By Zac Koons
I was excited for our youth group. It was Pentecost Sunday and by golly I was going to teach these kids about the Holy Spirit. I don’t usually talk at the kids, but for this I made an exception. From what I could tell, these kids had no imagination for what the Holy Spirit had to do with their lives. And so I carefully prepared a devotional message I was confident would blow their minds.
Once we finished game time, as is our custom, we processed together from the youth room into the nave for formation time. The kids know that they’re allowed to be as loud as they want as we march down, but as soon as they cross the threshold into the church, they are expected to be completely silent. This room, I’ve taught them, is sacred space. It has been set aside so we have a place to reliably and reverently meet God. We sit together on the floor of the chancel, circled around the altar, and typically we do some kind of meditative Scripture reading together, and that’s exactly how I wanted to start our time that night. We would read through the Pentecost story out loud, three times, Lectio Divina style, and then I would give them my devotional. That was the plan.
About halfway through the second reading, somewhere around the line “But some sneered, saying, ‘They are filled with new wine,’” one of our kids got the giggles. As you might imagine, this phenomenon is not unheard of at youth group. So I was unfazed. I had faced this demon before. It had taken practice, but by then I had mastered the elementary teacher glare of death, designed for such circumstances. So I did it. And it worked. For about ten seconds.
And then the giggles bubbled up again, this time spreading to the student sitting closest to them. So I turned up the knob from frustrated elementary teacher to infuriated football coach. And that seemed to settle it. For another ten seconds. This airborne contagion of simmering laughter spread further. I tried to ignore it and read louder, but that didn’t work. My glare evolved from infuriated football coach to disappointed parent, but not even that could extinguish the flames of laughter on their tongues. Some of the older, more responsible kids in the youth group shared in my sense of injustice and frustration and began to yell-whisper things like Come on, guys and Seriously.
I was fed up. I had worked hard on this. And now we were running short on time. “Okay,” I stormed, in authoritarian tone, “everybody stop right now. Bibles down.” They had never seen the Old Testament wrath side of Fr. Zac before. And they were afraid. “Here’s what we’re going to do. Everybody spread out. Scoot away from your neighbor far enough so that you can lay down on your back without touching anybody. And do that now. I’ll wait.”
They moved, scared and confused. “Okay, I am going to set a timer for five minutes. And for that five minutes you are not allowed to do anything. Just lay still and look at the ceiling. You are not allowed to speak. You are not allowed to whistle or hum. You are not allowed to smell. You are not allowed to look at anyone. You are not allowed to move from that spot.” Then, out of nowhere, right in the middle of my militaristic monologue, a new idea came to my mind. I continued: “The one and only thing that you are allowed to do for the next five minutes is laugh.”
The room erupted. It was like a happy bomb went off. Laughter poured forth into every cubic foot of available air. I had never heard such laughter. There were deeper-than-belly laughs coming from the left, and high-pitched hysteria laughs coming from the right. There were mildly amused laughs that were transfigured into mind-bending, mouth-open, magic-trick laughs. Eventually it tapered off, but then one person would trip on the settling silence and one slipped-out snort would ignite it all over again. And then there were laughs that hurt because you had already been laughing so long. There was a laugh to fit each of us, and it was chaos, and it was miraculous. Had someone walked into the back of the church, it would have been the most natural conclusion in the world to think that me and the children had broken into the Communion wine.
The timer went off. Five minutes had passed, but eternity had invaded them and set up an Ebenezer in our hearts. I stood up. I said “Amen. We’re done. I love you guys. Happy Pentecost.”
It is one of my most cherished memories in ministry.