WEEK SIX: RESPONSE
Philippians 4: 4 (NRSV)
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
Luke 19:35-40 (NRSV)
Then they brought (the colt) to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,
“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
Tomorrow is Palm Sunday. Many of us will be waving palm fronds and exclaiming, “Hosanna in the highest!” as we reenact the victorious parade for Jesus as he entered Jerusalem. We unite with people from that time and on, welcoming and praising the One who came to save us. We will REJOICE!
And then we will remember with sadness the rest of the story as we enter Holy Week. Jesus will be betrayed, cornered, captured, tried, judged, taunted, tortured, denied, and slowly killed in a terribly excruciating way. On this Palm Sunday, we can assume that Jesus anticipated what was to come. (He weeps over Jerusalem in the very next verse.) And yet, he blessed those who gathered to praise him by letting them have these innocent and unspoiled moments of great celebration and rejoicing.
Our word for today is rejoice. Paul tells the Philippians and us that we are to “Rejoice in the Lord, always.” At times I think we get the impression that as Christians, we are to be happy and joyful, no matter what. That somehow we are letting God down if we grieve or despair or become angry. Certainly we DO always have the comfort and the assurance that God will make good of everything, which gives us our unfailing hope and strength. But joy? How can we possibly rejoice in the death of a loved one? In a painful illness? In a heart-breaking tragedy?
We don’t. We rejoice in the Lord.
We rejoice in the LORD, not in the situation. We rejoice in spite of circumstances as we rejoice because of who God is. I began looking up “rejoice in” verses in the Bible, and all of them point to God’s goodness. We can rejoice in: God’s deliverance (Psalm 9:14), God’s salvation (Psalm 13:5), God’s steadfast love (Psalm 21:1), God’s works (Psalm 104:31), the day the Lord has made (Psalm 118:24), that day we are reviled because our reward is great in heaven (Luke 6:23), hope (Romans 12:12), and LOTS of times in the Lord, in the Holy Spirit, and in God.
Jesus understands our sadness, anger, hurt, and despair. Jesus wept, Jesus agonized, Jesus became angry. We will witness all of these in the week ahead, the worst week of Jesus’ life. Jesus knows and has experienced difficult, painful times like ours (and much worse). Jesus empathizes and accepts our tears, angry words, or feelings of emptiness.
Yet, in the midst of our heartache or pain, Jesus gives us reasons to rejoice, as he did for the palm waving, praising people of Jerusalem. Everything that Jesus did for us is our reason to rejoice. Everything that Jesus promised is our reason to rejoice. Every way that Jesus lived in trust, hope, wisdom, humility and love is our reason to rejoice. (Spoiler alert: at the end of the week, Jesus’ glorious resurrection is our greatest reason to rejoice!)
In our hardest times, we will react, grieve, hurt, become upset, or feel lost. We will then regroup, take a break, recover or heal. All of our reactions are natural and needful. But in spite of all this, we will still have a reason for joy: Jesus. Today I may cry, shout, become frustrated, lament, hurt, become angry, or despair…
Then I will think of Jesus, and rejoice.
Rejoice in the Lord, always. Again, I say, rejoice.
Jesus, our Joy,
Thank you for giving us so many reasons to rejoice, even in the midst of difficult heartache or pain. As we enter this Holy Week, we are sad to think of all the heartache and pain you endured. We are so very sorry. We have no way to thank you enough. But today, may we rejoice and praise you for all you have done for us. May our rejoicing be filled with gratitude, hope, and deep love, for you and only you. Amen.