Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Friedrich Nietzsche was the son of a Lutheran pastor and a German philosopher. Nietzsche developed a very bitter, anti-Christian, atheistic philosophy. He viewed Christianity as a blot, a stain, on the history of humankind. Hermann Sasse said this about Nietzsche: “His desperate destitution and loneliness is the loneliness of the modern man” (The Lonely Way, I.70). And yet we Christians can learn something from this bitter, unbelieving philosopher. Here’s one thing that Nietzsche said to Christians: “You must sing me a better song so that I learn to believe in your Redeemer; Why are his disciples so joyless in their salvation?” (The Lonely Way, I.70).
That’s a good question! And today we have a good, God-given answer. As Psalm 66(:1) says, “Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth!” In fact, that’s where today gets its name: “Rejoice! Sunday.” Why make a joyful shout to God? Why rejoice? Because of God’s great Easter victory! In Jesus Christ, God has conquered death. He has restored all of His creation. He has given new life and new meaning in life. It’s something to shout about. It gives great joy, great delight. And, as lonely, bitter Nietzsche reminds us, it’s what the world needs to hear: CHRISTIAN JOY.
In our Gospel reading we hear Jesus teaching His disciples and us about joy in the midst of sorrow. Jesus had gathered His disciples together on the night when He was betrayed into the hands of sinners. He knew that in a matter of hours He would be brutally beaten and then executed on a cross. His disciples were filled with sorrow. So He comforted them. And just as He comforted His disciples in our Gospel reading, He also comforts us now with the same words: “Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.”
So, dear Christians, where is your joy? Where is that sheer delight in being raised with Christ, being forgiven in Christ, and living the holy, perfect life that He gives you in His water, His words, and His meal?
I know. It’s probably hiding—hiding under the burdensome weight of worldly sorrow. The disciples were weighed down with sorrow. Their Lord was leaving them. What would they do? How would they survive life in a hostile world? You see, they’re not that different from us. Nor are we that different from them.
Each of us has personal sorrows, to be sure. Perhaps it’s family turmoil, a son or daughter who just won’t listen and obey, or a parent who just doesn’t seem to understand. Perhaps it’s stress at work; the boss never seems satisfied; you feel like you can never do your job well enough. Perhaps it’s illness—physical illness, such as cancer or arthritis, or mental illness, such as depression. Perhaps it’s the loss of a loved one—and that sorrow never seems to go away completely. Perhaps it’s trouble paying the bills, or losing those few extra pounds. We have our sorrows.
And the physical life around us brings many sorrows too. Thunderstorms and tornadoes remind us how small we really are. We’d love to be in control of life and nature, and even figure out the path of the tornado or hurricane so that we can avoid the damage and loss of life. But when the storms strike, we get a wake up call. Just think of the flooding in recent weeks. We are pretty small compared to the ominous, dark rain clouds, the high-voltage lightning strikes, and the powerful, rumbling thunder. Yes, we have our sorrows.
But the greater sorrow comes in how the unbelieving world treats Christ and His Christians. Yes, Christ was crucified because people did not like it that they were wrong and He was right—about God, about death and life, about sin and forgiveness. They did not like it that God would come into the world in the flesh and teach us to repent of our sin. They did not like it that Jesus – not they – would restore the world. And Jesus restores not by demanding better lives, but by defeating death and giving grace and life.
So, to use Jesus’ words, we weep and lament, but the world rejoices. You see, the world did not like Jesus and His followers then. It still doesn’t now. Christians and Christian preachers are told, “Don’t mention Jesus,” in their prayers and messages. The media goes crazy over things like The DaVinci Code and supposed “Lost Tomb of Jesus,” as they try to undermine the sure footing of the Christian faith in God’s mercies in Christ. And sadly, some Christians give in and let these things shake their faith. Where’s the joy, then, in going with the world? Where’s the joy in not confessing Christ and His resurrection life? Our joy is hiding under the fear of not being liked by the world.
Where’s the comfort? Where’s the joy? It’s in the words of our Lord Jesus. He tells you what He told His disciples: “A little while.” The sorrow, the pain, the burdens of life in this death-infected world last only a little while. The disciples would be separated from Jesus only a little while. He would go to the cross, but He would rise again and return. He would go away from them, but He would come back after a little while. And He did, and that’s a good thing. You see, when Jesus went away, leaving His disciples in sorrow, He trampled down death, He reunited all people with God, and He brought life and immortality to light. He did that for His disciples then, for you now, and for all people. In His bitter, painful death and His sweet, delightful resurrection, He wins life and wholeness for you. Now that gives great joy!
And think about the joy that you receive every time you come into this place. Church is like no other place on earth. It’s heaven on earth. You see, here Jesus Christ comes into our midst. He comes in His message of mercy read, proclaimed and sung. He comes in His precious and holy Body and Blood. Here’s God, in the flesh, showering you with His grace and mercy, giving you His life. That’s Christian joy! A little while, and you will see Me, Jesus says. Here you get to “see” Jesus with the eyes of faith. You get to hear Him and taste Him. Here’s Christian joy!
So, what helps you endure the sorrows and burdens of life in this broken world? The joy of life in Jesus. What helps you make a difference in the world, in the very lives of people around you? The joy of Christ’s victory over death. What is the only thing that spurs on the Church to carry out her mission in the world? The sheer delight and joy that in Christ we are forgiven, in Christ we have life, in Christ we have perfect peace with God. It’s reality, and it gives great joy. Nietzsche, eat your heart out!
St. Athanasius was bishop, or “head pastor,” of the Church in Alexandria, Egypt, in the 300s. When he was a young man in his 20s, he wrote a little book called On the Incarnation. In this little book, Athanasius—whose name means “resurrection”—talks about how Christ’s victory over death changes how Christians look at life and death. Christians would face execution simply for confessing Christ, but they did it quite joyfully. The joy of life with Christ helped them laugh in the face of death. Listen to Athanasius:
When one sees [people], weak by nature, leaping forward to death, and not fearing its corruption nor frightened of the descent into Hades, but with eager soul challenging it; and not flinching from torture, but on the contrary, for Christ’s sake electing to rush upon death in preference to life upon earth, or even if one can be an eye-witness of men and females and young children rushing and leaping upon death for the sake of Christ’s religion; who is so silly, or who is so incredulous, or who so maimed in his mind, as not to see and infer that Christ, to Whom people witness, Himself supplies and gives to each the victory over death, depriving [it] of all [its] power in each one of them that hold His faith and bear the sign of the Cross. (Ch. 29)
Do you want to see Christian joy? Look at how we laugh at sorrow and death! Look at how we delight in Christ and His victory over death! That’s Christian joy. And it’s a joy that we can gladly show to the world. Amen.