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For the Joy Set Before Him……

“Looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”  

-Hebrews 12:2 

 

The word happiness comes from the same Old English word as “happening” and “perhaps”. It is dictated by the circumstances which surround us. The “pursuit” of happiness is thus a bit of a misnomer, since, by definition, we have little control over many of the things that happen to us. But what about joy?  

 

Hebrews 12:2 puts joy and suffering side by side in the life of Jesus. And not only side by side, but the author of this epistle states that it was “for the sake of the joy” that he endured the cross. When I first encountered this verse, I wondered what the joy was. What was the joy for which the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, endured the cross?  

 

I think that the events of Holy Week give us some clues. Holy Week begins with a bang, or at least with palms and singing, and ends in silence. Yes, there will be the resurrection, but that is next week…….for now, in this week, we hold together celebration and suffering. In fact, the joy and celebration come before the suffering and silence……It is as though Jesus, deliberately riding into Jerusalem in the midst of his enemies and their opposition to him not only sets the stage for, but also somehow gives him the strength for, the week that is to come.  

 

And while we cannot get into the mind of our Lord, I think that, at least in his humanity, this may well have been true. Jesus, in his divinity, has always been God and knows all things, and yet in his humanity, he was fully a human being who needed to grow into and be strengthened in his identity and vocation. His vocation, as the promised Messiah and as the “second Adam” who was to exemplify for all of us what it means to be fully human, culminated in the events that we remember and celebrate in the coming week. In his suffering and death, he not only gained for us redemption from sin and reconciliation with God, but also showed us how to encounter suffering as a human being rooted in God and in his identity as God’s beloved.  

 

So, what would it mean to say that Palm Sunday exemplified the joy that was set before him? I think that it means that on Palm Sunday, Jesus experienced, amid the opposition and hardship of his vocation and ministry, the affirmation of his identity and vocation as well as the presence and joy of those he loved and for whom he would die. 

 

Jesus experienced the affirmation of his identity and vocation by embracing it. He rode resolutely into the eye of the storm, the place where his enemies were gathered, not in secret, not quietly, but publicly, to joy, celebration. Our Lord does not always operate like that, many times through the Gospels, he warns his disciples and those who experience his healings and miracles, not to tell anyone who he is. And yet, now, as Jesus states in John 12:23 “the hour has come”. Jesus fully embraces who he is and what he is called to do. Suffering is indeed a part of his identity and vocation, as it is for all those who follow him, but it is joy that is in the lead. He does not create the suffering, nor does he expose himself to it without justification, but rather he embraces the joy, knowing and accepting the suffering it involves.  

 

The joy of embracing his identity and vocation is rooted in love. The verse that has been repeated so often that it loses its meaning comes into play here. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son……” (John 3:16). Jesus became incarnate, lived and died and rose again among us, because of love and for the sake of love. He came, he suffered, he died, he rose again, because he loves us so. He loves his disciples, the crowds that heralded his entry into the city and all who preceded and would come after them, including you and I, and that is why he embraced the cross. He loves them, and us, knowing that they and we are changeable and inconstant, prone to shout “Hosanna!” one day and “Crucify” the next. Even through our sin and weakness, he sees the people we were created to be and are becoming in him through the Holy Spirit, and for this joy, for the love of you, and I, and all those near and far, those we embrace and those we discount, our Lord Jesus Christ endured the cross! Thanks be to God!  

 

Love and blessings,  

 

 

Pastor Julia

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