Sorrow and joy, both integral parts of life.
Sometimes there is more of one than the other. But even in our times of greatest sorrow God gives us experiences of joy, as way to help us cope with all the sorrow.
Because of this, maybe it is up to us to look for and find the joy, and celebrate it however it comes.
A few days ago a former church member, named Susan, sent me in text in which she asked me, and her former congregation to pray for her and her parents.
Her mother recently had a fall brought on by an ailing heart which led to her hospitalization. Her father also had to be hospitalized in order to receive his dialysis treatments, and during his stay
growths were discovered in his internal organs. Upon further examination it was determined that the growths were the result of end stage cancer. Unable the operate, doctors sent Susan’s father home and recommended he receive hospice care.
In previous conversations I had with Susan over the years, she also requested prayers for her children and for her failing marriage, both of which had also caused her great sorrow.
After receiving my friends text and knowing something of her past, I tried to offer her a little consolation by returning a text which said : “You’ve had much sorrow in your life look for the light that will bring you joy. It is this joy that will enable to get you through the sorrow.” To which my friend replied: “Yes, I have darkness but I will find my joy and celebrate.”
Centuries before the time of Jesus, a Hebrew prophet wrote about a man who would appear among his Jewish people. He was recorded in the 53rd chapter of the Old Testament book of Isaiah as being, “Despised and rejected, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” We Christians believe that the man Isaiah spoke of, was Jesus of Nazareth.
Throughout his brief ministry, Jesus was misunderstood, even by those closest and dearest to him, including his own mother and family members. Religious leaders of his day rejected his teachings and saw him as a threat. His closest disciples abandoned him, one named Judas betrayed him and another named Peter denied even knowing him in order to save himself.
In the end he was falsely arrested, tried, scourged and crucified for crimes he did not commit.
But, in the midst of his sorrow leading up to his final journey into Jerusalem, Jesus was able to find and experience joy that would help him endure his ultimate sorrow; the joy of teaching people how to love one another and live a virtuous life; the joy of preaching the Good News of God’s love and forgiveness, especially to those who felt unlovable and unforgivable; and the joy that came from serving others.
In this morning’s New Testament lesson from the 21st chapter of Matthews Gospel, Jesus was traveling into Jerusalem for what would turn out to be his final visit to the Holy City. He went there to conclude unfinished business that included confronting religious authorities and ministering to the residents of the city. He knew that his opposition would do what was necessary to silence him, even if it meant arresting him and putting him to death.
Jesus’ going into Jerusalem reminded me of Martin Luther King, Jr. going into Memphis in early April 1968. He went there because he too had unfinished business he wanted to conclude, namely winning better pay and working conditions for the city’s sanitation workers; and he knew that in going there he too might be risking his life.
But Jesus was able to find joy on his journey into Jerusalem from the crowds that gathered to meet him, as King was able to find joy in Memphis in the crowd that had come to hear him at the Mason Temple.
As word got out that the charismatic rabbi and healer named Jesus was coming to Jerusalem people came out from the Holy City and from their villages and towns to greet him. Some had already received the good news of his preaching and the wisdom of his teaching. Others had come to express their enthusiasm for a man they hoped God had sent to liberate them from oppressive Roman rule, their hope being fueled by their religious celebrations of Tabernacles and Passover.
So, they put down their coats on the road as a sign of respect for the one they hoped would be their savior, and they enthusiastically waved their palm branches and flowers, and exclaimed: “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord to save us.”
Even though Jesus knew there were false expectations behind these shouts of acclamation, hearing the joy and laughter from his people and their children filled him with joy too. Jesus is wrongly depicted by artists when they show a somber man riding into Jerusalem in anticipation of the sorrow that would await him.
Instead, I see Jesus basking in the joy of the moment with a smile on his face, not allowing what might await him to sour it. And, it was precisely this joy that Jesus experienced in the moments that would fortify him for the sorrowful days ahead.
In the latter part of John’s Gospel, as Jesus was preparing his disciples for his imminent departure from earth, he made them a promise when he said to them: “So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and no one will take your joy from you.” In a similar fashion, I believe God was saying to Jesus on his ride into Jerusalem: “You soon will have sorrow, but I will not let anyone take this joy away from you. So, bask in it and relish it, for it is my gift to you and will sustain you for the sorrow ahead in the Holy City.”
Friends, we are in now in dark-times that are bringing us much sorrow. The virus is sweeping through our world, our country and our state endangering its people, even in our little New England town of Burlington. Scores are getting infected and many are dying.
None of us are immune, and all of us are being instructed to practice good hygiene and social distancing. As we are being forced to isolate we are kept away from those we love, like our children, our friends, and our fellow church members.
As we shut things down to hopefully prevent further spread of the virus until medicines, a vaccine and warm weather might eradicate it, our economy has been adversely affected and with it our present and future economy. These are indeed ominous times that effect not only our physical health, but our emotional well-being as well.
One way we can cope with all of this is by embracing and celebrating the experiences of joy God gives to each of us. But first we must be willing, and able, to look and listen for them and even to allow ourselves to be surprised by them when they come.
Martin Luther King, Jr. found his joy in the Mason Temple on the evening of April 3rd 1968 in what would be his final speech before he was assassinated the next day. He basked in the affirmation of those in his audience as they applauded him and verbally responded.
And this helped him finish his speech until he fell exhausted into the arms of one of his fellow leaders. Listening to, and receiving, affirmation from those who love us and support us in these times, can bring us joy that sustains us too!
Listen to the sounds of the birds that have returned north, bringing the light of their song into gray days and into the darkness of early morning; and let their joy become yours.
Relish in the joy of a good cooked meal, a good movie, a brisk walk or a good book and passages like this one from the novel, “The Hideaway”, that shows how we can be surprised by the
beauty of creation that brings us joy:
“We went around a bend and the path opened into a cove overlooking Mobile Bay, isolated except for a blue heron standing on thin legs in shallow water. It was still dark beneath the cover of trees, but directly in front of us, the sky had exploded in streaks of orange and pink, with violet clouds scattered like pebbles. Just above the waterline, the horizon remained a deep indigo blue. Seagulls gliding in the air provided the only movement, other than the quiet waves creeping forward and back along the shore.”
I believe God sends us occasions of joy like this as he sent one to Jesus that day with the crowds on the way to Jerusalem.
So, may we relish in these gifts, and occasions of joy, and let them sustain us in our suffering and sorrow, until resurrection comes…AMEN!