Easter Joy

The Rectory, April 1997

Christianity is about joy, and Easter is the focus of this joy. The joy that Christians celebrate and proclaim is not some sort of superficial happiness that is ephemeral and of the passing moment. Such moments are not to be looked down on - a good dinner, a win by Forest, a beautiful day, a superb concert, or whatever it is that brings a sense of exultation - these are great moments to be savoured. Perhaps they are enjoyed the more when they do not have to be grasped as rare moments of joy in a stressful world. They are enjoyed the more when they evoke an underlying joy of confidence in God. Christian joy is based on this confidence in God - in who God is, in what he stands for, and how he is victorious. The resurrection of Christ is the source of this confidence and a sign of promise that "all shall be well".

Someone wrote that:

of all the accusations against Christians, the most terrible one was uttered by Nietzsche when he said that Christianity had no joy. From its very beginning Christianity has been the proclamation of joy, of the only possible joy on earth. Without the proclamation of this joy Christianity is incomprehensible. It is only as joy that the Church was victorious in the world, and it lost the world when it lost joy, when it ceased to be a credible witness to it. "For behold I bring you tidings of great joy" - thus begins the Gospel, and its end is - "and they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy". We must recover the meaning of this great joy.

Transformation

Easter is an explosion of lasting joy into human affairs, and a new confidence in the promises of God. This is the joy that awakens when the triumph of God is demonstrated in a way we do not expect, in a way that is supremely God's way, the way of a saving love. This is the joy that awakens us out of ourselves. In the light of Easter the hopes we harbour for ourselves are redrawn, and the horizon of our lives extended. We become people living in the light of the eternal, no longer eking out a self-interested and self-defensive existence within the boundaries that are drawn for us by the demands and expectations of present society.

A letter from one of the Soviet prison camps expresses this Easter joy even in the midst of harsh conditions:

On Easter Day all of us who were imprisoned for religious convictions were united in the one joy of Christ. We were all taken into one feeling, into one spiritual triumph, glorifying the one eternal God. How our hearts beat joyfully in communion with the great Resurrection! Death is conquered, fear no more, an eternal Easter is given to us!

Those whose joy cannot be killed are the most free of people. They live in the light of the eternal, and in the way of God's love and justice.

Election

Easter joy throws light immediately for us this year on the forthcoming General Election. So much of the current debate between the major parties seems to be aimed at the better-off voter. Church leaders in different ways have drawn attention to the plight of the unemployed, and the 30% of the population who are not able to participate in the prosperity that others are enjoying. If we are really to share the lasting joy of Easter then it must be because it awakens us out of selfishness into a concern for the well-being of all, and to the promise of God that his Kingdom includes the poor, those with disabilities, and the fringe people. To vote in the light of Easter is very different than to vote in the light of one's own immediate self-interest. The concern for an Easter people in this present election campaign is to try and make sure the right issues are raised about jobs, housing, the future shape of welfare provision, the strengthening of institutions that bring stability and encourage responsibility, and the encouragement of new patterns of local government and participation that help to restore a lost sense of community. A concern for moral values is expressed by all parties, but what place does morality have in shaping policies, or are market forces the primary arbiter of policies?

Easter joy gives Christians hope in the future, for the future is with the Risen Christ and his Kingdom. But that also gives us a critical perspective on the present, based not on our own desires but on the shape of the eternal and victorious Kingdom of Christ.

Let the heavens rejoice and the earth exult, and let the world invisible and visible keep holiday, for Christ our eternal joy is risen.

Leslie Morley


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St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 5th July 1997