Easter Day – 9th April – Rev Alison Way

Jeremiah 31:1-6,  Matthew 28:1-10  

In the name of the Living God, Creator Father and Risen Son and ever- present Holy spirit Amen

Today our fruit of the Spirit is Joy, and on this day our spiritual joy is characterised by recognising that Jesus Christ is risen! Alleluia! In the spiritual fruit story book we have been travelling with this Lent, Joy is represented by an orange. May be on this day which has been engulfed by chocolate, a chocolate one! Anyway the book says – The fruit of joy makes me glad when I am feeling sad. And it is true we can be joy-filled even in the most difficult of times!

Joy is sometimes in a worldly sense defined as a special kind of happiness. But for me a more Christian definition, is gladness (or even perpetual gladness) of the heart that comes from knowing, experiencing and trusting Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus left with us. In all this we worship the God that wants us to celebrate and enjoy all God has made.

Our Bible readings today showed us a number of outward expressions of joy and the spirit of celebration at the heart of it! In Jeremiah as he predicts better times ahead for the people of God after their exile, he describes us taking out our tambourines and dancing. I have always been a bit in awe of the Salvation army’s use of tambourines in worship  – and can see that as an outpouring of joy. Dancing is a source of joy for many (and one of the reasons in my opinion that strictly warms the heart for so many)! Continuing in the thoughts of Jeremiah, likewise there is then reference to planting our gardens and enjoying the fruit as bringing joy. This one has been new to me in my time here serving in Wincanton and Pen Selwood, but well known to many of us and the wonders of tomatoes growing in the Rectory green house! The taste of a just picked tomato is a source of great joy.

In our gospel reading there are joyful responses too. After the earthquake and the  drama of the sealed stone being rolled away by an angel, and the angel sitting on it and those guarding it passing out! And the angel telling the women who had witnessed all that, not to be afraid, and that Jesus had risen. The women are described as quickly leaving with both fear and great joy. When they encounter Jesus they give a cultural outpouring of that sense of joy, by taking hold of Jesus’ feet. Now this is not something we are likely to do, but was culturally appropriate to their times and the status of women back then! Now we are liberated from the strictures of covid regulations, when seeing someone brings us this kind of joy and celebration, we can once again envelope them in a big hug or grasp their hands in ours or kiss on both cheeks and so on!

I have bought some more things to help us think about joy more and what can fill us with joy, and encourages a deep held spirit of celebration in our hearts. Particularly joy in knowing Jesus Christ. We are going to use bubbles today to represent our joy in this instance!

Now first we are starting with these that are from an every day bubble blowing tube (though it is a special formula for cats to play with!). Here they come…… There’s a couple of ways you can get bubbles with one of these! Blowing as I have just done or swishing to get a few more. These represent our every day sources of joy. Things like a beautiful piece of music or singing a hymn, seeing a friend who loves us, or catching up over a cuppa or enjoying the natural world, or our team winning at a favourite sport. And in those moments when we experience joy we also feel the presence of God with us more keenly.

Here is a different bubble producer! This one is called a blizzard bubble blower and these little bubbles represent the tiny joys we encounter during each day that can warm our hearts if we stay connected to the moment. Maybe the bursting forth of the snowdrops, or watching a bee in a flower. What other kind of things can you think of – tiny joys we can encounter each day? These can gladden our hearts just when we need it and gives us encouragement for the next step. These can reset our focus. These things are not coincidences, but as Ian Coffey describes it God incidences. The power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives giving us the strength we need just when we need it!

This is another option with which you can produce bubbles with the blowing or swishing method but much larger bubbles. These represent occasions that come along that bring great joy in their wake. Weddings, ordinations and – can you think of others? Maybe for me, Ronnie O’Sullivan winning the world snooker championship in my case! These are occasions or days when joy is near to hand, where love and peace fill our hearts and we experience a sense of freedom to celebrate, and express the deep sense of joy from God we are experiencing!

And finally I am going to blow a steady stream of bubbles with this which is a bubble gun, and this one is most like the joy that God can fill our hearts with through his Holy Spirit as we mark the change Jesus resurrection made to our lives! As it produces a constant stream (noise and lights)! Joy from this source knows that light will always chase away darkness (even when it is very dark). It knows good will always defeat evil (even if there is trouble and chaos all around us). It knows God is always on our side, even when we don’t remember this (or it feels like everything and everyone is against us)

It is the joy God gave us on that first Easter Day when Jesus overcame death by rising again, to bring us and everyone into a new relationship of love and peace with God, and enjoying the love of God we experience in this life through the presence of the Holy Spirit with us. I think that verb related to joy – To enjoy is also important. It means to embody joy and live it out, to celebrate. One of the more spiritual definitions of this verb is to be in joy or as we live out joy we experience knowing God more. Knowing the God who wants us to flourish, following the path he has for us, living as his beloved children in this world and one day intimately with God in the next world. For Jesus said: I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. John 10:10b

Henri Nouwen explains this influence of Joy in our hearts as Christians – Joy is the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing can take that away. Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. It is a choice based on the knowledge that we belong to God and have found in God our refuge and our safety and that nothing, not even death, can take God away from us.

All this joy is only possible in our hearts and lives, and given us to share we those around us because Jesus Christ rose from the dead. As a hymn we sang last week reminds us so keenly about joy, turn to 153 – we are going to say joyfully the first verse together to finish!

Give me joy in my heart keep me praising, give me joy in my heart I pray. Give me joy in my heart keep me praising, keep me praising till the end of day. Amen