By Sharon Nelsen
As I reflect on today’s readings, “rejoicing” and “joy” leap out encircling me with waves of wondering: What exactly is rejoicing”? Paul tells us to rejoice in the Lord always, again, he says, rejoice-- knowing undoubtedly from his own experience that this is a difficult concept to grasp—again, I say, rejoice!
Rejoicing appears to be an attitude, not a feeling. What is this attitude and how is it formed? It is an acknowledgement of God’s goodness and rightness that is reflected in all of God’s “laws” given to guide our feet on the way to peace.
Nehemiah tells the people this after they have listened to the law of the Lord being read to them all day,
“Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength!” (Nehemiah 8.10) “The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart” sings the Psalmist in Psalm 19, verse 9. Nehemiah and the Psalmist both remind us that rejoicing is about knowing that who we obey and what we follow in the Lord is the best, is the good, is that which ultimately will bring all fulfillment, even victory, and the feeling of joy.
Rejoicing is not only a stance we are invited to take, but if we take that stance, have that attitude, we will have the strength we need to face that which we need to face, including the suffering: “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy. “ 1Corinthians 12.26
In that sentence, Paul brings attitude and feeling together. Suffering hurts! It ain’t suffering if it doesn’t hurt! But suffering, like honor, is passing. Suffering is pain. Honor feels good. Just go through it, endure it, ride it like a giant wave knowing that whether pleasant or unpleasant, scary or delightful, suffering and honor are moving us to the safe haven shores of God’s Kingdom.
All of this is a prelude to the mission of Jesus (From Luke 4. 16b-21) who tells us that we have been set free of no-end-in-sight-ever suffering! We are no longer captive to the rip tide of one-bad-thing-after-another. God’s way (what is acceptable to God) is here! Jesus unites concept, attitude, law, teaching and the feeling of joy when he proclaims: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” No wonder he had to sit down! He probably would have levitated out of their sight, so filled with joy was Our Dear Lord in knowing and proclaiming that the Father has immersed him in a wonder-filled mission: Kingdom-bringer! The time is now; now is the acceptable time! The Kingdom is here!
Paul must have swam in that one awhile, for he is able to proclaim in another letter: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake...” (Colossians 1.24)
What I realize happens within me, is that as I truly move into an attitude of rejoicing, as I take the stance of rejoice in the Lord always, I am able, eventually and in some areas, (I honestly need to qualify) to feel the emotion of joy, an emotion which gives me energy, the desire to jump a bit, the readiness to go for it at last! I pray that we continue to move from rejoicing in the good law of God to rejoicing in the God of Love whose law of Love is written on our hearts.