Rejoice, I Said!
As often as we get reminded by the world of how terrible things are, we get reminded there is more as well. Beyond it, after it, before it, and under it is a reality worth rejoicing in.
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness. – Psalm 100:1-2a (NRSV)
Psalm 100 isn’t the psalm people know the best, but it just might be the most-used in Christian history. Depending on when and where you lived, you might sing it in worship several times a year, every Friday, every Sunday, or nigh on every single morning. Why so much play?
Because life sucks, that’s why. There is so much reason to not be joyful, so many reasons to be sad, afraid, angry, depressed. Plus some of us feel those emotions without “reasons.” So the makers of liturgy and prescribers of worship wanted to be sure that, almost as often as we got reminded by the world of how terrible things are, we got reminded by the liturgy that there was more as well.
They didn’t command anyone to feel joy. They said to make joyful noise. Maybe this was some sort of early understanding of brain-body connectivity, a smile-till-you-feel-like-smiling, fake-it-till-you-make-it situation. Maybe it was a sort of worthy but largely unfulfillable commandment, like Jesus’ injunction to forgive those who wound you.
Or maybe they thought joy was a feeling on a different plane from other emotions. Not supersized happiness, not the opposite of sadness; something else altogether. Something as far beyond these as God is beyond their causes. Something that can exist alongside or through earthly emotions, and which can be accessed partly by will. Maybe the creators of liturgy enjoined us to sing Psalm 100 so often – not to deny the reality of earth and the feelings it engenders – but to remind us that beyond it, after it, before it, and under it is a reality worth rejoicing in, regardless of how we’re feeling.
Show me what joy is. Show me how to rejoice. Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is a father, husband, homesteader and preacher living in rural upstate New York. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.