“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Philippians 4:4
Working for a church, I spend a lot of time around Christians. My week days are in a church office. Sundays are spent working in a variety of faith formation ministries and as participating in Mass.
Often, especially late on a Sunday, I am too tired to rejoice. And if I did have the energy, what would my rejoicing look like? A 60-year-old church lady may be viewed askance if she starts dancing on the table.
The definition of rejoice is “to feel or show great joy or delight.” So perhaps I am stifling myself when I imagine rejoicing to involve physical exuberance.
I’m not the only Christian falling short in the rejoicing department. Because I spend a lot of time in their company, I have found many Christians hesitant to rejoice.
Common among them are the Christians whose worship experience is serious business, between them and God. They come to Mass to complete that business, hoping that the rest of us don’t intrude. Crying babies, shrill toddlers, teens who slouch when they kneel, these, and more, squelch the joy of these serious Christians. They enter church as if they are entering a courtroom and exit as if they have paid a hefty fine. They may experience relief at completing the transaction, but rejoicing, not so much.
Then there are the anxious Christians. These folks are deeply worried about the state of humanity and are still awaiting a Savior to redeem this fallen world. In the meantime, they’ve taken the job of savior upon themselves. They cannot express joy because there’s too much evil. Everywhere they look, they see darkness and sin.
Similar to the anxious Christians are the guilt-ridden Christians. Rather than finding sin and darkness outside of themselves, the guilty Christians are consumed with their own sinfulness. They cannot rejoice because they cannot release themselves of the burden of their inequities.
Consumer Christians are better at expressing happiness, if not joy. They warmly greet other members, but they disdain outsiders who affect the quality of their church experience, particularly those whose culture is foreign. They want to leave church “feeling good.” Their experience can be seriously disturbed when strangers sit in these Christians’ usual seats, Mass takes longer because of a baptism, or they are offended by the homily. They feel entitled to complain when their comfort is disturbed because they pay their dues by contributing to the collection, even volunteering. They fail to experience joy because consumers are never fully satisfied.
So, how do we avoid these traps and become “always rejoicing” Christians as we are commanded by St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians?
Christ was resurrected for all people, not for one or some. So our experience of the Eucharist is communal and requires us to radically include even those we prefer to avoid.
Christ saved the world from darkness and sin, once and for all. We don’t need to worry about the outcome, because victory is His. He is the Savior. We are not. During the Eucharist, we pray … “protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope”.
Christ forgave those who crucified Him. God’s mercy knows no boundaries. Those wracked with guilt for past offenses show a lack of trust in God. When we realize that we do not merit forgiveness, that forgiveness is a gift from God, we are released from the chains of guilt.
Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, the Paschal Mystery, rocked the world. Experiencing the Paschal Mystery leaves us breathless, surprised, grateful, gifted, but not necessarily “feeling good.” In the end, it’s not about us and our comfort.
Christ is risen! Rejoice!