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Jumping for Joy

May 31, 2018

Not very many days ago, I was in the Providence Mall on my way to see a movie. I was feeling anything but joyful in the wake of the unexpected death of a beloved parishioner. But suddenly, just ahead of me, I saw two young children – a boy and girl – skipping hand-in-hand, and leaping gracefully into the air every so often. My heart lifted a bit from seeing the joy they shared. The heaviness I had felt was pushed back more than a bit, leaving room for something new in its place.

Today is the Feast of the Visitation, when we remember the visit that a young woman, pregnant before marriage, made to her elderly cousin, pregnant beyond all reasonable expectation after years of barrenness. Mary, with the baby Jesus growing in her womb, greets her cousin. And at the sound of her greeting, Elizabeth reports that the baby in her womb – who will become John the Baptist, the forerunner to Jesus – leaps for joy. 

I love this story for many reasons, but especially because it reminds us that joy can appear when we least expect it, even in highly unlikely circumstances. Both Mary and Elizabeth have reason to be afraid and less-than-joyful. Mary is pregnant before marriage, and could be abandoned by Joseph, subjected to ridicule and shame by her neighbors, even stoned to death. Elizabeth is well beyond the usual age for childbearing. Will her baby be healthy? Will she endure the pain of childbirth and be able to see her child grow up?

In the ups and downs of day-to-day life it is so easy to lose our instinct for joy. Daily busy-ness, disappointments, worries: all these can squeeze out the life-giving space within us that God has meant for joy. But Mary and Elizabeth remind us that joy can surprise one, can spring up in the midst of fear and uncertainty. In his sermon of May 6, Patrick Ward reminded us that joy is not a fleeting feeling, and does not depend on outward circumstances. It is, rather, a stance towards life. For us as Christians, our stance of joy comes because we have a sure footing in the indefatigable love and care of God – no matter the outward circumstances of the moment. Playing off the image of a joyful child in the womb, it is as if we are floating in the life-giving amniotic fluid of God’s very Self. Fed and protected, loved beyond measure, cared for in circumstances happy and not-so-happy, growing – even when we do not sense it – into what God has intended us to be.
This is my prayer for you: that by knowing and trusting in this, you will be set free. May your heart skip and leap for joy. 

Blessings for a joy-filled summer.

The Rev. William W. Rich

Interim Rector


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