Rejoice in the Lord Always

Holy Week usually begins for me with the waving of palm crosses and singing hosanna in the building we call church. Today the piano remains silent, the packet of crosses to hand out to congregants locked in a cupboard where they will sit until next year. As some people become accustomed to the different routines the current restrictions bring others become increasingly anxious about life and loved ones. Uncertainty of jobs, rent, mortgage payments, food, health and loved ones is fed by news cycles, social media and social commentators sharing thoughts and rumours with few facts. Truth and half-truths blur and what we don’t know who or what to believe.

Just a few weeks ago, when Covid-19 was taking its toll in China and beginning to do so in Italy, as I watched it race across the world, I begin to consider what life may look like if the restrictions came to us. There were a frantic few days getting things in place for the strange new world that was fast approaching. As food and loo rolls became essential commodities, room bookings and insurance for an empty church building needed to be address. Children suddenly needed to be home schooled and church members needed to be contacted to make sure everyone was going to be alright. Messages poured in of what other churches would be doing, ideas for ensuring a continuity of service, support needs from charities and mission partners, suggestions of how to make the most of the new “free time” I’d be experiencing. The school have been setting work for the children but on top of that there have been a myriad of ideas for all the extra things they could learn. About ten days ago I was caught up in the frenetic energy, adrenaline was pumping and for me the restrictions were a new adventure. Then it all got a much. From what I’ve heard it’s happened to everyone at one point or another during the last couple of weeks, showing itself in different ways, but with all the changes it was just overwhelming.

Some of us have gotten angry or frustrated – perhaps because we feel stuck inside or helpless to do anything. Some of us have shed a tear – sadness of the people we’re not seeing or cancelled events. Some of us have felt the tug of a low mood or depressive thoughts which attempt to take us into a darkness. Some of us are shattered from looking after children who would normally burning energy at school. Some of us feel alone as we’ve not seen friends or neighbours for days. We but on a brave face and we keep going.

Palm Sunday is not the same this year. The hosannas are not being lifted by congregations around the world. Yet, together I encourage you and me to rejoice in the Lord. Philippians 4:4-7 says

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

The word rejoice usually instils in me imagery of celebrations and dancing, but I want to suggest that we can rejoice quietly, not in outward exuberance but in the raising of our spirits and lifting the burdens that weigh heavily on our hearts.

Christian’s have used meditation for centuries; it is a well-known spiritual discipline. Mindfulness is meditative process used by many, including the NHS which explains:

“An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment. That might be something as simple as the feel of a banister as we walk upstairs.”

When it comes to faith, we are required to live with uncertainties, that is what faith is. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 1:1). If we take our focus off that which gives us hope and security, if we become distracted by events around us, it will lead to anxiety.

When Paul writes to say “Rejoice in the Lord always: I will say it again, rejoice!” he is not suggesting we lose sight or touch with the world and with blind abandonment sing and dance to forget our troubles. No. Paul reminds us to reconnect with Jesus. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” As Christian’s we are able to rejoice, not because we can’t see the world, the problems, the restricts, suffering, and death. Rather our hearts and minds are calmed when we take the time to wake up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes around us, and find the things for which we can say thank you.

We can turn the “stuck at home” into “safe at home” and the “longing to see friends” into “grateful to have friends who we miss and who miss us”.

So, let us be mindful and rejoice in the Lord.

  • Become aware of yourself – observe the things around you, become aware of what you are touching and how that feels, take a few deep breaths and notice the smells.
  • Name your thoughts and feelings.
  • Look at a cross (perhaps hold one if you have one or even make one)
  • Name three things you are thankful for (say them out loud or write them down if that helps) and offer them to God.

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