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People of Joy

Around here, the first Sunday of each month is when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. As is always the case, tomorrow’s service will take place in the context of real lives affected by loss, uncertainty, pain, and misfortune. But we will be reminded again tomorrow that the brokenness of our lives and our world is never the whole story. In my preparatory reading this week, I came across this passage from Gordon Smith’s A Holy Meal that reminds us that in the midst, the Eucharist establishes us as people of joy:

A simple but powerful principle of the spiritual life is that thankful people are happy people. It is not that the church does not see the brokenness of the world and the pain that intersects so much of human life. It is not that the church is naive and does not care about this pain; the Christian community sees and feels keenly the brokenness of the world. But in the celebration of the Eucharist, the church declares that in the midst of all that is wrong, God is the ruler yet, and God is good. The church believes that something bigger and more ultimate stands at the centre of the mess. As Chesterton often insisted, we take joy in the deep things, those things that matter most. Yes, we grieve. But we know that those things will one day pass. When we take the larger view, when we think cosmically, the centre of the universe is a throne, and on the throne sits the risen Lord Jesus Christ. This, more than anything, establishes us as people of joy.

16 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ken #

    Re: “when we think cosmically, the center of the universe is a throne, and on the throne sits the risen Lord Jesus Christ.”

    The author invokes an image from the vision of John in Revelation 4 – a door opening in heaven and there is the Lord, seated on a throne, and his face is gleaming with light as from a precious stone, an emerald surrounds him like a rainbow, and the angels are singing. It is an image that evokes joy.

    I think by associating this image with the Eucharist, the author also invokes, or evokes the memory of, another image from John’s vision, the wedding feast of the lamb – we associate joy with this image too.

    When one invokes the Revelation to John, one also invokes images of wrath, even if not stated, for John’s vision is prophetic in that way, in much the same way as Ezekiel’s vision combines the image of the throne with wrath.

    It is tough to associate Ezekiel’s vision with joy because it was Israel, or Judah, that was the recipient of wrath. But in John’s vision, as in the Magnificat, the wrath is for the enemies of God and God’s people, and the joy is for deliverance from enemies who persecuted God’s people. In John’s vision, the wedding feast of the lamb is associated with images that follow it of birds eating the flesh of the enemies and of a beast being throne into a lake of fire (Revelation 19.)

    In modernity these images trouble us. We avoid Nahum, Habakkuk and Obadiah, and other writings like them. We try to speak of the throne and of the feast with joy, without the wrath. But the images are so connected that it is tough to separate them. The joy is associated with the wrath of God, the now embarrassing wrath of God. In modernity we try to forget while we yet remember. “Can’t we all just be saved? Can’t the joy be for all? Doesn’t love win?” we pray.

    March 6, 2011
    • So, in your view, how ought we to speak and think consistently about wrath (at the Eucharist, or anywhere else) in modernity?

      March 7, 2011
      • EDH #

        Yeah, I don’t get that image when going to holy communion, but on second thought, I don’t think its all that wrong if the wrath is against the demonic realm. I’m sure Christ crucified is as much hell for the devil as hell itself. And the meal is a feast of victory and deliverance. At least I think that’s one legitimate way we can even read the psalms in its dynamic joy and salvation.

        March 7, 2011
      • Ken #

        I don’t have an answer to your question. I don’t ask the question. It is unanswerable.

        I think Schweitzer’s conclusion about the great gulf of belief between the Bible and us, between Jesus and us, is unavoidable. So, I don’t attempt systematic theology.

        My own way, like that of many liberals, has been to read the Bible as myth, but not to demythologize it, even though I admire the systematic theology of some who have attempted it, such as Bultmann, Tillich and Macquarrie. I admire them, but I don’t go their way, or at least, not as much as I once did.

        It is the Roman Catholic Church that has mastered the celebration of the Eucharist. This celebration has always been problematic for Protestants. In the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church the great sacred events are reenacted, not reinterpreted. As Eliade explains, such reenactments are the aim of worship, of religious life.

        March 7, 2011
      • I wasn’t looking for systematic theology. I suppose the question came out of my thinking about wrath, joy, love, etc from a pastoral perspective. Your comment seemed to indicate that you felt that something was missing from the Eucharist if the theme of wrath, however “embarrassing,” was absent. I was just wondering how you would go about reintroducing it.

        March 7, 2011
      • Ken #

        I did not mean to imply that. It was the image of God on a throne and the associated joy that brought wrath into Smith’s narrative, Smith’s Eucharist, even though he never mentioned it. The image comes from prophesies of wrath.

