We can cultivate joy. We can learn joy. We can choose joy—in fact you have to, it won’t come naturally. But there is no shortcut to joy. There are no five steps that will get you there. We simply have to realise that nothing we have is worth anything all that much when viewed eternally, that the Kingdom is glorious beyond all wonder, that we have no right to be there, but that we are loved and wanted and known by the God who has committed to getting us there.
We live in the Between, this now and not yet time stretched by our waiting for the Kingdom to come on the one hand and by its grand arrival in the ascension of Christ on the other. Our eschatology is firmed realised, present and not yet present. The Kingdom is here, the Kingdom is not yet here. We live in the Twixt, the time between the times.
That’s who we are, a Holy Saturday people.
To live in the Between is to grieve. To be a Christian is to carry great grief about the world. Every Sunday we grieve. To live in the Between is to be surprised by joy as it appears, fleeting and fulsome, casting forwards to a day after this day, to a living land. Our longing for another land is the ground of our joy, that’s where it starts. Every Sunday we delight in God.
We are constantly looking at what is ahead of us with anticipatory joy, and we are constantly grieving that while the Enemy has been cast from the heavens he has yet to be hurled into the lake of fire. We are always longing for the feast to come and grieving the state of our lives as we wait for the clock to strike dinnertime.
This is the Christian life. It is a naïve escape from reality to think otherwise. We are pulled between the poles of longing and lament. As we sit in the tension—and it is like being pulled taught between two poles—we learn that thanksgiving is what keeps the proverbial elastic band from either snapping or slackening from the strain.
It’s ok to feel the tension. It’s ok to notice that we’ve let one of our ‘ropes’ grow slack, our next step is to consciously lament or consciously rejoice as we embrace the life of the Between.
You’ll find some disagree. Even back in the apostolic period we find some strange ideas floating about. The Shepherd of Hermas, one of the books belovéd by the early church that they didn’t add to the canon of Scripture (because, if there’s doubt here, it was demonstrably not the word of God) suggests that cheerful people do good things, and grieving people “always do evil.”
Hermas also asserts that “the intercession of grieving people never has the power to ascend to … God.” This is the sort of argument that we should honestly laugh at: it’s such a saddeningly small view of the human life and it misses the contours of the story of scripture.