I’ve chosen to meditate not just through verse 16 of John 16 (as the lectionary prescribes) but also through verse 22, which fleshes out Jesus’ teaching on His leaving His disciples. If today’s meditation were summarized in a single thought to help guide you on your life in Christ, it would be this: that Jesus Christ is joy, and where Jesus is, there is joy.
For the Christian, therefore, this life is supposed to be a life of progressive joy. Though there will always be sorrow, too, you should be able to look back over it and see more and more joy, and less and less true sorrow. For where Jesus is, there is joy.
Because where Jesus is there is joy, the disciples are sorrowful when He tells them that He must leave them. In John 14-16, which has been called Jesus’ last will and testament to disciples, Jesus speaks to them of both sorrow and joy. Sorrow because He is about to leave, but ultimately joy because He will be with them through the Holy Spirit.
The lives of the disciples of Jesus Christ are like a Bad News-Good News joke. You know these jokes:
Good News for pastor: The vestry accepted your job description the way you
Bad News: They were so inspired by it, they also formed a search committee to find somebody capable of filling the position.
For the disciples of Jesus Christ, life is a Good News-Bad New-Good News story:
- The Good News is that I created you in My image to live with me and enjoy me forever.
- The Bad News is that you blew it by disobeying me and sinning
- The Good News is I made a covenant with Abraham and Israel to call my people back to me.
- The Bad News is that this covenant was subject to futility, and they also blew it.
- The Good News is that I came in the form of my Son.
- The Bad News is that I was Crucified
- The Good News is that on the 3rd day I rose from the dead and was
seen by you for 40 days.
- The Bad News is that I am about to leave you again, and you will be
sad for a short while.
- The Good News is that if I go, I go to prepare a place for you. The
Good News is that in 10 days I will send my Holy Spirit so that I can be with you all forever, wherever you go.
In Greek drama, the difference between a tragedy and a comedy is that in a tragedy the heroes die and there is a sad ending. But in comedies, heroes are redeemed and restored, and there is joy. In terms of tragedy and comedy, the Old Testament is like a tragedy, but the New Testament is like a comedy. For the disciples of Jesus Christ, our stories end with salvation and joy.
We appear to be in the same situation as the disciples: Jesus has ascended into heaven and left us. But this is not bad news: it’s good news because when Jesus went, He sent the Holy Spirit, the Helper (verse 7.) It’s through the Holy Spirit that Jesus is still to this day with His disciples. We are, in fact, the Temple of the Holy Spirit.
In spite of this, we also have real sorrow in our lives. We still sin and disobey God. We still suffer. And Jesus is not always clearly with us.
The amazing thing is that even in this life filled with sorrow we can have joy. In Acts 16:25, Paul and Silas “prayed and sang praises to God in prison.” In Acts 5:41, the apostles were beaten and rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus. And James says (1:2) that we are to “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials.”
Why? Because in our trials, in our suffering, in our sorrow. Jesus comes and meets us, and where Jesus Christ is, there is joy.
But joy is a choice and a fruit of the Spirit. Paul and Silas could have gotten mad at God for allowing them to land in prison; they could have lamented their situation; they could have been sad and sorry. But they chose to turn to Jesus and to pray and sing praises to God. They chose joy, because they chose Jesus, even in prison.
Wherever Jesus is, joy is offered to you. In Matthew 2:10 the wise men, when they saw the star, “rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.” In Luke 2:10 the angel says to the shepherds “I bring you good tidings of great joy,” because Christ the Lord is born. When the Annunciation comes to Mary, she says, in Luke 1:47: “my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior,” and in Luke 19:37 the disciples rejoiced for the works God had done through Jesus. When the Ethiopian eunuch had the Gospel revealed to him, in Acts 8:39, he went rejoicing on his way.
Wherever you are, Jesus offers you joy because He offers Himself to you. True sorrow is being in the world without Jesus. What a tragedy that we so often choose to endure our suffering and sorrows without Him, as if He is not present with us, offering Himself to us!
But joy is a recognition that Jesus is present, and then turning to Him, and then, having seen Him, rejoicing to be with Him. In the world to come, it will be all joy, because we shall not forget Him any more.
Jesus Christ sits at the right hand of the Father, but He has not left you orphans: He comes to you all the time through the Holy Spirit. God never promised an easy life with no problems. But He does promise His Son to those who love Him and obey Him. And He promises that where His Son is, there is joy.
Jesus says “Come, if you have truly repented and truly have faith, and I will forgive you sins and give you myself and joy instead.” “Come,” he says “and let me bear all your sorrows this day, whatever they are, and in return, I will give you joy.”
For where Jesus Christ truly is, there is truly joy.
Prayer: Father, I confess that too often I have not sought You through Your Son and that my sight and my joy have grown weak. I ask that You help me to see Your Son in all parts of my life so that in the morning and in the evening, at work and at play, in sorrow and in happiness, and in Your House and in the world, I would rejoice to be in Your presence, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Point for meditation: Reflect on the difference between joy and happiness. How can God command us to rejoice? In what way is it a fruit of the Spirit that all Christians should have? How can I practice joy?
Resolution: I resolve today to seek the joy that comes from Jesus. I therefore resolve to find one specific way to seek Jesus today. It might be by meditating further, by seeing Jesus in my Lenten vows, by seeing Him in my sorrows and suffering, or by seeing the good things He has given me.
© 2015 Fr. Charles Erlandson