The only pathway to joy

The only pathway to joy

There’s a Biblical truth I learnt about a few years ago that changed my life, it guides me, inspires me and gives me purpose and hope. It’s not something I’ve heard preached repeatedly from the front of church, I just found it one day, nestled in the chapter of a book, the words declaring grief as a precondition to joy. Until this point, I always thought the gateway to joy was love or success – whatever that might look like. I believed the contentment of knowing I was loved or that my life was in a happy place would simply spur me forward into a spacious place of fulfilment and rejoicing. But then maybe joy isn’t the sensation you get when life’s going well or you’re feeling slightly less insecure than you used to, maybe it’s deeper than that.

maybe joy isn’t the sensation you get when life’s going well or you’re feeling slightly less insecure than you used to, maybe it’s deeper than that.

Jesus’ words “Blessed are those who now weep, for they will be comforted” were not intended to be a crowd pleasing line or a quotable catch phrase to be printed on posters with fluffy kittens and rainbows but, as the white-haired theologian Brueggemann says,they were a summary of the theology of the cross. For it’s only the anguish of loss that can give way to the yearning for new life, it’s only when we acknowledge and embrace the deep pain of death that newness can be permitted. Like the kernel of wheat that Jesus says must die in order to produce more seeds, death and the grief that comes with it are a precondition to the joy and glory of new life that follows.

The cross is complex, the mourning and celebration of Easter weekend can seem bizarre to those outside the church and often to many inside it as well. I think one of the reasons is because Good Friday is one of those very rare occasions when we actually spend time thinking about something difficult, something painful, something sad. Sadness, in our culture and often in our churches is more commonly considered a hidden emotion, with polite grieving reserved for funerals and the messy, snotty-nosed bits remaining firmly behind closed doors. But Easter and the movement from death to life, despair to hope and grief to joy offers us this rare opportunity to be presented with the whole of the Christian faith. For, in the words of Francis Spufford, ‘the cross shows us that Christianity takes the experience of suffering seriously’. And this is what I love about the Christian faith – that it takes suffering seriously, that it embraces pain and teaches you to feel it, but it doesn’t leave you there, the transition from Good Friday to Easter Sunday a constant reminder of this beautiful yet complex truth that grief is the precondition to joy.

this is what I love about the Christian faith – that it takes suffering seriously, that it embraces pain and teaches you to feel it, but it doesn’t leave you there

Grief is hard work, extremely hard work. There’s no shortcut, I’ve tried. Also, grief doesn’t just last three days, I’ve never known anyone despairing on a Friday then rejoicing two days later, not since Jesus miraculously rose from the dead anyway. Acknowledging pain, allowing yourself to be sad, releasing the tears may feel like grief has won but I promise that if you work hard at this, at expressing the struggle deep in your soul then grief can actually work for you, enabling you to heal. The cross teaches us truths about what it is to be human and how to live through struggle, from the anguish and fear of the disciples to the words ‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ cried out, the Christian faith has always had the courage to acknowledge pain for what it is and it is real pain not happiness that is the agent of change.

if you work hard at this, at expressing the struggle deep in your soul then grief can actually work for you, enabling you to heal

One of Jesus’ main concerns whilst on earth was for the joy of the Kingdom and of course, on Easter Sunday we will celebrate this joy, but in Christianity celebration does not sweep pain under the carpet or ignore the death that came before the triumph of resurrection. The story we carry with us about Jesus holds pain and joy together, grief and celebration side by side and we, the church hold a message far richer and more complex than we often realise and it’s a message worth sharing.