From the Desk of Pastor Olsen
Joyful during Lent? Joyful about taking up the cross? The anonymous writer of the Letter to the Hebrews doesn't see that as a contradiction. S/he urges us to look to Jesus "who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross..." Hebrews 12:2. That's right. S/he said "joy." I think that is often the missing ingredient in Lent. Yes, this is a season of repentance or turning "from" sin; but it is also the season of "returning to the Lord" our God who is "gracious and merciful." Yes this is a season of giving up, letting go and doing without. But the whole point of emptying ourselves is to make room for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Yes we are invited to suffer at the hands of the world; but that suffering is for the sake of God's just, righteous and peaceful reign over creation. The story of Jesus is good news; "glad tidings of great joy."
So where is the joy in our lives? Why do people get up at three in the morning and get in line to buy the next cell phone, but come late to worship-if all? Why do people go on the internet for previews of some movie that is months away from release, but seldom pick up the Bible to read the lessons for the coming Sunday? Quite simply, the joy of anticipation and expectation draw people to new products, new movies and upcoming events. If that joy of anticipation in front of you is strong enough, you will stand in line for hours in the rain, put up with sluggish internet transmissions and pay far more than is reasonable to get the object of your desire.
Why would anyone willingly follow Jesus to the cross? I think because Jesus embodied joy. The reign of God he proclaimed was visible in the way he treated everyone he met. This reign of God in which every hungry mouth is filled, every demon cast out and every illness healed was more real to Jesus than the reign of Rome and the religious elite that collaborated with it to keep people in bondage. That is what made Jesus joyful. Joy is contagious and so is faith in Jesus. That is why so many of the early Christians were willing to face imprisonment and death for their faith. That is why generations of missionaries have been willing to forego having a place to call home; a salary allowing them to live "the American dream" and the comforts of daily living we take for granted. That is why today millions of Christians in Namibia walk as far as twenty miles to church on Sunday. It's all about joy.
So where is the joy in our lives? How much joy is there in our worship on Sunday? How much joy in our council meetings? How much joy and anticipation throughout our week? What do we need to do to recapture the joy of Jesus? The joy of God's reign? The excitement of hearing God's life giving Word? Perhaps participation in our church's Lenten pilgrimage is a good place to start. Let's follow Jesus once again into Jerusalem as he is greeted by palm waiving children; into the upper room where he will share his last meal with his disciples; into the garden of Gethsemane where he will be betrayed and arrested; into the judgment hall where he will be condemned and sentenced to death; up to the place of the skull where he will be crucified; and to the tomb on Easter Sunday where joy, true joy, punch drunk joy and laughter are reborn.
Wishing you all a joyful Lent, Holy Week and Easter, Pastor Olsen.