Joy and victory. Well, that seems like an easy enough connection to make. I am a sports enthusiast and can relate to that sensation, upon hearing the buzzer at the end of a basketball game and looking at the score board, to discover that your team has won. It is the same feeling when you come down the final 100m stretch of a 400m race and you cross the line first. Now, that is joy.
Suffice to say that when you are victorious, you are joyful. For Christians around the world, the season after Good Friday should birth unspeakable joy. Unspeakable, not in the sense of not speaking about it because we are called to do the contrary and sing it aloud on top of all mountains and rooftops; but unspeakable, in the sense of indescribable. Due to this, permit me to delve into my reflections on victory first before I share my insights on this unspeakable joy.
Victory over Death
Today is Holy Saturday. For Catholics, it is a time of deep reflection and very somber. Before this quarantine, I would often wince and brace myself for the proliferation of decadence that awaits this Easter holiday which starts from Good Friday to Holy Monday. There will be so much noise and distractions with parties, comedy shows and events being held all over the place in celebration of easter.
Now, there is quiet; stillness and we can hear the voice of God clearly if we seek Him today.I would always correct anyone who wished me Happy Easter on Friday by explaining that alot happened in 3 days and they should try and enter the mood of the first Easter and tap into the reflective mood of the Church before the glorious event of that blessed Sunday morning. Victory.
Today I got a deeper insight of what victory over death actually meant. Revelations 1:18 says this: “I am the living one; I was dead; and now I am alive, for ever and ever; and mine are the keys of death and the netherworld.” To understand this, we have to go back to the beginning when Adam and Eve actually had dominion but handed over this dominion to satan who had possessed the body of a snake. Genesis saw Adam and Eve stripped of their power and publicly humiliated, as they stood naked before all to see in the garden of Eden. Just as a conqueror strips and lays bare his spoils, Genesis 3:6 saw satan conquer Eve, render her and Adam naked and powerless and take possession of the world which God had originally created for us to rule over. He used his age-old tactic of deception; just as he had deceived his fellow fallen angels to rebel against God, so did he deceive Eve into rebelling against God. So basically, the keys were given to satan and death came into this world since we were disconnected from God and could no longer live forever. Heaven was closed and hell was wide, wide open to unleash its fury and perversion upon the world. Romans 5:12 says thus: “Therefore sin entered the world through one man and through sin, death; and later on, death spread to all humankind because all sinned.“
Fast forward 62 generations ahead when Jesus came on the scene. How did I come about this calculation? Well, some biblical scholars believe that from Adam to Noah was 10 generations; from Noah to Abraham was another 10 generations; from Abraham to David was fourteen; from David until the exile to Babylon was another 14 and from that time to Christ was the last 14 generations. At the risk of getting sidetracked, let’s just say fast forward several generations later.
Now, Jesus was the game changer. He was the first born just like Adam was the firstborn, but He was of divine origin and without sin. He would be the one who would restore dominion to mankind and get back the keys which Adam had handed over. He was to do this by undergoing extreme agony and torture for our sake and it is on this Holy Saturday that I normally enter into this deeply reflective mood which leads me to recommit myself to making Jesus’ agony not be in vain. Jesus’ torment must have been worth it. I must have been worth dying for. Jesus died and rose from the dead. 1 Cor 15:21 says “A human being brought death; a human being also brings resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ, all will be made alive.”
As Christians, we know that Jesus became that conqueror who stripped satan of his own spoils, left him powerless and reopened heavens for humankind to enter. We know that Jesus played the greatest trick on the deceiver himself who was so over-driven by his hatred towards God, that he did not realize that he was playing out a script, which would ultimately lead to his defeat. Satan thought he had defeated Jesus by stripping him and leaving him naked on the cross just like he had stripped Adam and Even and gotten them kicked out of paradise. Guess who had the final say? Satan must have totally lost his warped mind and cried out in extreme torment when he found out that God had the trump card and that heaven was finally opened again for us and his dominion was lost forever. God never loses. He just never does. He is God and will forever be God as Psalm 147:5 testifies that “The Lord is great and mighty in power; his wisdom is beyond measure.”
The deeper insight I got over this knowledge I just shared, is when I was wondering why the Jews found it so difficult to believe that Jesus would rise from the dead. Weren’t theses the same Jews who had seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead in John 11:44? Weren’t these the same authorities who had wanted to kill Lazarus in John 12:9-10 because he was a living testimony of Jesus’ power? Weren’t these the same people in Matthew 27:52-53 who saw dead men arise from their tombs and walk around after Jesus’ death? Then it dawned on me that raising someone from the dead was a totally different ballgame from raising yourself from the dead. You are alive when you raise someone from the dead, but to raise YOURSELF from the dead when you are dead, well, that would take a whole new level of belief. That would be mind blowing! It would entail you believing that a dead man could instruct his dead body to arise, just like Jesus had told all those worthy souls, who were unable to enter heaven to arise. No wonder it was easier to believe the story in Matthew 28:12-15 that the soldiers were bribed to give – that his disciples had stolen his body away.
