This past Lent marked the one-year anniversary of the pandemic in the U.S. Last Easter came — and went. Most of us celebrated from our living rooms. In many ways, the past year has felt like the longest Lent ever. It has been a dark and difficult time for so many of us.
So as we move into the Easter season this year, what does it mean to live in Christian joy?
This year, I look to St. Paul for inspiration. Why? He understands what it feels like to be stuck in your house for what seems like forever.
St. Paul had been arrested in Jerusalem by Jews and handed over to Romans. After a long ship ride back to Rome, St. Paul was put under house arrest with armed guards. There he lived for two years, unable to leave his home, but unlike us, he was allowed to see his friends. Many came to see him and St. Paul “welcomed all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching things about the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered” (Acts 28:30-31).
I wonder if Paul’s visitors were able to come inside his house, or if like so many of us, they stood out in the yard, while he stood in the door frame. I love imagining these friends coming to encourage Paul but instead Paul encouraged them! They left feeling full of joy, clarity and truth of God’s love for them. I want this to be true of my interactions when I am able to see friends. So often we complain over the latest news. I want to be intentional. To talk about where we have seen God moving in our lives.
During Paul’s time under house arrest, spreading joy to those who came to his door was not enough. He wrote letters too. His letter to his friends, the Philippians, is all about joy. He began the letter as a thank you letter for the gift they sent him, probably money to support himself during this time of house arrest. I’ve been keeping a stack of stamped postcards on my desk so I can easily send out a few lines of encouragement and joy to a friend when I am thinking of them.
Instead of telling the story of his house arrest through the lens of tragedy, he sees it as an opportunity. He encourages the Philippians to stand firm in the face of persecution for the gospel. He reminds them that their attitude should be the same as Jesus, that they should not look only to their own interests but the interests of others (2:4). This is convicting to me during a time when I often feel it is “every man for themselves.” I need to reach out and care for others, not just those in my household or the people who are easy or that I like.
But it is St. Paul’s urging to his friends to rejoice that catches me off guard. He writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” (4:4). I love that he repeats it, knowing that they too would find it jarring to rejoice through trials and that he would be filled with so much joy even during his own suffering.
We’ve talked a lot about pain and suffering this year, but not a lot about joy. We need to be intentional about looking at life through this mindset. If we truly believe as we say we do, we should be living like we do. I want to learn from St. Paul how to be joyful in the midst of difficulty.
St. Paul explains himself, “I have learned, in whatever situation I find myself, to be content. I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret … I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me” (4:11-13).
I think we have forgotten this power we have in Christ. May we be reminded this Easter that we have Christ’s power within us, just like St. Paul, to find joy in all things.