risus paschalis: when dust laughs

Risus paschalis means “the Easter laugh.” The pastor of the United Church of Christ congregation I attended some years ago had a practice of telling jokes (mostly corny jokes) during the announcements before worship on Easter Sunday morning. In doing this, he was reviving a historic clergy practice of telling a joke during the Easter homily. Why a joke? Because, as the tradition celebrates, with Easter resurrection, God played God’s most radical trick on the Devil. The “Easter laugh” is also connected in some communities to Easter Monday, also known as “Day of Joy and Laughter” or “Bright Monday,” a day of feasting and celebration as worshipers move into the first week after Resurrection Sunday.

On this Easter Monday, 2019, holy humor and laughter are hard to come by. Bombings in Sri Lankan churches and hotels on Easter Sunday morning and continuing violence in many parts of the world disturb our spirits and trouble the festive waters of our sacred celebrations. News like what we heard on Easter Sunday from Sri Lanka brings tears–not laughter.

And yet, even as the horrific news made the Easter Sunday headlines, Christian communities proclaimed–Alleluia! Christ is risen! That is the power of the Easter message. Not a romanticized message. Not a triumphalistic one either. No, the power of the Easter message is its persistent hope even in the midst of uncertainty, despair and even horror.

On Ash Wednesday as Lent began, we rubbed ashes onto foreheads and said “yes” to human mortality: “Remember you are dust; to dust you shall return.” Easter Day bombings and violence are all too painful reminders of human mortality. What word can we offer as we stand amid not-yet-cold ashes? If offered with care and surrounded by truth-telling about life’s realities, we can proclaim with steadfast and determined belief a message of resurrection in the face of those who promote and embody death. We can proclaim with our hands, feet, and hearts–with our dust-made humanity–life and dignity for all in the name of the one who made dust laugh again on Easter morning.

I wrote the poem below before I heard the news of bombings in Sri Lanka or church fires in Louisiana. Today, on Bright Monday, I wrestle with whether to share the poem at all. Perhaps we wrestle with whether or how to share resurrection news too. Still, Easter Sunday came. And Bright Monday. And on those days–on every day–we announce the only news we can cling to for hope and purpose when we stand amid life’s ashes: Jesus, the Bright Morning Star, is alive and goes before us to show the way.

risus paschalis: when dust laughs

spring has ambushed winter,
and the dust of the earth is, yet again,
transfigured into wind-dancing laughter.

laughing dust? not here
in this graveyard of abandoned joys
where dead-ended dreams whisper
like violated ghosts among tombs of those
too-soon returned to the earth.

you just smile and sink your spade
into the sun-warmed sod, costly
corruptions composted, turned, turned
again until soil recognizes soil.

then you wink, just once, and the
remembered dust, tantalized by the
tickle of a new feast’s first thin blade,

**photo by Jill Crainshaw

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