Last week in the sermon we considered our vision for our Sunday gatherings. One of the issues we considered was joy. We said that our vision is for our Sunday gatherings to have a consistent thread of joy even as we maintain a gritty honesty about the sorrows of life. Joy is not a simple idea for the Christian. Christians of all people are aware of the curse on this world, the fallenness of humanity, the darkness that lives in our own hearts, the devil and his demons that oppose us, and the myriad sadnesses of life. We can't ignore or deny these. They are too real.
But above, beneath, behind and before these realities is a deeper reality. It is the good news that is ours in Jesus Christ. Who God is and what he's done for us are even more real than the sorrows that can envelop us. Our joy in Christ is certainly more lasting. It is eternal where the sorrows are not.
The Brittish theologian and pastor Andrew Wilson has captured well this dual perspective that we are to have, that Pauline idea of being "sorrowful, yet always rejoicing" (2 Cor 6:10), that Petrine idea of being "grieved by various trials" but also possessing "joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory" (1 Peter 1:6, 9):
Christians have joy unspeakable, full of glory, but you might not always know it to look at us.
In many church traditions, especially Western ones, we find it easier to lament than to rejoice. We have commendable desire to be serious about the things of God, but our history suggests there is a slippery slope from seriousness, to sobriety, to solemnity, to sadness….Our most recognizable symbol is the cross, or the crucifix, rather than the circle of moved stone and empty tomb….
Some strands of contemporary Christianity, put off by this air of melancholy, have swung to the opposite extreme. Consumer-friendly churches can attract people with a spirituality in which there is no room for sorrow whatsoever. Suffering is regarded as an aberration….Sermons promise a trouble-free lifestyle that would be unattainable, if not incomprhensible, to most Christians in history. Silence may not be kept.
What is fascinating, and strangely encouraging, about all this is that both of these (admittedly cartoonish) traditions go against the grain of Christianity. The normal condition of the Christian life, as the apostle Peter explains, is one of inexpressible and glorious joy, in spite of the fact that we are also grieved by many kinds of trials. We do not ignore the realities of sadness and suffering, but we stubbornly proclaim that they do not have the last word; the kingdom is here, Good Friday ushers in Easter Sunday, and death is swallowed up by life. This, from the resurrection onward, has given Christians a paradoxical way of responding to the brokennness of the world….Christianity stares death in the face and sings anyway. We are, in Paul’s terms, sorrowful yet always rejoicing….
So when we act as those who are rejoicing yet always sorrowful, rather than sorrowful yet always rejoicing, we are swimming against the stream: of history, Scripture, of Christ himself….This is the day that Yahweh has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!
Andrew Wilson, Spirit and Sacrament: An Invitation to Eucharismatic Worship
May your faith in Christ and experience of him enable you to live out such a joy. And if the sorrows of today are too great for you to do that, then I pray a time will come not too far from now when the rejoicing will be possible for you once again.