It isn’t hard to find something to be unhappy about these days. The melting ice caps. Racial and economic injustice. The high cost of education and medical care. The opioid epidemic. I suppose Lent is as good a season as any to be miserable as we recognize the grievous condition of the human heart and of the harm our actions have wrought on humanity.
At church this week, we talked about what makes us happy, a term that makes me think of the yellow smiley face commercialized by Walmart. No, Walmart does not make me happy (although the company generously supports many charitable organizations). What makes me happy is progress. Putting in a new garden. Finishing a new book. Reaching a lower number on the bathroom scale. And yet, I don’t often feel like a shiny yellow circle transected by a giant smile, which got me wondering whether Jesus was happy.
To my knowledge, the Bible doesn’t ever portray Jesus laughing, dancing or even joking with his pals. It does show him getting frustrated (with his followers’ lack of trust), angry (with those who lay heavy burdens on others) and sad (at the death of his cousin, John the Baptist, over those who rejected his message and when facing his own death). While I’d like to imagine a happy Jesus, it seems that he was instead a man of sorrows, as depicted by the prophet Isaiah.
Just this week, I was on the brink of asking a wise friend about this when he opened his Bible to share a favorite verse, which says, “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy,” Hebrews 1:9 (NIV). These words, quoted from the Old Testament, are written here of Jesus.
So, can we too have joy, even when we are surrounded by circumstances that make us unhappy? Jesus shared the answer with his followers. “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. These things I have spoken to you that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”
And what is that commandment? “That you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one that this, that one lay down his life for his friends,” John 15:10-13. Our feelings are naturally affected by our circumstances – as were Jesus’ – but joy comes from abiding in God’s love and sharing his love with others, even when it costs us, as it cost Jesus. Something much deeper is going on here, something not natural but supernatural.
This is what we celebrate at Easter. Not the sorrow of Lent. Not the brokenness of the world. But the promise that in spite all of the sorrow and brokenness, a resurrection day is coming. And that makes me truly happy.
Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the award-winning memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine. The Backward Easter Egg Hunt, the second book in her Lantern Hill Farm children’s picture-book series, is available now.