The Humor Valve
By Anthony Casperson

He’d just watched the crowd cheer as his father and brothers were executed. And the mob was after him too. In mere minutes, the man lost much of his family, all of his friends, his way of life, and his freedom. Everything had exploded into nothingness. And he had to run.

But where?

Out of the city. Far away from the people who wanted him dead for some reason that he didn’t understand. But as he came to a fork in the road, a man appeared. Was this a henchman of those seeking to kill him? A bandit? Worse? Our protagonist had no clue, but there was certainly nowhere to hide. And just then, the approaching man spoke…

“Itsa me. Mario.”

At that moment in my playthrough of Assassin’s Creed 2 (many years ago now), I had to pause the game. And laugh.

Here was the main character—Ezio Auditore—on the run for his life. In the most dire of circumstances. The loss of his family still heavy on my mind as a player. And that’s when they throw in a joke quoting Nintendo’s mascot. I mean, Ezio’s Uncle Mario even had an Italian accent. It totally pulled me out of the game.

But I needed that laugh.

The story thus far had been kinda heavy. And there hadn’t really been time to breathe with all of the trouble and difficulties. There needed to be a break of some sort.

Sure, Ezio’s life on the run would still be there after I hit the pause button again. Yeah, the joke didn’t help one bit in fixing the problem. But the permission to laugh in that moment felt necessary.

Earlier this week, after a hefty helping of recent difficulties, I was reminded once again of the necessity to laugh even during hardship. I was reading through the book of Acts for my daily reading and found the humor in a recorded event that likely didn’t feel funny to Peter in the moment, but from the outside gave me pause to chuckle.

In Acts 12, Herod—no not the Herod who tried to kill Jesus at birth, but one of his descendants—went on a rampage against the fledgling followers of Jesus. He executed James, the brother of John. One of the inner three of the twelve apostles back before Jesus’ crucifixion. And because the crowd rallied behind James’s execution, Herod had Peter arrested during the Passover. With four squads of soldiers guarding him.

Would this follower of Jesus be put to death just after the anniversary of his Lord’s own execution? Peter had to wonder.

The Apostle prayed in earnest into the night. He was ready to die a martyr for his God and Savior. But that wouldn’t be necessary. Because an angel was sent to free him.

Although, verse 7 tells us that the angel struck Peter to wake him. Apparently, Peter’s a sound sleeper. Because I doubt the angel’s first course of action would be to kick the sleeping man awake. Although, given Peter’s track record of falling asleep during a time of earnest prayer it might’ve been necessary. I mean, back in the Garden of Gethsemene, Jesus had needed to wake up Peter, James, and John three times.

Sounds like a callback to me.

Anyway, the angel leads Peter out of prison and a bit further on. But up until now, Peter thought that this was just a dream. Maybe some sort of hint that he’d be set free eventually. The Apostle had received strange dreams that indicated soon to be events before. Just look back at Acts 10 and his interaction with Cornelius after a dream with a sheet filled with unclean animals falling from heaven.

However after the angel disappeared, Peter realized it was real. I can almost see him hunch over and duck into the shadows of the night’s streets. On the run. A fugitive of the city. He needed to run?

But where?

Bouncing from shadow to shadow, the apostle headed for the house that the followers of Jesus had taken to gathering in. And might’ve even been the place where that upper room of Jesus’ final Passover had been eaten.

Hunched over, Peter bangs on the gate’s door. Enough to be heard within, but not so much as to rouse sleeping neighbors. It seemed that blessings fell in Peter’s favor. A servant girl, named Rhoda, heard and came to the gate. Peter realizes that she’s coming and calls out…

“It’s me. Peter.”

The girl recognizes the voice and excitement fills her. The brothers and sisters in the house had been praying for Peter’s release and here he is. It’s a miracle.

And then she runs to tell everyone.

Without letting him in.

I can almost see Peter knock again. “Rhoda?”

No answer.

He slumps and looks down the street again, hoping someone will let him in before guards discover his escape.

Meanwhile inside, the gathered followers of Jesus hear her words and laugh at the idea of Peter already being free. “We’re still praying about that. Peter can’t have been freed yet.” Another pipes up, “Maybe it’s his guardian angel.” (Because obviously everyone has an angel who watches over them specifically that also looks and sound exactly like them?)

Eventually, they realize that Peter is really there and let him in. But I can’t help but think of Jesus up in heaven watching over his Apostle and laughing. “Heh, how ya like that one Peter? After having been held in a dark place, surrounded by guards, you’re miraculously set free. Then, a young woman is the first to witness your return. She runs off to tell everybody, but they don’t believe her. Gee, I wonder what that feels like, Peter?”

The whole story held moments that made me laugh. It didn’t solve my problems. Or make it easier to face them. But I felt a release of internal tension as I laughed in the moment.

I know that some reading these words have been dealing with difficulties themselves. More than a few likely have had an even harder time than I’ve ever experienced. But I hope this reminder that we have permission to still laugh at the funny moments around us gave you a little release as well. (And if you don’t have the same sense of humor I do, I hope that you do find something worth laughing at.)

Sometimes, even in the most dire of circumstances, we need a little release of humor. It won’t fix the problems, but maybe that quick reprieve will give us the ability to continue on. Go ahead and take the minute to pause for a laugh.

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