Easter is joy. It touches our souls. Such joy is a gift of this Easter Season and for all of our lives. The joy that understands that through the Resurrection of Jesus, our Easter faith makes our hearts glad & our flesh live in hope. But that deep joy can be forgotten. Our Gospel begins today in fear even after the disciples had learned about the Empty Tomb, even after Mary Magdalene tells them she has seen the Resurrected Lord on Easter morning…
The doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked in fear, and then Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you.”
Finally at the end of Easter Day, their fear is turned into joy. Death has been replaced with resurrected life. The tomb they locked themselves into had been opened.
As the 1st letter of Peter puts it: “By God’s great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
And into that living hope, Jesus invited his disciples by helping them relieve their fear; he then breathes on them, the Spirit of God comes upon them and they feel at peace. Being joyful & peaceful are connected.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer observes, “"Peace be with you"—that means: he who himself is this peace, Jesus Christ, the crucified and resurrected, is with you. The word and sign of the living Lord brings the disciples joy. Community with the Lord, after anxious, dark days, has been found again.”
What a moment that must have been. Peace entered into their very midst and the fears that controlled them, melted away. The Easter joy had to get through the suffering of Good Friday and that fear that entombed them. Such joy is much deeper than mere happiness. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it:
“Joy is much bigger than happiness. While happiness is often seen as being dependent on external circumstance, joy is not. Our greatest joy is when we seek to do good for others.”
That is true of our lives, for joy is there for us too, and there will be suffering & fear.
“Suffering is inevitable, they said, but how we respond to that suffering is our choice. Not even oppression or occupation can take away this freedom to choose our response.” ― Dalai Lama
It is that response, flowing out of joy that will lead us to help others who are suffering, helping others find that joy and love we have received. And such love and joy will lead us away from fear and antipathy.
In her book Jesus Freak, Sara Miles writes about her church in San Francisco: St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church & their weekly food pantry. Parishioners have worked hard over the years to build up the pantry, feeding hundreds of poor and struggling families in the Bay area. The church is most proud that the pantry is “not a traditional charity, but a community of poor people feeding each other.”
Visitors to the parish are impressed and deeply moved by what Sara and her community have done. But there is often a sadness to their adulation; there seems to be a sense of resignation and resentment of the church's work. Sara writes:
"People insisted that . . . our food pantry was so special, that they couldn't possibly do anything like it themselves. It was as if they wanted to explain away the possibility of their own power. Of course, they'd say, you can experiment as much as you like out there in California; we could never get away with that in the South. Of course you must have a lot of creative folks in your congregation, not like our boring Midwestern grandmothers. Of course you have a wonderful bishop, a lot of money, a better class of poor people, some mysterious kind of permission that allows you to be so cool and daring. I wanted to cry. What more permission do they need . . . 'Receive the Holy Spirit' isn't that enough?'"
The Spirit that Jesus breathes on the disciples on that first Easter night is breathed upon us at our baptism. And through the Spirit, God’s grace enables us to live our joyful lives with the belief that the good is always possible; it is the grace that enables us to transform our doubts and fears into reconciliation & justice, peace & hope, into tangible and life giving works of love in the midst of fear and sadness.
“Discovering more joy does not, save us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak. In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily too. Perhaps we are just more alive. Yet as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreaks without being broken.” ― Desmond Tutu
We will always face hardship & heartbreaks but we cannot let ourselves become so beaten down by life that our cynicism begins to destroy our spirit & the joy that God gives us. When that happens we are no longer able to realize God's presence among us; we fail to see this life of ours as a gift from God, given in order that we might find God and, in the process, find ourselves, and help others too.
CS Lewis once remarked: “Human history is the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”
Indeed, as we continue our Easter celebrations, let us live into that Easter joy that God gives us, a joy that sets us free from fear and a constant search for something else to make our hearts glad.
"We are meant to live in joy," Archbishop Desmond Tutu explained. "This does not mean that life will be easy or painless. It means that we can turn our faces to the wind and accept that this is the storm we must pass through.”
We have sailed through the storm of Holy Week & Good Friday, now let us live into our Easter joy, be fully alive & help change the world. Amen.