Joy strikes out of the blue nothingness. You can’t expect it or manufacture it or capture it.
For Christians, the completeness of our joy comes from Jesus. After he taught on his abiding in us and our abiding in him, he told the disciples, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11, NRSV). Jesus didn’t give the disciples instruction on how to get their lives straightened out, and then experience joy. There was no technique for joy. There was just him, just abiding in his love and life, just being present to Jesus. Abide in me and I in you. Joy follows.
It’s probably no accident that earlier in the Gospel of John, Jesus taught that abiding in him meant eating his flesh and drinking his blood (6:56). The Eucharistic meaning is pretty obvious–and perhaps uncomfortably literal. We receive the bread, and we eat it. We take hold of the cup, and we drink deep down into our lives all that he has done for us by his cross-shed blood. We really meet Jesus at his table, in those elements. Jesus shows up–body and blood, bread and cup. We eat our way to an encounter with the eternal and living Jesus.
Of course, in so many of our evangelical, Protestant, or Anabaptist congregations, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper infrequently–maybe four times a year. Our diet is sermons and studies, words and words and words with all their demands and doing. But the rest and abiding in the Living One that flows from the gospel made bread and cup comes rarely, oases in a vast desert of teaching.
But you can learn a lot about the Bible and not learn joy. You can know about Jesus, but not know him. That’s the little tragedy so many of us are living across much of the contemporary evangelical church. We’ve let the core component of life with Jesus–sharing his body and blood at his table–languish. The Lord’s table has become this vestigial thing, this leftover from the true religion of hearing and applying Bible teaching to our lives. But the Bible was never meant to do all the heavy lifting in the Christian life. We need bread broken, cup shared. We need flesh, blood, body, Jesus. We need the Lord’s table.
I keep coming back to the Lord’s table and discovering joy there, because I keep discovering Jesus there.
I like King Solomon’s words, when in his old age he instructed: “Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart” (Ecclesiastes 9:7, KJV). It’s Jesus’ bread and Jesus’ wine that we drink. It’s him through and through. We eat our way to joy.