taking the words of Jesus seriously

If you attend a church that observes the liturgical calendar, this past weekend you may have noticed the sanctuary decorated with flowers, clergy clad in pink vestments, and the organist may have been allowed her chance at that instrumental solo she has been longing to launch into.

But why? Aren’t we observing Lent — a season for the losers?

The fourth Sunday of Lent is called Laetare or “Rejoicing” Sunday. In the midst of the season of discipline and repentance, this day is dedicated to being happy. The theme for the day is derived from the introit to the mass: “Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her: rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow: that you may exult and be filled from the breasts of your consolation.”

But why should one experience joy in a season of such sorrow? It is a burst of hope in the midst of a long walk, a reminder that Easter Sunday is only three weeks away. This is a living reminder that our journey is not aimless or endless. We are comforted in knowing that with every day we draw closer to that triumphal celebration of the defeat of Death itself.

The command to rejoice does something especially valuable for those of us in distress. As I have said before, pain and suffering isolate us; because our affliction is so real and undeniable and immediate, we are naturally persuaded to concentrate on it. And that path takes us deeper into dark places in ourselves where it is not always healthy to go — especially alone.

Dwelling on our hurts — as if that is all we were — not only robs us of hope in the future, but, far worse, it robs us of our investment in the precious present. By failing to experience joy, even in the midst of crappy times, we can be engulfed entirely by our circumstances.

But it need not be so. We do not have to reduce ourselves to someone who exists only to endure hardship. In our suffering we must not exile ourselves from the love of God or of our daily joys.

If we rejoice in all the capabilities and opportunities that remain with us — from sitting with a coffee for a minute in the sunshine to finding the right word for a bit of work we’ve been fussing over — we can grab the present by the scruff of the neck and smile — knowing no matter how diminished we might be by disease or horrible circumstance, we are not finished, not by a long shot. You are loved. You are loved. You are loved. And that is worth celebrating.

As the great country and western song says, “I may be used, baby, but I ain’t used up.” Tennyson’s “Ulysses” says it a tad more elegantly:

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

That which we are, we are — so much more than that cruel loss we suffered, so much more than that undeserved blood clot. We are parents, siblings, friends, colleagues, citizens, creators, or carpenters with something yet to do and give.

There are lonely people out there who need our comfort. There are young folks who need our drop of wisdom. There are babies that are crying to be changed and dogs to be taken for their walks. Write a letter of gratitude to an old teacher or write a letter of complaint to an errant politician. Realize that there will always be another season of “The Bachelor” that you can watch and be judged for it by people of good taste.

Rejoice that the day is not yet done, and marvelous, unique you is here to use every drop of it.

About The Author


Kate Bowler is the author of “Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel” and the best-selling memoir “Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved,” which she wrote after being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer at age 35. She also hosts the popular podcast “Everything Happens” and is an associate professor at Duke Divinity School. Kate and her family live in Durham, N.C.

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