We are now making our way towards Easter and the central event that marks our salvation hope. As Christians we believe that it is through Good Friday and Easter Sunday that God accomplishes his central mission in Jesus. Jesus does for us what we cannot do for ourselves -- he buries our sins, takes upon himself our sorrows, reconciles us to God, defeats death itself. Most of our response to Easter is to watch and worship. But having said this, we realize too that we are not to be passive, that there is something like a pathway marked for us to follow. Early Christianity was called “The Way” and that is because Jesus stands not only as the object of our faith but also as the example of our faith. In other words, as worshippers we are also called to be followers. While we watch what God does for us in Jesus, we also hear the call to participate, to begin the path that leads to joy, to follow in the way of Jesus.
Our Easter series, The Shape of Joy, is based on the idea that while the story of Easter is ultimately a story of joy, it is a joy that comes by way of a paradoxical and surprising path. The text we are basing our thoughts on comes from Hebrews 12:1c-2:
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
This statement comes as a kind of summation of all the examples of faith that the writer wants to draw our attention to. Noah, Abraham, Moses -- the large faithful crew that are represented in Hebrews 11. But then the author points to Jesus as the supreme example, the “pioneer and perfecter of faith”. He is the one we should “fix our eyes on”. Every faithful and wise life ultimately represents the way of Jesus, willing to endure difficult passages in order to enter into the joy of the Lord.
In the wisdom of the ancients, joy was not something that could be gotten directly, as if joy (or happiness, its lesser cousin) was ever so clearly labeled. What looks like joy can actually be a delusion; and what looks like sorrow can be the thing one treasures most. No, in the ancient mind, joy was always a by-product of the virtues, something that was attained when love was truly love, when truth was unclouded and clear, when courage and perseverance and faith were the primary thing. Joy was a result of doing the right things.
And this is how we see the story of Jesus through his Easter journey. It is not that he embraced the heartbreak and agony for what it was in itself (that would be untrue of any of us), but that he was willing to go through those things for the sake of doing God’s will, serving his brothers and sisters in the most profound way, entering into God’s eternal unbounded joy. Joy was the thing that motivated him (“for the joy set before him”) but it was not the thing he went after directly. First, “he endured the cross”.
Joy has a shape, a texture; joy is known through a path, a way. We want to be clear about this, for this is deep wisdom. Faith always takes the perspective that while difficulties might be present, they are only temporary. True joy is the ultimate thing, the thing we willingly wait for. True joy is the reason we act courageously, live truthfully, love faithfully, hope unswervingly. It is the knowledge that sorrow has a limit, and that joy is ultimate, that makes courageous and faithful living possible.
Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning. [Psalm 30:5b]
Please take note of what is available for you this coming week: Palm Sunday and baptisms -- April 17 Stations of the Cross -- April 19-21, Tues-Wed 9 to 9, Thurs 9-5 Good Friday service, April 22, 10:10 am Easter Sunday services, April 24
We hope that you are able to worship with us, but even more so, we hope that you are able to follow in the way that Jesus leads us.