Easter Laughter

On Easter, we imagine Jesus' laughter of redemption. We who share an Easter faith can say, like Sarah, 'God has made me laugh.'

Years before he became pope, Joseph Ratzinger delivered occasional sermons on Bavarian Radio. The text below is excerpted from his meditations on major Catholic holidays. It begins with a reflection on the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac.

...Jesus is both the lamb and Isaac. He is the lamb who allowed himself to be caught, bound, and slain. He is also Isaac, who looked into heaven; indeed, where Isaac saw only signs and symbols, Jesus actually entered heaven, and since that time the barrier between God and man is broken down. Jesus is Isaac, who, risen from the dead, comes down from the mountain with the laughter of joy in his face. All the words of the Risen One manifest this joy—this laughter of redemption: If you see what I see and have seen, if you catch a glimpse of the whole picture, you will laugh! (cf. Jn 16:20).

In the Baroque period the liturgy used to include the risus paschalis, the Easter laughter. The Easter homily had to contain a story that made people laugh, so that the church resounded with a joyful laughter. That may be a somewhat superficial form of Christian joy. But is there not something very beautiful and appropriate about laughter becoming a liturgical symbol? And is it not a tonic when we still hear, in the play of cherub and ornament in baroque churches, that laughter which testified to the freedom of the redeemed? And is it not a sign of an Easter faith when Haydn remarked, concerning his church compositions, that he felt a particular joy when thinking of God: “As I came to utter the words of supplication, I could not suppress my joy but loosed the reins of my elated spirits and wrote ‘allegro’ over the Miserere, and so on”?

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The Book of Revelation’s vision of heaven expresses what we see by faith at Easter: the Lamb who was slain lives. Since he lives, our weeping comes to an end and is transformed into laughter (cf. Rev 5:4f.). When we look at the Lamb, we see heaven opened. God sees us, and God acts, albeit differently from the way we think and would like him to act. Only since Easter can we really utter the first article of faith; only on the basis of Easter is this profession rich and full of consolation: I believe in God, the Father Almighty. For it is only from the Lamb that we know that God is really Father, really Almighty. No one who has grasped that can ever be utterly despondent and despairing again. No one who has grasped that will ever succumb to the temptation to side with those who kill the Lamb. No one who has understood this will know ultimate fear, even if he gets into the situation of the Lamb. For there he is in the safest possible place.

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