The Joy of our King
One of the greatest accusations ever made against Christians could be summarized by the words of the famous atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, when he said that Christians had no joy; that Christianity was a joyless religion.
The Orthodox theologian Alexander Schemman writes in contrast to this, “Christianity without joy is incomprehensible… It is only as joy that the Church was victorious in the world! Without joy Christianity loses its power and grace.”
JOY reflects the essence of our faith! Without joy, we clearly don’t understand who Jesus Christ is and what our faith in Him is all about! The follower of Christ should be a bearer of joy, touching the hearts of everyone we encounter and bringing a light into the dark world around us.
Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice! We heard these words of St. Paul in today’s Epistle Reading, and interestingly enough, he wrote them while he languished in prison. These words summarize our Orthodox Christian Faith, and epitomize our celebration today on Palm Sunday. JOY is a fundamental consequence of a healthy and intimate relationship with our Creator. Holy Scripture highlights, “The joy of the Lord is my strength…. I will rejoice in God my Savior… Let the heavens rejoice and the earth be glad… I bring you good tidings of great joy… Ask and you will receive that your joy make be complete…These things I have spoken to you that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full… Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances… May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
How does Christ bring joy into our lives? Believing in Jesus and following His ways brings deep meaning and purpose into our lives. We discover how we are beloved children of God, created to love the world around us. We rejoice because we know that no evil or darkness in the world can ever control us or will ever conquer us. The upcoming events of Holy Week, of the Passion of Christ, so vividly portray the power of evil, yet by week’s end, Jesus Christ stands as the victor, triumphant over evil, sin, death and darkness!
We live in daily joy because fear can no longer control us. Our faith conquers any fear that tempts us in life. Knowing that God is with us, and will never abandon us, we rejoice in life and celebrate each and every day!
Yet, if joy is supposed to be a fundamental characteristic of our Christian life, why do so few followers of Christ truly reflect this joy?
The celebration of Palm Sunday may reveal an answer. Today, we join the crowds welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem, waving palm branches as a sign of his triumphal entry. We cry out, “Hosanna to God in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Many welcomed Christ on that day, yet few remained with Him by week’s end. Maybe some of the same who cried out “Hosanna” today, yelled “Crucify Him” a few days later.
Why the change? What happened? Well, the crowds, like so many today who call themselves Christians, want a king of power and dominion; yet Christ offers a reign of humble service and loving compassion. People want a king of strength; but Jesus teaches a path of utter humility. People long for a king to offer comfort and prosperity; while Christ guides his followers to a life of simplicity, sacrifice, self-denial and even possible suffering and martyrdom – quite opposite the prosperity the world dreamed of. People desire a King who will destroy their enemies; while Jesus ushers in a kingdom that forgives one’s enemies – a kingdom of divine love, unlimited mercy and constant compassion even towards one’s enemies. People want a king of victory; our Lord, however, offers a surprising type of victory – not an earthly triumph, but a much more significant spiritual conquest over the dark powers of our soul, over the devil, sin and death itself!
The paradox of life, however, is that only when we follow His path, will we discover the authentic JOY of our faith!
On Holy Thursday at the Last Supper we see a king who lowers Himself to the level of a slave washing the feet of His disciples. “Do you know what I have done to you?” our Lord asks His disciples. “You call Me teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” Discovering authentic joy entails serving one another, even in menial ways, and never waiting or demanding to be served by others. In fact, it is through such humble service to others that we joyously discover the meaning and purpose of life itself.
On Holy Thursday evening in the Garden of Gethsemane, we see a king who gives up His own will, in order to fulfill the will of His Father. “If it is Your will, Father,” Jesus prayed, “take this cup away from me; nevertheless, not My will, but Your will be done.” Discovering authentic joy involves not only learning what the will of God actually is, but struggling throughout life to lay aside our own egocentric desires in order to fulfill God’s plan. Our life is not our own, Jesus teaches, and true joy comes only when we place His ways before our very own!
On Holy and Good Friday during the Passion of Christ, we witness a king who loves the world so much, that he willingly accepts whippings, beatings, a crown of thorns, and ultimate death by crucifixion, all for the salvation of the world. Discovering Christian joy means that we also learn to sacrifice – our time, our treasure, even our very own lives – all for the salvation of others. We live our lives for other people, putting their well-being before our own. Following Jesus teaches us not to count the cost and get tired from giving, but to willingly offer everything we have, even life itself, and thus discover the joy of the Lord!
On the Cross on Good Friday, we witness a king who looks down upon those who are crucifying Him, and is able to say, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And He not only forgives those who crucify Him, but also forgives Peter who denies Him three times, as well as all His beloved disciples who abandoned Him. Living a life of joy implies living with mercy and forgiveness. A follower of Christ cannot hold a grudge, or remain bitter, or allow hatred to poison our souls. True joy comes when we love as He loved, forgive as He forgives, and show mercy and compassion upon all people!
Joy reflects the essence of our Christian faith. Yet this authentic joy comes only when we not only welcome Jesus as the King of our lives today on Palm Sunday, but when we struggle to follow the path of His Passion throughout our lives, when we live lives of humility and sacrificial love which lead ultimately to the Resurrection!
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice. May this joy of the Lord be with you always!
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Holy Land Pilgrimage 2019