Repentant Joy

In preparation for yesterday’s sermon, at one point along the way I found myself pondering the following sentence offered during the Eucharistic Prayer in the midst of the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper:

“With repentant joy we receive the salvation accomplished for us by the all-availing sacrifice of His body and His blood on the cross.”

That’s a strange sentence. It’s peculiar because within it, the petitioners fashion the words “repentant” and “joy” into a singular, personal descriptor.

At first thought, repentance would seem to bear an edge, to be the cutting result of receiving the harder news about oneself, a response acted out in humility, a response borne from a penetrating sorrow for Sin, a full-throated acknowledgement of who we are and what we’ve done. Joy, on the other hand, paints a portrait of one who bounds along without burden, happily unconcerned with the sorrowful things and smiling as though gravity is imaginary and the sun will never set.

In the swiftness of a prayerful moment, these two words seem to be the blending of passionate opposites—like the mixing of oil and water, darkness and light, pessimism and optimism.

To really get what’s behind their comradery, I suppose it’s imperative for us to first realize these words are aimed straight into our guts. In other words, as Christians, we own them in faith. But equally, as they burrow into us, they reach our center, grab hold, and then begin steering us intently toward the end of the sentence in which they dwell—to the sacrifice of Jesus for our Sin.

Both have their eyes set upon the crucified Savior.

The “repentant” half of the phrase reminds us the words aren’t careless. Life is not a bopping along with unconcerned steps. With the cross as the heading, we keep our footing and know our location. We’re bound to humility. We know that even as we live in the sunshine of God’s forgiveness of sins each and every day—that His love is given to us freely and fully—the work to accomplish our redemption wasn’t cheap. It was quite costly. The cross of Jesus Christ stands as the receipt for the dreadful expense. The image itself prompts the recognition that we are in daily need of what Christ won on that cross. Each day we fall short. Each day is encumbered by monsters—Sin, Death, the devil—all maneuvering to eat away at our inheritance as God’s children, and we should never take this lightly.

But deeper still, even as we live in this fallen world well aware of our jagged surroundings, the “joy” half of the phrase is an expression of Christian hope, a truth that knows the death of Jesus for our salvation as it meets with the “right now” but also the “not yet.” We are free to live in Christ right now knowing that our heavenly future is secure. By faith, as God’s beloved children, we are heirs of eternal life.

Repentant joy. Sounds good.

In my opinion, these words together are incredibly thick and immensely real, and even if they were spoken alone, they’d announce far more than the most eloquent and heartfelt pleas. In two words, we learn our identity as ones who live and breathe and move in this world with a joyful confidence located in the forgiveness won by Jesus for the world to come. Or perhaps another way—we live at the ready. We live knowing that in Christ we have the best of all things while remaining honest with ourselves, acknowledging that our Sin-nature knows this, too, and would see to it being snatched away.

I like the phrase “repentant joy,” and I don’t know about you, but I’m going to be more intentional about using it in my daily prayers. I’m going to be a bit more concerted about asking that the Holy Spirit continue to work this in me.

The Connection of Joy to Suffering

How’s that song go? School’s out for summer…

Well, it’s almost out. My kids have already said three or four times this morning, “Two and a half more days.”

“Yes,” I say in return. “You’ve already said that.”

As much as I love education—in fact, just ask Jen and she’d tell you I could sit in a classroom pretty much all day long—still, I’m glad the school year is coming to a close. It means time is a little more flexible for rest from busy schedules where every minute is accounted for, people’s spirits seem much calmer, and perhaps the doors and windows of opportunities for more fellowship with one another begin to open. In all, the sky’s deep blue feels just a little kindlier and the sun’s rays seem somewhat more caressing.

You can’t beat the feeling of summer. It can be very joyful.

In my morning reading from Luther, the good Reverend wrote the following regarding faith in Christ resulting in the joy of life and life’s deeds: “…the better you know it, the more does it make your heart joyful, for where there is such knowledge the Holy Ghost cannot remain outside. And when He comes He makes the heart joyful, willing, and happy, so that it freely goes and gladly with good heart does all that is well-pleasing to God, and suffers what has to be suffered, and would gladly die. And the purer and greater the knowledge, the deeper grows the bliss and joy” (Sermons from the year 1523).

Do you know how Luther claims this joy is planted specifically; that is, the springtime sowing that produces the summertime image he just described? If you guessed Word and Sacrament—the holy Word, Holy Baptism, absolution, the preaching of the Gospel, the Lord’s Supper—if you guess these things, then you’re right. It’s through the reception of these Gospel means that the perpetual summertime heart of the Christian is strengthened for real joy—come what may.

How’s that song go? More than a feeling…

Faith in Christ results in so much more than a feeling. It results in life—life lived together as a community of believers here in this place—caring for one another, opportunities to serve the needs of a suffering world, prayer, study of the Word, reception of the gifts of grace, and so many other things I could add.

Notice Luther connected joy to suffering and death.

Summer ends. Fall comes. A new school year begins, and with that, the schedules increase and the days seem to get shorter. But the Christian heart fed by Christ’s perpetual springtime love for a truly endless summer of joy knows this and is well stocked against anything that would try to steal it away.

Don’t lose Word and Sacrament this summer. Don’t stay away. Keep in holy worship. Be strengthened by the means of grace. This is your lifeline for joy—real joy—into and beyond the summer of 2017.

The Throes of Lent

We are in the throes of Lent.

“I don’t like Lent,” one person said. “There’s too much doom and gloom.”

I get it. I really do. But Lent is in place for such comments as this. Lent keeps such a perspective from becoming the regular pace of the Christian life. Lent makes sure that we know the measure of the cost, and the significance of our inabilities in the face of that cost so that we don’t lose sight of the wonder of the cross and the empty tomb. I’m pretty sure you’ve heard me say this before… if you do not know the seriousness of the bad news—if your church and her preachers and teachers shy from the topics of Sin and Death and the stranglehold of Satan for the loftier clouds of spiritual sentimentality—you will be robbed of the joy and depth of the good news, the Gospel. Lent feels heavier than Epiphany. It feels heftier than Christmas and the Trinity season. Just know that while we may dodge this kind of stuff the rest of the year, it’s nearly impossible to do so during Lent. Each Sunday in Lent, you can count on hearing from the heavy hitters of Scripture—the texts that really clobber us—sometimes leaving us feeling as though we may be getting a lot more Law than Gospel. This coming Sunday is one of those Sundays. The Gospel reading is one that takes stamina to get through; that is, if you are really listening.

But not to worry. As far as it concerns me, the Gospel will always be there in the preaching. Yes, you will hear the bad news, but I won’t keep the Good News from you. If you hear of Jesus’ death and resurrection for your rescue, you’ve heard the powerful Gospel, and that message has the power to convert and convince the heart and bring a joy unequal to anything else this life has to offer.

Listen for it. I promise it will be there. I can make a promise like that because God has already promised and implanted it in His Word. I just plan on giving to you what He’s already given.