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Fr Ray Hemingray has shared his thought for today, Sunday 4th April 2021, (Easter Day).

‘Joy’

It seemed to me that the most appropriate topic to choose for my reflection today, as we celebrate (to use the words of the well-known hymn) ‘This joyful Eastertide’ is ‘Joy’, though I am in fact writing at the lowest time of the year, having just taken part in the Liturgy for Good Friday, when we listened to the story in St. John’s Gospel of the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus, all the pain he suffered, and his being laid to rest in the tomb by Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus.

But on this Easter Sunday we celebrate with joy the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, though our celebrations in church will be a little subdued by our not being allowed to sing with joy the Easter hymns we know and love. But at least we will be back in church together and sharing our joy, for which we must be thankful. Joy benefits from sharing. Mark Twain said: “Grief can take care of itself, but to get the full value of joy, you must have someone to divide it with”.

Easter demonstrates to us God’s love for the world. Easter is a reminder that nothing can separate us from the love of God, not even death. It is a reason for joy, not just at Easter, but throughout the year. Henri Nouwen, the 20th century Dutch Catholic priest, professor, writer and theologian, put it this way:

“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. It is a choice based on the knowledge that we belong to God and have found in God our refuge and our safety and that nothing, not even death, can take God away from us. Joy is the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing- sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death – can take that love away”.

It is a strange thing that, whilst humankind has the ability to cause other human beings much pain, oppression, persecution, torture and misery, we have an antidote – the love of a God in whom we know we can trust in our darkest hours. Friedrich Nietzsche, the 19th century German philosopher, composer, poet and writer, suggested that we also have another antidote for suffering – “The most suffering animal on earth invented for itself – laughter”, though a cynic once wrote: “Out of the gloom a voice said unto me, ‘Smile and be happy; things could be worse.’ So I smiled and was happy and, behold, things did get worse”!

Joy and laughter are things that we should hold very precious. We are only on this earth ‘for a season’, so the more time we can spend in joy and laughter, the more we will enjoy the time allotted to us. There is an old Jewish saying that, “At the judgment day a man will be called to account for all the good things he might have enjoyed, but did not enjoy”. Perhaps we can all see a grain of truth in that (within reason)!

There are in the world today many reasons for people having no cause for joy or laughter, for example, there are Christians in many countries who today live in constant fear of being attacked, because of their faith; there are innocent civilians being killed daily in places like Myanmar and Syria by tyrannical regimes; there are countries where many have been thrown into prison or detention camps without trial or just cause. I am sure you can think of other similar situations. But for those who have faith, man’s inhumanity to man will not last forever. Pain will not last forever. (“Heaviness may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)) We live in hope of release from oppression and pain, if not in this world, in the world to come, because we have hope in God’s saving power and love.

It may seem strange, but someone once said that joy is the reverse of happiness: happiness is an immediate response when something agreeable happens; whereas joy is a Christian, much deeper, more lasting feeling that encompasses faith, hope and trust, something that Jesus gives us, even under the shadow of his Cross and under the shadow of the crosses that we ourselves have to bear. We live in hope. Sometimes in life something good comes unexpectedly out of something bad and brings us happiness and joy. I wonder if you have ever experienced that, when the joy deep within overcomes a painful experience. I certainly have.

I wish all of you reading this reflection a ‘joyful Eastertide’. May Jesus’s victory over death bring you hope and joy this Easter. I hope that you will find much joy and happiness to share with family and friends, even if it may currently have to be from a distance. I will leave you with some sound advice from Mother Teresa:

“Joy is very infections: therefore, be always full of joy.”

Amen.

Fr Ray