Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Rejoice! There hasn’t been much to rejoice about in many ways. COVID-19 has effectively shut most of us in our homes, making “social distancing” a new part of our vocabulary, the values of many savings and retirement accounts are dwindling, employment concerns abound as especially small businesses ponder their survival, school and education for many involves struggling with new approaches, and it may even be a struggle to find chicken at the store to prepare for dinner if you didn’t have any in the freezer (though I pray you have other options and if not please reach out to the church for such needs.)
Even before the last couple weeks people struggle with rejoicing. Tempers flair, struggles with finances still existed, and perhaps you were social distancing and grumbling on your own before a couple weeks ago, or I’m sure each one of us could come up with things to complain about rather than rejoice in recognizing what the Lord gives and provides for us.
Here in the church today is one of my favorite Sundays, as many from St. Peter’s know especially at Advent as well, is a little lightening of things. It is a little more subtle with just a stole as we don’t have full paraments, but with the chasuble worn with communion celebration a big man in rose tends to be noticed. The first words of our Introit from Psalm 122, “Rejoice, Jerusalem.”
As we are just about right at the middle of the Lenten season (a few days past halfway), a season known for fasting, for doing without, a season that highlights struggle, and calls us to repentance, a little rejoicing is called for. We can rejoice though even in the midst of struggle and in the midst of Lent.
What we so often fail to do, and what is such a struggle in these days of social distancing and limited gathering, is to rejoice in the Lord’s blessings. It really is nothing new. As the people of Israel left Egypt, after 400 years of slavery, wishing for their freedom, they had barely been on the road, just after the parting of the Red Sea and were already grumbling and complaining against their pastors, their leaders, Moses and Aaron. They failed to rejoice that they were no longer slaves, they failed to rejoice that the Lord had given them bread and meat to eat daily. They did like so many are doing now, hoarding because they didn’t fully trust the Lord who delivered them to continue to provide daily bread.
How many have spent weeks, months, or even years avoiding the house of the of the Lord and only now amidst attempts are complaining that they are, for what is hopefully a short while, now asked to refrain from such gatherings?
How self-centered we can find ourselves. We want things our way, in the manner in which we want it, we will follow what is good today and grumble and complain for more when opportunity arises. Look not only at the people of Israel but also at the people following Jesus. They “followed Him because they saw His signs which He performed on those who were diseased.” They followed Him because they thought He would satisfy their personal desires.
As long as the people of Israel saw the Red Sea split, as long as the people of Jesus’ day had bread in abundance, as long as things were going good, they would rejoice. As long as their bellies are full, they will rejoice. As long as things are going as they wish, they will rejoice.
But our cause for rejoicing goes much further than that. Our cause of rejoicing is in looking forward. We ought to rejoice in little things, like that we have soap, daily bread, medical personnel to make advancements and provide care. What a wonderful opportunity we have been given to rejoice that we are able to take more time with our children and loved ones, that we have to slow down and spend family dinners at our tables rather than rushing out, that we have more time and ability to refocus on prayer life, home devotions, or many other opportunities we have to rejoice and give thanks during this time of social distancing. What an even more wonderful opportunity for us to repent and rejoice that we have been redeemed. What an opportunity for us to look forward, to social gatherings, to a return of daily life, but even more so to the end of the season that we are in, the end of Lent, which leads us to the death and resurrection of Jesus. We look forward to His death and resurrection that is for us, He takes our sins, He gives peace with God, He comforts you in the certainty of joining Him in resurrection joy.
Rejoice, Jerusalem. For the Lord gives not only daily bread but gives the bread of life. But while we seek food that spoils, while we base our comfort on what is in our stomachs and how much is in our bank account as an indication of whether or not God loves us, God loves us in all in all circumstances because of the Lent that He did for us, His going without, His forsaking glory, His suffering for us. As the author of Hebrews proclaims, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
When God gives you gifts, rejoice. We have so much more in Jesus than a bread king, but our Lord who gives you living bread, manna from heaven, that a man may eat and never die. He gives us so much forgiveness and grace that our baskets are full and our cups overflow. All the grumbling, all the complaining, all the worrying about viruses, all the trust in material things, forgiven. So rejoice, because Jesus considers it a joy to take your suffering upon Himself to be your Savior. Rejoice as you receive and trust the Words and promises of the Lord who died for you.
Rejoice, lighten up, be a little rosy, for in Christ that is what the people of God do, rejoice and be glad. And soon, let us rejoice and be glad when they will say unto us, “let us go to the house of the Lord.”
May God grant you rejoicing as He gives you His Word here, may He give you opportunity to receive the living bread that is His shed body and give you His shed blood for your salvation and may we receive those opportunities with rejoicing. May this unique time in our life and culture lead us to repentance and faith that rejoices in the little gifts of daily bread but more importantly rejoices in the forgiveness, life, and salvation we have in Christ, for it is His rejoicing in being our Savior that gives us true lasting joy that has no end.
In the name of the Father and of + the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.