At the start of this week, I was looking forward very much to seeing more faces I haven’t seen for the last three or four months at the Liturgy this coming Sunday. Then yesterday we had the news that we were in lockdown again and wouldn’t be able to have anyone at church apart from those needed to serve the Liturgy.
I have to confess that my first reaction was; LORD have mercy.
I think I felt like the Psalmist sometimes felt when facing difficult times:
“Why are you so sad, O my soul?
(See LXX Psalm 42:5 (Orthodox Study Bible))
but then he goes on to say
“Hope in God, for I will give thanks to Him ...”
And in that same Psalm we find these words:
“Then I will come closer to Your very altar until I come before You, the God of my ecstatic joy! (“exceeding joy”, KJV) ….” (TPT).
Then I was reminded of the Epistle reading from last Sunday, which came from Galatians 5 about the 'Fruit of the Spirit.' One of the expressions of the fruit of Love is: Joy!
In his famous book ‘For the Life of the World’, Father Alexander Schmemann speaks about the joy of Christians. From its very beginning, he says, Christianity has been the proclamation of joy, of the only possible joy on earth, resulting from the coming to earth of God Himself in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, two thousand years ago. Without the proclamation of this joy, Christianity is incomprehensible.
"Then the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people'." – Luke 2:10 (OSB)
It is only as joy that the Church was victorious in the world, and it lost the world when it lost that joy, and ceased to be a credible witness to it. Of all the accusations against Christians, the most terrible one was uttered by Nietzsche (German Philosopher 1844–1900) when he said that Christians had no joy.
Father Alexander goes on to say that before Christians can do anything else with all of our "programs and missions, projects and techniques," we "must recover the meaning of this great joy." He says that joy "is not something one can define or analyse. One enters into joy. ‘Enter into the joy of your lord.” (Matthew 25:21 OSB)." And one enters into this joy, this exceeding great joy, this ecstatic joy, he insisted, only by entering into the liturgical, eucharistic life of the Church herself. Here, and only here, as in the celebration of the Nativity of Christ and His Epiphany in the world, can a person partake of that joyful reality for which the world itself was created in the beginning.
So, let me encourage everyone to stay as closely connected to the Sunday Liturgies as we can, even though they are only online at the moment. God understands our circumstances and the restrictions imposed on us. But with modern technology we can at least keep connected visually and audibly, and God can and will fill us with His joy through these two senses for the time being as we open ourselves to Him.
Joy, like nothing else, shows whether we really believe the gospel. Joy demonstrates that we are authentic Christians. Joy is not an emotional buzz, an escape from the difficulties we face. To know Jesus Christ means to taste, and to want to taste more, the delights of peace with God the Father, Who cares for us through all the circumstances of life, God the Son, Who journeys with us, and God the Holy Spirit, Who is within us and empowers us.
Crushingly hard days come, and conscious fellowship with God may be overshadowed for a season; but the Triune God is with us. He is a joy.
Joy in Christ and His grace is the most convincing sign that the Gospel—the Good News that God has come to this earth as one of us because He loves us—has won our hearts. If we say we been called to follow Jesus and are His willing servants but live joyless lives, then there is a problem. If we go to church (when we can) out of a heavy sense of obligation, we’re in trouble. And if we honestly believe that people will be won for Christ by a dutiful, even faithful and conscientious—but actually joyless—Christian life, then we are deceiving ourselves.
The whole world is looking for joy. Are we being changed, then, in this one area that everyone longs for most of all? Are we joyful Christians, whose words match the transformation we are experiencing?
Let us ask God to fill us with the fruit of joy in these difficult days so that we may glorify Him, and so draw others to this same joy that can only be found in Him.