Jan 27, 2017

Joy is the Culmination of the Cross

By Heather Judd

Truly, truly I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.  
You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow with turn into joy.  
(John 16:20)


Lutherans know the theology of the cross.  We know that suffering is promised to Christians in this life and that sorrows are to be borne rather than avoided.  In the midst of affliction, we harbor the sure hope that joy will come, if not in this life, then in eternity.  Yet comprehensive as this theology is, between sorrow and joy our minds often lose hold of the most profound aspect of this paradox of faith:  Our joy comes through our crosses themselves.  

This truth was made manifest to me in a tangible way a few months ago.  It happened at the altar of the church that has been my beloved spiritual home for nearly twelve years of my life.  At that altar I have been fed the boundless bread and wine of heaven more times than I can count, but also at that altar have I knelt on many a dark, lonely night when my soul was nearly crushed under the weight of the cross.  There I have poured out my mingled tears and prayers.  There I have fiercely reminded God of His promises.  There I have begged for His good gift of marriage.  And there my wise and loving Lord time and again did not remove this cross, but rather gave me strength to bear it.  

Indeed, our dear Lord was truly both wise and loving in this refusal, for He would give nothing less than the choicest wine at His altar.  How could He grant even the least of my watery pleas when it would have weakened the rich joy He had in store for me?  For, beyond my shortsighted sorrows, He foresaw the day when the good and godly man whom He had prepared for me would kneel before that altar to ask me to be his wife.

In the most literal of ways, the place of my sorrow became the place of my joy.  However, even more profound, my sorrow itself became my joy.  It was not that I bore the cross of singleness and then something else came along to make me forget it or slough it off.  No, my sorrow in singlehood was the seed that became the sapling of joy in engagement.  Without the cross, I could not have the joy.  

This truth is all around us, yet how blind we are to it!  The pain of childbirth ushers in the joy of the newborn infant.  The discipline of mind and body is the source of our mental and physical strength.  Even the toddler’s dismay at the advent of bedtime precedes his happy awakening in the new morning.  Every pain we bear is the kernel of a new blessing.  Of course, some crosses we must bear beyond the bounds of earthly life, and some joys must await eternity, but always the cross is our means to joy.  

Joy is not a nice treat that God gives us to make up for our pain.  It is the end we could never reach without treading the paths of our sorrow.  Joy is the culmination of the cross.  We understand this in our own lives only by seeing its truth in our Savior’s endurance of the cross.  Thus we, with the writer to the Hebrews, look “to Jesus, the founder and perfector 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” (Hebrews 12:2).  We look to Christ because His is the cross beyond any sorrow we will ever bear, and His, too, is the cross which has fully blossomed into bliss beyond every earthly joy.  

He endured the cross so that His death would spring up into the jubilance of the resurrection, and from this victory over our ancient enemies, He grants us every blessing.  He turns our water into the best wedding wine.  He heals us lame beggars so that we may run as sure-footed princes.  He raises the dead to be His saints.   

He makes us to share in His paschal joy, and from that beautiful place of mercy our eyes of faith see what blind reason cannot:  That wherever our sorrow weighs upon us, that is the place where God will grant blessing.  He gives only to the brokenhearted and helpless, the ones who stagger under the weight of the cross, for joy is a weighty thing.  It belongs not to those who seek to lighten their burdens but only to those who urgently cry out, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven!”  

With this petition we join ourselves to our Lord, Who prayed even in incomprehensible agony, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”  God’s will was Christ’s victorious resurrection for our salvation, but only the dead can be raised, so Christ became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.  Thus, by His suffering endurance, He teaches us this profound mystery:  The cross is not a hindrance to joy.  Rather, the cross alone is the source of all joy.  
Leave all to His direction;His wisdom rules for youIn ways to rouse your wonderAt all His love can do.Soon He, His promise keeping,With wonder-working pow’rsWill banish from your spiritWhat gave you troubled hours. 
(LSB #754, st. 4 – “Entrust Your Days and Burdens” by Paul Gerhardt)

***

Heather Judd is currently a sister, daughter, and teacher in a classical, Lutheran school in Wyoming.  The last of these vocations demonstrates the divine sense of irony since she (a) was homeschooled for her entire K-12 education, (b) only became a classical education enthusiast after earning her B.A. in education, (c) attended just about every denomination except Lutheran growing up,  and (d) had never been to Wyoming before moving there for the teaching call.  When she is not spending time in the eccentric world of middle school students, she enjoys reading, writing, acting, baking, playing organ, and pondering the mysteries of theology, physics, and literature.  

2 comments:

  1. Wonderful article Heather, thank you. "We know that suffering is promised to Christians in this life and that sorrows are to be borne rather than avoided." How rare to find Christians who actually believe this in our day. I remember that heavy cross of singleness well, I didn't marry until I was 30. But now as a wife and mother of 8, when my days and burdens are hard and heavy I have practiced the joy of needing Christ for all my strength and I have seen how loving our Father is to not abandon me in my need and pain, He has always provided. This is what He had to teach me and wanted to teach me and continues to have to teach me. God is good. Many blessings to you.

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  2. Thank you, so much, for this faithful beautiful confession of faith.

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