Sermon for Sunday 13 February 2022
3rd Sunday before Lent – Year C
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”
In our gospel reading today, we are told that laughter is a crucial sign of being blessed and part of God’s Kingdom.
Those who weep now will be rewarded by God with laughter. And those who laugh will see their fortune reversed, when God makes them weep.
What exactly is going on here? What does this laughter tell us about the kingdom of God?
On one level, one might see laughter as evidence joy – the joy one might expect to experience in the Kingdom of God. It stands as an indicator of your emotional state – an uncomplicated sign that you’re happy rather than sad.
But when we dig a bit deeper into the text of our gospel, there’s a little more going on than first appears.
For Luke uses a relatively rare word for laughing that occurs nowhere else in the entire New Testament other than in the passage we’ve heard this morning. It is a word that does, however, frequently crop up in the Greek version of the Old Testament. And there it tends to mean laughter in a very particular sense.
Because there are lots of different sorts of laughter. When you laugh, it’s possible to laugh with someone, for example, to share their joy or respond to their humour, a sign of connection and fun.
But it’s also possible to laugh at someone, a sign of ridicule, power, or humiliation. The kind of cackling laughter in its most negative forms that you hear from Dick Dastardly or a Bond Villain. But it’s also the defiant laughter of the weak in the face of the powerful and mighty.
It’s this second sort of laughter that the verb Luke uses tends to convey. Laughing at someone, as a sign of power or protest in the face of your enemies.
So when Jesus speaks of people laughing in today’s beatitudes its not just about about their emotional state, and whether they are happy or sad. No, to laugh is to be exalted, powerful, fearless. To weep is to be humiliated, and downtrodden. This sort of laughter is an indicator of status not emotion.
So how do we get hold of this sort of blessedness? Where do we find this holy laughter that shows God’s favour?
Perhaps an answer is to be found in our first reading from Jeremiah. For there the prophet describes what it looks like to be blessed and what it looks like to be cursed. “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord,” we were told.
The key to blessedness is trusting in God. For those who trust in him empty themselves out of arrogance and pride, and in their humility know their need of God.
The wonderful paradox at the heart of the Gospel is this. It is when we put ourselves in a place of humility that God is able to exalt and liberate us from the power of our foes. It is when we are proud and well defended that God can do very little at all. As Jeremiah instructed us, “Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord.”
The reason that dynamic is at the heart of the Gospel is that it is what we saw God do himself in his Son. The Eternal Word put himself in a place of humility and lowliness so that his loving Father might exalt him and allow him to triumph over his enemies. If Christ laughs in the face of anything, it is death itself, whom he has conquered for us.
The scriptures teach us this morning that to be blessed is to know our need of God. Those who are poor, hungry, weeping and persecuted know in their humility that they have no hope but God. It is from that place of lowliness that they can laugh in the face of all that seeks to divide us from God – the enemies of despair, jealousy, pride, greed and ultimately death.
For it is only when we embrace a station of true lowliness that God can raise us up, and give us cause for holy laughter in the face of our foes.
Fr Peter Anthony