        March 7, 2011
  2. Larry S #


    Reading Ryan’s post and your response about the images of the joyful feast juxtaposed with images of birds of carrion feasting on the dead and the Beast reminded me of what I did this afternoon. We recently bought a blue-ray DVD player. This afternoon I bought “The Sound of Music” (with the sing-along option) to play with my 2 yr-old granddaughter (we will edit out the Nazi portions when she watches). But I also bought “The Road” that horrific movie made of McCarthy’s well-written but even more horrific book. Images from both movies ring true and now I get to see both in brilliant sound and images.

    We pray = “Can’t we all just be saved? Can’t the joy be for all? Doesn’t love win?” Sure we pray that but like the preacher said in this morning’s sermon which dealt with God’s wrath (Romans 1,2) – evil will be judged. And I add: maybe some people in their rebellion just don’t want to be saved.

    March 6, 2011
    • I’ve passed by The Road a number of times now at the movie store. I couldn’t put the book down when I read it a few years back, but that’s largely why I’m not sure I could make it through the film…

      March 7, 2011
  3. Paul Johnston #

    Thank you for this post, Ryan. The deeper ties that bind. A shared experience of Christ offers a fulfillment that sharing opinions about Him, will always fall short of.

    March 7, 2011
  4. Paul Johnston #

    We answer wrath, Eucharistically. All ours God bears and wants to forgive. His response, His justice, His “wrath” is Himself as the Son, on the cross.

    March 7, 2011
  5. J Janzen #

    I wonder if our understandings of wrath/kingship/glory/holiness – all of those things associated with God’s royal rule and presence (negatively or otherwise) – might change if we follow Matthew’s lead in viewing the world through the combined lenses of the transfiguration and the crucifixion.

    In Matthew 17 we see, on the 7th day, Jesus flanked by Moses & Elijah, clothes glowing, surrounded by a bright cloud on a mountaintop, with God declaring Jesus “My son.”

    In Matthew 27 we see, on the 6th day, Jesus flanked by 2 brigands, surrounded by darkness on a hill, with a Gentile soldier declaring Jesus “God’s son.”

    The imagery of those 2 scenes brings to mind Genesis 1, Exodus 24, Isaiah 4, and Revelation 1 – texts that speak to a holy King who tenderly recreates and protects.

    Participating in communion in between those juxtaposed images of transfiguration and crucifixion – as we did in my community’s worship yesterday – has left me with many new thoughts and feelings about God’s wrath that I have yet to sort out and wrap words around. An initial wondering: perhaps there is joy in wrath to be desired?

    March 7, 2011
    • Ken #

      I think the key is to see that God’s wrath is not an expression of morality, but an expression of passion, a passionate love first for Israel that was extended to all who call out to him.

      I think it is also useful to observe that the central wrathful event described in the Bible was historical – the Babylonian exile. In modern terms, it just happened. But in the visions of the prophets, it represented the wrath of God. The coming of the Messiah represents wrath in the way the exodus represented wrath – the deliverance of those whom God loves from those who oppressed them. To the extent that the Eucharist represents a celebration of deliverance, now or in the future, it does carry in it the remembrance of or anticipation of the wrath of God that delivers. It is a rite of passion, of ecstatic joy.

      March 7, 2011
    • Thanks for this, J. I appreciate—and will spend more time reflecting upon—your take on the Matthean view and the language of sonship. As always, the cross changes how we think about what God is like.

      I’d be curious to hear more about the “joy in wrath to be desired,” should you ever manage to wrap words around your thoughts.

      March 7, 2011
      • J #

        I think Ken captures some of the cosmic dimensions of the “benefits” of God’s wrath in his comments.

        One of the things that has come to mind for me is on a more personal level. There are people in my church who struggle with chronic illness, or the long term effects of relational brokenness, or the consequences of bad choices (aka sin) made by themselves or by others. Many if not all of the people in my church (me included) long for the junk in our lives to be cleaned out. Another way to put it would be say that we want to be purified – there is a hunger to experience holiness and to become holy.

        The biblical picture that comes to mind is have the impurities of a metal consumed in the fire. Another picture that comes to mind is more contemporary. My mom is a nurse who administers chemotherapy to people sick with cancer. In some cases she will pump extremely caustic acid through people’s veins. It is a poisonous “wrath” visited upon people that frequently purifies them of the disease that is killing them. Many people are able to live longer, fuller lives as a result.

        It’s that kind of thing that has come to mind as I’ve thought about the possibilities of a joy in wrath to be desired.

        March 9, 2011
      • Thanks for these metaphors, J. They are very helpful—particularly the chemotherapy analogy—in thinking about the possibility of desiring wrath (and even finding joy in it!).

        It hurts to be made well, but it is the thing we most desperately need.

        March 10, 2011
  6. Paul Johnston #

    Joy in wrath to be desired=forgiveness of sin. Sin is exile.

    March 8, 2011

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