They Both Laughed

Photo by Emily Ellison

I wrote this blog in early March, but felt it unfit for the season of Lent, expecting to offer it instead sometime after Easter. Now, following the celebration of Resurrection, we are overwhelmed by the reality of a global pandemic and economic collapse. These are serious days. Yet, in an unexpected response to the painful days of Covid-19 isolation, a new art form has arisen: singing fresh lyrics to staples of our musical heritage that express with humor the foibles of quarantined life. Like the social-media family who perform rewritten Les Miserables lyrics or the teenager redoing a Hamilton song, turning each melody into a comedy about sheltering-in-place. The result feels a bit like subtle protest music born of a resilient human spirit that refuses to completely give in to the seriousness of these days. In daily news cycles filled only with bad news, the moments of levity are testimonies to human resiliency. They are glimpses of hope that we will not be defeated. To be sure, many live lives of desperation in these days. Many find it impossible to laugh. But our deep hope is that laughter will eventually come to all. That’s what Resurrection is all about.

They laughed. Sarah and Abraham both laughed. We remember Sarah’s laughter more readily — maybe because God called her out on it. 

God, aka-bedouin-visitor, with a couple of colleagues, showed up for Abraham and Sarah at the wilderness grazing spot where they had camped.  The theophany (“appearance/vision of God”) amounted to a repetition of the promise that they would have a son. But this time the promise came with a due date: the boy would make his appearance by the same time next year (Gen 18). 

It was ridiculous. Sarah and Abraham were in (or near) their ninth decade. Sarah, in her culturally-restricted position of listening in the tent, laughed to herself at the absurdity of it (you just have to laugh at silly “men”). And the divine visitor called Sarah out for laughing.

But Abraham laughed, too. It was just the chapter before the Sarah snicker. While she had the decency to laugh behind a tent-flap at the promise of becoming an nonagenarian mother, Abraham laughed to God’s face at the renewed promise of a family. A belly-laugh that threw the old patriarch to the ground. It seems, though, that God took it standing up, continuing patiently with the steady stream of outlandish generative promises: “Your wife Sarah will have a son” (Gen 17:17-19).

They both laughed. While we may remember Sarah’s laughter more readily because of the comedy of Omniscient-God catching her muffled chuckle in the tent, I think another reason that we more easily remember her laughing at the Divine is a tendency to shove patriarchs up on pedestals of righteousness, while pushing down weakly-human matriarchs.

But they both laughed. 

And good for them! They are both saintly, flawed, very-senior adults with senses of humor attuned to the absurd. We can all hope to be like them when we reach our 90’s. They knew about biology, about the birds and bees, about the relentless march of aging, about hopes and disappointments. They were realists. 

Most importantly, they were still talking with and listening to God after years of joys and discouragements. They were still in a two-way conversation with the Divine. They could still laugh. And they could still follow God: a halting, mistake-riddled, doubting, believing following of God. 

The night did come during which “Laughter” (aka “Isaac”) was conceived — with the gift of unexpected, but not unprecedented, divine intervention, no doubt.

Then there was the day when little “Laughter” was birthed. And I’m sure they both laughed. Everyone around them laughed. And we should laugh, too. 

The take-away? 

Keep laughing — isolated behind tent-flaps and standing before theophanies. 

Pull sainted ancestors off mental pedestals. (We’re not so different from them.)

Treat matriarchs at least as well as patriarchs. (After all, who had the strength to birth and nurse a baby in her nineties?)

Listen for ridiculous promises from God.  

And dare vulnerability to the divine conception of unexpected Laughter in you. 

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