Rejoice in God always; again I will say, rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)
As we continue our journey through Philippians, Paul’s counsel to rejoice seems counter intuitive. In this time of pandemic, what do we have to rejoice about? Sheltered in place, wearing face masks and gloves, thinking our neighbors a threat, what do we have to celebrate? Recognizing the death tolls, isn’t rejoicing calloused and unfeeling, a form of denial? The answer is “yes” and “no,” isn’t it?
It is possible to deny what you see, to do your own form of emotional and spiritual, if not political, gaslighting. In contrast, it is also possible to be joyful in the middle of a struggle. Joy grounded in honesty, fact, and yet a larger perspective, God’s loving presence, the faithful coming of the seasons, and God’s everlasting life. Remember, Hubert Humphrey, he was called the “happy warrior.” He fought the good fight, worked in the political scrum, won and lost, but had a joyful demeanor. We can be in the middle of a challenge and still experience joy.
Paul’s counsel gains power because of his life situation. He is in prison and his future is in doubt. He may be executed if his case fails to convince the Roman officials. This global traveler is confined to quarters.
Paul’s joy is deeper than a superficial “God is good” or “praise the Lord anyway” invoked by someone who is far from life’s struggles. His joy is in the journey, grounded in gratitude for today, and hope for tomorrow.
Paul’s joy is found in his trust that God is faithful, that God’s is working in his life and that God will continue to work for good even if he dies, and that God’s mercies are new every morning and that God’s grace has saved him and will save us.
Joy is not denial. In fact, denial is deadly in this time of pandemic. But, in the challenge we can look for moments of holiness, beauty, friendship – and that is the foundation of joy! God treasures us, we matter to God, and even in our sheltering, what we do can change the world for the best.
Help us live by your joy! Help us see beauty! Open our eyes to the Infinite in the intimate, to the love we can share and the joy we can bring. Amen.
Bruce Epperly is a Cape Cod pastor, professor, and author of over 50 books including FAITH IN A TIME OF PANDEMIC and GOD ONLINE: A MYSTIC’S GUIDE TO THE INTERNET