The Laughing Masters

3A product of the hills and hollows of West Virginia, Landon Saunders was born with more potential than most. He had the mind of a curious scholar, the hard-working but humble perseverance of his farming forebears, and an unrelenting concern for others. He could have been a world-class physician, a university professor, or a trail-blazing humanitarian changing the world. He chose the ministry, or rather the ministry seemed to choose him.
Over the last half-century Landon has worked in local congregations, traveled the planet conducting Jesus-centered workshops, produced hundreds of audio and video devotionals, and has had a profound impact on thousands of people. As Max Lucado says, “I’ve never heard anybody tell the story of Jesus like Landon can.”
Neither have I, and never have I heard him speak – either to a large crowd or intimately one on one – without marvelous joy. His is not a ginned-up, evangelist-styled, late night infomercial euphoria, made mostly of saccharine and something to sell. No, it is soulful, sustaining wonder; gobsmacking awe, that he is alive and that others are too.
As Landon says, “Joy is central to my understanding of what it means to be human. Certainly, we live in a world where we experience suffering, failure, loss, injustice, even evil. During such times, when the going is tough, when we’re vulnerable to the weakest and worst side of our nature, we need a deep commitment to something that keeps us in touch with the good, the better, the best that is in us – a deep, stubborn, robust commitment to joy.”
After saying something like this Landon often tells a story entitled, “The Laughing Masters.” As he shares it, there were three spiritual masters whose teaching method was joy. They would go to town, stand in the market place, tell jokes, show kindness, and laugh. That was it! When one of the masters died, the villagers gathered together for his funeral, wondering what the remaining two masters would do.
The surviving masters did as they were told, as their deceased friend had given them strict instructions. He was to be placed on the funeral pyre exactly as he had died, without preparations and without the changing of his clothes.
When the pyre was lit the dead master had saved a final teaching for the townspeople: He had stuffed his clothing full of bottle rockets, sparklers, and Roman candles. The resulting fireworks show was one for the ages, and the people returned home, not despondent over a funeral, but with faces painted with smiles.
These are good words for this Easter weekend. We need all the smiles we can get even while this most celebrated Sunday on the calendar is altered in unprecedented fashion. Though churches can’t gather in traditional ways, still the resurrection of Jesus is the sign, symbol, and sustaining force of our faith – the source of our joy. “For even in death there remains joy,” Landon says, “because death is not the end.”