The Joy of Easter
Joy is a mystery to many Christians, including me. We picture joy as the human version of being a puppy: always smiling, always wagging the tail, excited about whatever walks through the door. In reality, I have a lot of grumpy or sad days. I struggle to align my experience with Jesus’ words to the disciples: “no one will take your joy from you” (16:22), or the promise that their joy will be complete (16:24). There is a gulf between Jesus’ words and my experiences. Good Friday and Easter are the bridge.
One of my dictionaries of New Testament Greek defines the word translated “joy” in John 16 as “the experience of gladness”. I attended an adoption hearing recently. When the judge announced that the children now belonged to their new family and had taken on a new last name, the courtroom erupted in applause and happy tears. The burden of a long wait had been lifted. Friends and relatives delighted in the new family unit. Delight and an eased burden capture what Jesus means by joy. The family will face tears of sadness, the pain of disappointment, and the grief of loss. But the joy of the new family will remain underneath and all around the tears, pain, and grief.
That is where Good Friday and Easter come in. In John 16, Jesus warns the disciples about the sorrow that will come because of the cross. But a promise immediately follows the warning: the resurrection will bring great joy. Joy will overcome, overshadow the disciples’ sorrow.
The promise of joy in the Bible is a promise of Easter joy. It is not the promise that we will never experience sadness, pain, fear, or grief. It is the promise that new life will follow. It is the promise that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead works in us, even in sorrow.
Joy in the Bible is not an invitation to live as if nothing bad ever happens. It is the assurance that God’s work in my life doesn’t end with the sorrow. I can feel pain, and I should. In these low points, I don’t try to manufacture fake feelings of gladness. I feel sorrow, I shed tears, I grieve. But I also remember that God loves me, which makes me glad that I am not alone. I remember that the burden I am feeling will eventually lighten. Easter will follow the cross.