Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Good Friday Humor: Bad Taste, or a Witness to the Resurrection?

Pontius Pilate, with Biggus Dickus to his right, presides before the crowds just before releasing Brian.

I’ve been asked to preach at a Good Friday service that lifts up the voices of the various women in the events surrounding Jesus’ death. I got the call yesterday asking if I would preach- apparently the woman originally slated to do it backed out.

Now I think I know why.  That’s because I’m to find a 12-15 minute sermon in the voice of Pontius Pilate’s wife, who holds a one verse part in Matthew 27.  I’m guessing the other woman slated to do this passage saw her assignment and fled.  My flight response just isn’t as honed as it could be.

Hence this question. On the darkest, most solemn day of the Christian calendar, is it irreverent to use humor? Because, seriously, thus far I’ve only been able to imagine Pontius Pilate’s wife as a bored transplant from Rome who thought when she married Pontius that she’d have a life in the limelight at the center of luxury and power, but instead found herself in the dry, dusty, remote Roman province of Palestine with only a middle manager for a husband. When she sends a note to her husband presiding at Jesus’ trial, she has probably been doing her nails, watching morning talk shows like “The View,” and speculating on when the next caravan of luxury goods  will roll into town.  That disturbing dream she has alerting her to Jesus’ innocence?  She probably has been dozing on the couch having turned the channel a few too many times to the local news station.

So she sends the following instruction to her husband, just before Pontius- who I keep envisioning has a lisp, thanks to Monty Python- hands Jesus over to be flogged: “Don’t have anything to do with that man (Jesus),” she writes; “because in a dream last night, I suffered much on account of him” (Matthew 27:19).

It’s a line I’m going to have to run with, since it’s her only line. “Is it really possible not to have anything to do with Jesus?,” becomes my question reading Matthew’s account of Christ’s Passion.  That’s probably the direction in which I’ll take this sermon.

Still, I’m left with the fact that on a day that I’m supposed to be really serious, I’m having trouble keeping a straight face, much like the centurion guards who have to look solemn and dignified when listening to their boss prate on and on with a lisp about Biggus Dickus and his wife Incontinentia Buttocks.  If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, here it is for a few laughs: YouTube Preview Image

So…what do you think? Is it bad taste to use humor in a Good Friday service, or can our humor be a way of witnessing to the resurrection on the darkest day of the year? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


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  • Kristina Robb-Dover

    So glad to reconnect- and thanks for all of your above reflections. Very helpful.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Joannah

    One other thought …more of an aside…but I recall during my CPE training how important it was to be mindful of my use of humor and not to completely disregard its value in the context of the hospital. The experience of smiling, laughing, and taking pleasure in people, ideas, thoughts, etc is healing in many ways.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Joannah

    My thought is that if the humor is used wisely it can be appropriate in any sermon. But, like someone said earlier, I agree that if I leave a Good Friday sermon having only had a few good laughs, then I would be disturbed as well.

    The suffering of Pilate’s wife is most curious to me and I would look to hear that drawn out a bit even though it means giving it your best guess since the text doesn’t give us much.

    I am wondering if this may be more of a reflection than a full on expository sermon???

  • Kristina Robb-Dover

    Thanks for this helpful feedback, Paula.
    I agree we have a responsibility to address God-forsakenness and suffering and that Good Friday is a very good context to do that. Thank you. I will be praying for your friend, the man who has one month to live- and giving thought to my own answer to your question (stay tuned for a post in the near future about it).

  • Kristina Robb-Dover

    Thank you for these thoughtful reflections, Teresa. They will help to inform my approach to the sermon…which I hope you’ll tune in again for on Good Friday. I couldn’t agree more with your observations on the women in the Passion narrative…and, we’re in good company: my favorite NT scholar, N.T. Wright, makes the same observations. Blessings, Kristina

  • Kristina Robb-Dover

    Ooh, I like that, Anna. Thank you.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Teresa

    “Don’t have anything to do with that man (Jesus),” she writes; “because in a dream last night, I suffered much on account of him” (Matthew 27:19).

    What I am struck by in the words of Pontius Pilate’s wife is that it is another instance of God speaking through the words and actions of women during the dark days of atonement. I would be interested in an exploration of her words. There’s some juice there. Intuition? Was she psychic? In what ways did she suffer?

    It’s amazing how deeply women were involved in the accounts of what happened. Pilate’s wife and admonition(prophecy), the wiping of feet with oil by Mary (preparation), the women who remained at His side during the crucifixion, the women at the rock who witnessed the sealing and, my favorite, Mary, who first proclaimed the Gospel, He is risen, on Easter morning.

    I’m no scholar so forgive my naivety and ignorance on such esoteric matters but, in these dark days of what I call, ‘pharisaic christianity’ where women are judged as not enough at every turn, I take solace in the knowledge that Our Lord was supported and ministered to by these strong women. It shows a regard for women by Our Lord and Father that is seen too little these days.

    My two cents,

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment anna

    I think you can speak of Pilate’s wife in a manner that includes all people who can say a few words that change someone’s life. We’ve all met these kinds of people, and often we are surprised how such few words can change our perspectives.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Paula

    Wow, I’m stuck on the fact that someone would give a preacher this specific of an assignment. Guess they didn’t want to leave it up to the Holy Spirit and you to figure out what to preach, huh?

    That said, I love humor, and it might even have its place as part of this sermon, but I’d be pretty disturbed if I left a Good Friday service that left me only with laughs. I think we have a responsibility to think about why people are coming, who they are, what they may need. I worry that we may have become bored with our own story, and look for ever more “creative” ways to amuse ourselves. Pilate’s wife is a tiny part of this story, I wouldn’t spend all my time on her.

    For myself, I know the family of a man who has less than a month to live will be there.
    Is there anything to say about suffering and Godforsakenness?

    And please, no jokey golf stories. I’ve heard enough of those for a lifetime.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Dawn G

    I’m a firm believer that humor is almost always a good thing.

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