Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. - Philippians 4:4
Rejoice? Seriously, Paul? Obviously you didn't live in a time where people get mowed down at worship or at a concert or at a march for peace; a time when our leader flaunts bullying, racism, and environmental rollbacks; a time when executives and stockholders get richer while workers are left further behind; a time when a child dies from hunger every ten seconds.
Rejoice? Don't be naive, Pastor Paul.
Reading this cheery ancient scripture next to dreary current headlines, we have to remind ourselves that Paul's world was awash in despots, destruction and despair, far more than ours. He knew all about hardship.
Maybe that's why Paul tells the Philippian church to rejoice twice. When I repeat myself, it's usually because I want to emphasize my point ... or because I can't think of anything else to say. Never short of something to say, Paul repeated himself to emphasize the discipline of rejoicing as an act of resistance when injustices and struggles pile up.
In fact, Paul uses the words "joy" and "rejoice" 15 times in this letter. Did I mention Paul was in prison when he wrote it? That's leading by example. He said if he should be sentenced to death, he would still rejoice. I'm reminded of young people singing joyfully in jail during the civil rights movement, and of a friend who battled cancer with laugher and levity until it took her life.
This sort of rejoicing isn't a form of denial. Neither is it an exercise in the power of positive thinking. It is an expression of holy resistance, refusing to let hardships rob us of our joy in the Lord. If we do that much, we triumph, even if we die.
Just for today, Lord of all, let me rejoice in you always. Again I say, rejoice!
Matt Laney is the Senior Pastor of Virginia Highland Church UCC in Atlanta, GA and the author of Pride Wars, a fantasy series publishe by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for Young Readers. The first book, The Spinner Prince available now.