are your sins now? Can you find one that Jesus the Lamb of God did not carry away? Can you find a sin of yours that was not nailed to the cross? Can you find a sin of yours that Christ did not bleed, sigh, cry and die for? If this be true, and it most certainly is, then God certainly can't find your sins anymore, so why should you be so downcast, so depressed, so laughless?
O if we could only be like children in this. Didn't you ever have a child who longed to be potty trained but kept having "accidents"? How crushed they were! What failures they felt like! How close to despair they were because of what was on the floor or in their pants! And what did you do? You made them laugh over it. You poked, you tickled, you made faces just so they would smile. Because the accident which was so terrible to your toddler was easily cleaned up by you. When a child is crushed by failure, they don't need to have their face rubbed in it. Just so when we are crushed because we've made a mess again, God wants us to laugh at it like we wanted our kids to laugh at their accidents, and He wants us to trust that as easily as we cleaned up our kids' accidents that's how easily He does ours.
Because Christ's words are no laughing matter we can laugh at sin and Satan too. And make no mistakes about it; Satan is behind many of your continual worries, fears, guilts, and doubts. But just what can the devil do to you now that, as Paul says, Christ has made a public spectacle, a laughing matter, out of him by triumphing over him by the cross? Don't you get it? The joke is on the devil. He was so certain that he had defeated the One who from Eden on was promised to crush his head. Greedily, certainly, joyfully he came down on Christ on the cross thinking he had won. But in killing the Christ who bore our sins and kept the law perfectly, Satan lost his right to accuse us for our sins or for breaking the Law.
Now that's as funny as the mean dog who misses your leg and bites the bike tire. That's as funny as the robber who locks himself in the bank vault. That's as funny as the evil genie putting himself back in the bottle. So laugh at the devil. The more he howls, scowls, and threatens you, the more you laugh. Luther said the devil being a proud spirit can't stand to be made fun of. Therefore by all means we must do that.
Because we take Christ's words seriously, we can laugh at sin and Satan but what about death? Rather than laughing at Jesus, the mourners could have been laughing at death. So can you and I. There the Grim Reaper stands by the grave of our loved one. He certainly looks like the winner even as he did on Good Friday and Saturday, but then came Easter Sunday, and everything looked radically different. Because death lost then, death can be laughed at now. Don't you sometimes laugh at the way some people sleep? Don't you chuckle over their funny positions? Our dead in Christ are but sleeping in Jesus, and He will wake them from death like we use to wake them from sleep. Having died in Christ they are really no farther from us now then they were when they were sleeping.
Psalm 30:5 says, "Weeping may endure for the night," it doesn't say weeping must endure for the night. Today joy and laughter can be ours because the One who defeated death, devil, and our sins comes to us in Bread and Wine, in Words and Water speaking of comfort, of forgiveness, of joy, of laughing matters. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost VI (7-20-03), Mark 5:21-24a, 35-43