A Sermon Preached on The Sixth Sunday of Easter
(following the Julian Calendar used to calculate Easter in Greece)
June 6, 2021, at 11:00 am
at The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete.
“I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” Jesus at the Last Supper, according to John 15.11
Are you feeling joyful?
Maybe. Maybe not. We are here, we are alive.
Some of us are in pain, and rightfully so. Some of us are mourning the dead, whether they left us a few days ago or whether it was years ago. We are sad. It is hard to sing alleluia when we are spiritually at the graveyard, when we are lonely and bereft.
Some of us are traumatized by past and current events. A physical or sexual assault, perhaps. Perhaps we were verbally abused as a child or as an adult. While we did our best to put a bright face on things, and not appear as a victim, the scars are still there.
Some of us are worried about our loved ones – our spouses, our children, our elderly parents. Some of them have physical illnesses, some are sliding into dementia, others are having money problems, or personal conflicts.
Some of us grieve broken relationships – with our former spouses, our friends and families. We grieve our part in the breakdown, and we lament the part we did not contribute. And even if we remember the good things, they seem overshadowed by tragedy and suffering.
Most of us are just plain sick and tired of this pandemic, and what seems to be a lost year – or will it be two – of what limited time we have on this good earth.
I looked up antonyms to “joy” and here is what I found:
misery, agony, anguish, cheerlessness, dejection, despondency, disheartenment, dispiritedness, doldrums, downheartedness, gloom, gloominess, plaintiveness, unhappiness, woefulness, despair, ill-being, sadness, wretchedness, grief, sorrow, tribulation, depression, discouragement, dislike, melancholy, lethargy, listlessness, sluggishness, apathy, dullness, lifelessness
So many words to describe the opposite of joy!
So what is this joy that Jesus talks about?
The Greek word used here is χαρά, and I do not get the sense that the meaning has changed much in 2000 years.
However, in the Gospel of John everything with an ordinary everyday meaning always has a deeper level. For Jesus joy is achieved in his union with the Father, and is expressed in his obedience and love. Jesus gives his disciples his joy, and we express it by our obedience and love. It is a deeply mystical thing, which may be characterised by emotion, but goes far beyond that.
- It is a joy that begins in baptism and is celebrated in Holy Communion.
- It is communicated to us in the words of scripture, in our prayers and in our meditations on it
- by the Holy Spirit flowing from accepting a relationship with Jesus as the risen and ascended Lord.
- It is expressed in praise, in hymns and music, in approaching God in prayer, in working with others in ministry and the ordinary things of life.
- It is seen in creation and in the renewal of creation begun in Jesus.
- It is found in our hope that after death God is not done with us.
- It is seen in the repentance of a sinner and the restoration of an outcast.
- It is acted out in being hospitable, especially to strangers.
- It is heard in the bells of a church and in the telling of tales about people.
- It is knowing that service to God is perfect freedom.
- It is in the smile of a child, and the snuggle from a pet
Joy in the Midst of Despair
The reality is that the joy described by Jesus is something we can experience even as we undergo sorrow, depression, or other forms of sadness. It is hope in the midst of calamity and joy undermining despair. It is laughing while crying and somehow going on when one is utterly wiped out. It is taking up one’s heavy cross, and finding that the great weight is at the same time mystically light. It is the antidote to the depravity of the world around us, allowing us to see its beauty. It is awe in the mundane, it is wonder at the ordinary.
So have this joy. It is ours, just as it is God’s. It is being completed in us, slowly, quickly, step by step, suddenly making great strides. Hold onto your agony while telling out your joy for all to hear.