You see it quite regularly, that a group of Christians would be laughing, mucking around, and enjoying themselves, and then a comment will be made that they would now be transitioning into doing “spiritual” things- such as prayer or scripture reading. I wonder though: if prayer and scripture reading are considered to be the spiritual stuff, does that mean the fun, laughter, and joy wasn’t spiritual? Let’s be honest: sometimes the fun, laugher, and joy feel so much better than the sitting still and praying part! Now, I am all in on corporate prayer, scripture reading, or what we might call the “explicit” spiritual practices. In fact, to not do those things ever would be deeply problematic and would go against the obvious rhythms and reoccurring practices you see in scripture and the life of the church. The problem then isn’t the explicit spiritual practices, the problem is when we see the laughter, joy, and the fun done prior to those activities as somehow not or at least significantly less spiritual. I am here to tell you that not only do I think joy, laughter, and fun are deeply spiritual, but that it is also central to our spiritual walk.
Intuitively we know this already. Think about the times you have become most relaxed. Think about the conditions that lead to a depth in conversations afterwards. Think about the emotional high you had when you were part of a people having fun all together. Here’s the thing though: it is not even just intuitively abundantly life giving…
Jesus himself is all about making a world of joyous, festive, fun and laughter. And we primarily see this at the wedding in Cana.
In John 2:1-11 it reads:
On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” 4 “Woman,[a] why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.[b] 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. 8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” 11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
A couple of things stand out here. Firstly, it is interesting that the writer John uses an irregular word for miracle here. Instead of the normal greek word for “miracle” he uses the word “sign” (John 2:11). If I am driving to Perth, it would be strange if I saw a sign that said “10km to Perth”, and then decided to stop at the sign and say I had arrived. No. The point of the sign is that it points to something beyond itself. Likewise, when John says “This was the first sign of Jesus”, he is saying “Pay attention, because what Jesus has done here is speaking about something larger that God is up too. It will reveal His Glory, what He is all about”. On the surface, Jesus turning water into wine is saving the immediate family from shame (It would have been culturally shameful to run out of supplies at an ancient wedding), but it was also a sign speaking about something larger that God was up to. In the Hebrew scriptures, the scriptures speak of a future where God has defeated all evil, injustice, death, and sin, and speaks of festivity where there would be fine wine (See Amos 9:12-15, Isaiah 25:6-7, Jeremiah 31:10-14). Likewise, at the end of our Christian scriptures, we have John once again talking about a wedding, except this wedding is a festive celebration where the Bride of Christ and Christ come together in New Creation, and there is eternal and festive joy (Rev 19:7). So, when Jesus turns water into wine as His sign, it is likely that he doing a throwback to what the Hebrew scriptures were speaking about, in order to launch-in Himself- us forward unto the world the prophets spoke about: a world where the Kingdom of God is a Kingdom of Joy. And the point of Jesus turning water into wine was His way of saying “This Kingdom has come- now live God’s festive, joyous, future in the here and now! Unto Kingdom come! Drink up! Have fun! Have joy!”.
So, what does this mean for us? It means that to have joy, to have fun, to have laughter, is to actually live the Kingdom! In other words, joy, fun, laughter, is actually central to what it means to be a Kingdom, Jesus-centred people. To not have fun would be to live against one of the central mandates of the Kingdom. Or as Nehemiah says “The joy of the Lord is our strength”. For when Jesus comes back again, death will be defeated with no more need to be defeating, injustice will be done away with no more need to stop injustice, suffering and tears will cease with no more need for ongoing ceasing- but joy, love, laughter, fun…That will continue and will continue forever. No wonder why it was Jesus first miracle! Because joy is central to the gospel!
Now, of course, we don’t celebrate in order to forget, or to numb ourselves, or to medicate our lives- or as the Apostle Paul hypothetically said if there is no resurrection, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”. That is to ‘celebrate’ because of a worldview of nihilism, of hopelessness, of despair. And sadly, that is the legacy of what a lot of fun is. We celebrate to forget. However, we are called to celebrate in order to remember: to bring more life to our bones, to stir hope- or as the Baptist ethicist Russell Moore says, “Let us Eat, Drink, and be Merry, for Yesterday We Were Dead”. That in fact when times do get hard, we have fun as a way to bring joy into those situations where joylessness is so strong- and that we do so because joylessness isn’t what defines human history. That joy becomes a revolt against the despair.
So practically, what are ways we can bring fun, laughter, and joy back? And how can we do it in hopeful, life giving ways, and ways that elevate and serve others? And how do we also do it in a way that is mindful to not be positive in toxic ways that minimise real pain and hurts- but rather to be joyous and have hope in ways that can co-exist with people’s pain as we wait for our future hope and joy to come full circle? And how can we do this all together and extravagantly (After all, Jesus got his disciples to fetch the water jugs that could fit a ridiculous amount of wine!)? How is God calling you to have communal joy? As we do this, it will bring life to our bones, which will bring life to each other- modelling to each other in love what holy fun looks like. For we have a Jesus who has defeated the kill-joys of the Earth when he died on the cross: defeating death, injustice, evil, and all that robs the world of genuine joy and festive fun. Who now, as the resurrected one, invites us into the life of God, which is joy, laughter, love, fun! For as we do this, we revolt against the killjoys of the world, all unto a day where God’s Kingdom will one day reign in full.
So next time we think that fun, laughter, and joy is just the smaller insignificant prelude to the “deeper” stuff- let us remind ourselves that…
Fun = Spiritual.
And that you are doing a holy thing.