Meaning of Joy
I had started by explaining what I feel when my team wins or when I personally win a race. I had described it as joy but allow me to make a distinction between joy and happiness. I was told once that “happiness is based on happenings” while joy is deeper since it comes from within. This is so so true. When the disciples found out that Jesus had arisen, they were happy in the strict sense of the word, although John 20:19 says that “the disciples, seeing the Lord were full of joy.” This good feeling was determined by the outcome of external events; Jesus was amongst them once again and no longer lay dead in the tomb. The handicap and inadequacy of the English language in translating the original text of the bible comes to bear here again. In Hebrew, there are 10 words to describe joy or happiness, which throw more light on the distinction between both words. However, in English, we aren’t this complex and normally use joy to indicate a deeper sense of happiness, but it is this and more.
Recall that we began talking about Christ’s victory over death and the feeling of the disciples. We can agree that they felt extremely happy as they found themselves in the presence of the Lord. Galatians 5:22 and 1Thess 1:6 tells me that joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and thus, joy finds its source in God. We know that the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples after Jesus had ascended and He was no longer physically present with them. To experience the joy which I speak of, I dare say that the disciples were unable to experience such joy until they had been filled with the Holy Spirit, 50 days after Jesus had appeared to them on Easter Sunday.
The Presence of God
Joy is the lasting presence of God and although the disciples may have felt an emotion similar to joy on Easter Sunday, at best it was fleeting, since Jesus was not always physically present with them. It was not until Acts 2:3-4 when the Holy Spirit had settled upon them, that the lasting presence of God could be established. John 14 testifies that wherever the Father is, so is the Son and wherever the Son is, so shall the spirit, which is sent by the Father, abide. This lasting presence of God brings comfort and assurance. I once read that joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details. It is the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright. The disciples did not have this joy before their infilling with the Holy Spirit.
Joy is undeniably linked to the presence of God in our lives which is made manifest by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus assured us of His permanence in our lives in Matthew 28:20 when He says “I am with you always even to the end of the world.” It is us who grieve the Holy Spirit contrary to the plea in 1Thess 5:19 not to quench the Spirit. True to God’s word, however, the Holy Spirit never leaves; He remains within us in spite us of suffocating Him and denying His presence in our lives.
How do you invoke the Presence of God in your life? David was known for using praise which boosted his confidence in God. The psalms are littered with several references to the presence of God. Psalm 16:11 sees David sing thus: “You will show me the path of life, in your presence, the fullness of joy, at your right hand, happiness forever.” Here we see the distinction between Gods’ provision and God’s presence. God’s presence which comes from within gives you the fullness of joy, while His provision of external things by his right hand, gives you happiness.
The beauty of it all is that when you have the Presence of God, you have it all. This “all-ness” may not be seen in material possessions, but suffice to say that your joy still flows. This is because joy comes from within and is not dependent on external circumstances. It does not rely on people. It is not a feeling. It is a knowing that Jesus is victorious and has sent His Holy Spirit to dwell within us forever. It is the confidence we have that the gates of heaven have been opened and that our dominion has been restored. It is the gift that Jesus has given us which we must treasure at all cost – His Holy Spirit. It is when we focus on God, focus on knowing God and seek to be in His Presence that we shall always have joy.
Centuries ago, before churches broke away from the Catholic church, today was considered the most quiet day of the year. As a Catholic, I continue this tradition and choose to listen to the voice within me as I contemplate Jesus’ body lying silently in the grave. I do this filled with joy. Are you filled with joy? We know that in spite of the silence, Jesus battled satan and shook the powers of the underworld to restore our joy. He did this with such frenzy that it caused an earthquake recorded in the annals of history by historians of the time. We cannot be like the disciples before the day of Pentecost, for we have the Holy Spirit within us, do we not?
Today is a solemn day but it is not a sad day. It is a day of expectation for we who have the hindsight to know what happened on the third day after Jesus was crucified. Waiting for Easter Sunday reminds me of what Saint Paul said in Romans 8:19 “All creation is eagerly expecting the birth in glory of the children of God.” I had been reborn in Christ 2020 years ago. Today all creation awaits my re-commitment to be under His Lordship and be energized by His Resurrection power. His victory over death has been made manifest and in His power, my victory over sin and all that separates me from manifesting the joy of the Lord shall be effected.
Today, we are quarantined in our homes, but do we have the presence of the Lord keeping us company? Do we have this silent confidence in God that our dear Mother Mary had; she who was filled with grace and the Holy Spirit? Do we find ourselves praising Him in every situation to glorify Him? John 15:9-11 urges us to heed the words of He who has given us access to heaven and redeemed us: “You will remain in my love if you keep my commandments…I have told you all this that my own JOY may be in you and your JOY may be complete.” Remaining in God’s love is remaining in His presence. You cannot have the fullness of joy, if God’s joy, through the Holy Spirit is not in you. All you will have would be feelings of fleeting happiness dependent on external circumstances.
So today on this most solemn day of the year, as we have repented and died with Christ on Good Friday yesterday, join me in basking in the joy of the Lord. We are in times of uncertainty with the current pandemic ravaging worldwide, but we are called to be joyous nevertheless. Jesus has overcome satan and all his wiles, which is the victory over death that we contemplate today. There are several circumstances which may cause us to be unhappy but remember that Jesus’ Presence is always within us. Jesus is ever eager to make us overflow with joy if we could only submit our Will to His Kingship and practice His Presence more than ever. Isn’t today a good day to start? Thank you Lord Jesus for your victory over death.
Thank you Lord Jesus for your victory over death. Heavenly Father, we come to You in earnest, seeking your Holy Presence in our lives. Fill us with your Spirit and cause Your unspeakable joy to overflow from within us. In Jesus name we pray. Amen