Joy, anyway!

Easter 7B

In the name of the God of joy.  Amen.

As much as I try to stay up with the times with technology and media, I have a confession to make.  I really have never quite figured out how to incorporate Instagram into my regular online life.  I’ve certainly not been good at using it to connect with many people in my life.  But I do look at it now and then – certainly more than I did in the first few years that I was a part of the platform.

Even so, it’s still sort of on the periphery.  I used to be thought of as a sort of “power user” whenever any new platform or technology came out, but as is the course of things, as I’ve aged, it’s slowly started to outpace me.  I’m sure Instagram is now pass√© for people of my nephew’s generation – just as I’m starting to figure it out.

But to the degree that it has become a part of my regular routine, it has been pretty much limited to one area: cute puppy videos.  I follow friends and family, and some of my favorite performing artists.  I’ve even found a few exceptional children worth watching – like an 8-year-old fashion designer.  And, of course, I follow a few organizations that I care about (like St. David’s…).

But the main thing I actually use Instagram for is looking at cute videos of puppies.  And Michael and I send them back and forth to each other all the time.  Or, if we’re sitting next to each other on the couch and one of us sees one worth sharing, we’ll demand that the other drop everything to watch, and then we’ll cackle and coo together watching whatever silly or heartwarming thing there is to see.

The thing is, it’s about joy.  Even before we lost our last puppy last December, these videos on Instagram would bring us joy.  And since that big change in our family happened, the joy has been all the more important.

Reading through the Gospel this week, that’s the word that stood out for me: joy.  And it’s a word that was also an important part of the Gospel reading last week.

Last week it was at the last supper.  Jesus said, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.  I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

Then, this week, we hear it again as he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He says, “Now I am no longer in the world…  While I was with them, I protected them in your name…  But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.”

In the hours that followed, he would be betrayed, denied, and ultimately crucified.  And, as all of that was unfolding, John’s report of those final moments is that Jesus’ mind was fixed on joy.  Not fear, but joy.  Not pleading for change, but joy.  As his earthly existence was actively crumbling around him, he wanted his life to be defined by joy – joy that wouldn’t be completed on earth, but joy that would be made complete in us.

I think we often misunderstand joy as a concept.  At first glance, we tend to think of it as a sort of unbridled happiness.  Happiness that can’t be contained.  The kind of happiness like we sing about at Christmas: “Joy to the world!” “Repeat the sounding joy!”

But the kind of joy that we hear Jesus talking about as he approaches death – the kind of joy that defines our celebration of Easter and our understanding of Resurrection – feels like a different kind of joy.  A more nuanced kind.  Joy, but with a tinge of complexity mixed in.

It reminds me of the kind of joy that I used to hear the late Louie Crew Clay speak about.  Louie was a part of this diocese – a longtime member of Grace Church in Newark and a leader in diocesan structures – and because he was so familiar, I think it was sometimes hard for the people around here to recognize just how revolutionary he was.

He was one of the earliest pioneers of LGBTQ+ acceptance and inclusion in the Episcopal Church.  A story that he often told was of when he and his husband were living in San Francisco in the 1970s.  It was then, as much as now, a kind of capital of the gay rights movement, and he was looking for a church.  So, he called around to all of the Episcopal Churches in town to see if he, as a gay man would be welcomed at any of them.

As he told the story, when he called Grace Cathedral in San Francisco he was answered with unhinged laughter – the very thought that a gay man would be welcomed in a church was so preposterous.  And not just laughter, but the person who answered the phone called others over to have him ask the question again.  Not only was it clear that he wouldn’t be welcomed, but the idea that he would even seek to be welcomed was so unimaginable to them that they heard it as a joke.

Louie was a man who heard the church laugh in his face at the thought of him wanting to follow Jesus for decades.  While he saw incredible progress in the church from those early days until his death in 2019, it was progress that was slow and hard-fought.  And, he never forgot: it was progress, but never completion.  He died knowing there was still work to do.

Through the decades he spent being laughed at by the church and repeatedly taking two steps forward and one step back, he developed a mantra that served him in his life and ministry: Joy, anyway!  Always with an exclamation point at the end.

There were constant reasons for him to live in diminished joy, but he proudly proclaimed, “Joy, anyway!”

Today, as we come to the close of the Easter season, it’s important to remember that joy is the language of Easter.  Joy is the language of Jesus.  Even in those last steps that led to the cross, joy was the starting point.  And like Louie so often said, even when the world gives you anything but joy, Jesus taught us to cling to “Joy, anyway!”  Because joy isn’t just passive happiness – it’s much deeper than that.  Joy is a decision.  Joy is a state of mind.  Joy can fuel us even when the ingredients of happiness elude us.  Joy can carry us through the dim stumblings of hurt into the very presence of God.  Joy is the stuff of Resurrection.

Easter is ending.  The flowers are fading, and the drumbeat of regular existence is slowly taking over.  But no matter what – no matter when, no matter how: Joy, anyway!  Amen.