April 27, 2003
© John M. Connan
It’s easy to party when the going’s easy; but it’s bravado, defying the odds, or down-right stupidity to party when the going gets tough.
When life’s good, joy and laughter come readily and easily. When life goes bad, tears come even more readily and easily.
If that’s true, we’re left with a conundrum about the Christian faith.
If I were asked what words characterise the Christian faith, I’d say, “Love and joy!”
We all know the way Jesus responded when asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.’ ‘.Love your neighbour as yourself.’”
That sounds easy enough, until you hear Jesus also say, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”
Some years back I remember reading with astonished admiration the story of a mother and father forgiving the homeless teenager, who’d done their daughter to death – pleading that he be given another chance, forgiving him, and, when he came out of prison, taking him into their own home and family circle – and loving him.
Loving can be hard. We all know that. But love such as that of those Christian parents is even harder – yet, it seems, it is possible.
Love isn’t just an emotion: it’s an attitude to life and a way of relating to and working with other people. You can relate and act lovingly, even though deep down it brings you close to tears.
Love is redefined by Jesus in a way that the world finds incredible. And the world finds it just as incredible when those who follow Jesus can love their enemies.
Somehow joy seems different. It seems hard if not impossible to laugh and rejoice, when deep down life is hurting, Joy seems much more an emotion than love – even if it too is an attitude to life.
We hear Jesus’ word in the Sermon on the Mount, “How fortunate are those who mourn,” and we’re not too put out, because Jesus also said, “they shall be comforted!”
Then we hear this, “How fortunate you are when people insult you, persecute you, and slander you, because of me. Rejoice and be glad: you’ll get your reward in heaven.” And we’re distinctly discomfited! It’s not easy rejoicing at the prospect of insults, lies, and martyrdom.
Then we hear words written by John towards the end of the first century. Persecution had broken out. The followers of Jesus had been defamed. Lies had been told by those who didn’t want to understand. John reflected on Jesus’ words. He thought about his own experiences since Jesus’ death and resurrection. He tried to put himself into the shoes of those for whom he was writing his story of Jesus.
The setting for Jesus’ words in John chapters 13 to 17 is the last hours before Jesus’ arrest and execution. Jesus knew he about to die. He knew his disciples would be stunned, grieving, frightened, bereft – without any reason for joy – or so it seemed.
He prepared them for what was about to happen. “Don’t worry. You trust God; trust me as well.” “My final gift is peace. Don’t worry. Don’t be upset.”
If it was anyone other than Jesus from whom we heard these words, I suspect we’d be sceptical at best, hostile at worst. “How do you know what my feelings are – how bereft I’m feeling? Don’t give me that rubbish about peace! Don’t tell me not to be upset!”
We read on further to 16:20. That sounds more “realistic.” “You’ll be grieving: the world will be rejoicing.” That’s what we’d expect. But these words follow quickly: “Yes, you’ll grieve; but your grief will be transformed into joy!”
When we know loss is coming, we know what Jesus is talking about when he says, “Now’s the time to grieve.” Then these words startle us, “I’ll be seeing you again. That’ll be time for rejoicing – with a joy no-one can take from you.”
Joy, when everything’s okay, we understand: but, joy, when grief has taken hold of our hearts and lives?
The first Letter of Peter to the Church throughout Asia Minor was written at much the same time as John wrote his gospel to the Church throughout the world. The writer wanted to lift the spirits of those who knew persecution had already touched their families and friends, or was about to strike with unexpected fury.
“Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his overwhelming mercy he’s given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you… In this you greatly rejoice, though for some time you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”
“Though you didn’t see Jesus, you love him. You still don’t see him now, yet you trust him – with laughter and singing. And because you keep your trust firm, you’ll certainly be rewarded with joy beyond joy, because you’re receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
There you begin to see something of the joy of which Jesus spoke, something of the joy of which John wrote – an undergirding joy which comes to those “receiving the goal of [our] faith, the salvation of [our] souls.”
None of this ignores the problems we know. None of this trivialises the troubles that come our way. None of this pretends that grief doesn’t threaten to overwhelm us.
What it does is to redefine joy.
Jesus and the early Christians redefined joy, just as they redefined love.
Here was an attitude to life. Despite everything that might happen, they knew, however hidden he seemed to be, God was in charge. Despite the hidden-ness of the Kingdom of God, they knew it was already on its way. However long or short a time it might take, they knew Jesus would come. And they knew their joy would be fulfilled in their fellowship of love with the God and Father of Jesus Christ. They knew!
They had a joy based on hope, the assurance that nothing in life or death – absolutely nothing in the whole of the created order – would ever be able to separate them from the love of God they had discovered in Jesus Christ.
What’s your problem? It’s time for joy!
What’s your trouble? It’s time for joy!
What grief is yours? It’s time for joy!
Jesus is risen! Death has done its worst and God has had the last laugh. It’s time to rejoice!
Though we shall die, we shall rise to new life. Death may have its way with us. But we shall join in God’s last laugh. It’s time to rejoice.
“Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice! And again I say rejoice!”
 Mark 12:28b.NIV
 Mark 12:30-31.NIV
 Matthew 5:44.NIV
 Mathew 5: 4. [Own paraphrase.]
 Matthew 5:11-12. [Own paraphrase.]
 John 14:1. [Own paraphrase.]
 John 14:27. [Own paraphrase.]
 John 16:20a. [Own paraphrase.]
 John 16:20b. [Own paraphrase.]
 John 16:22a. [Own paraphrase.]
 John 16:22b. [Own paraphrase.]
 1 Peter 1:3-6.Based on NIV.
 1 Peter 1: 8-9. [Own paraphrase.]
 c.f. Mark 1:15.
 c.f. Romans 8: 38-39.