From Rev. Tony Hutchinson of Trinity, Ashland.
We open our worship, whether Daily Prayer or Holy Eucharist, usually with some kind of recited Song of Praise. This time of year (the Great Fifty Days of Easter) we sing the multi-alleluia’d Pascha Nostrum (“Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us, therefore let us keep the feast”). In Holy Eucharist, it replaces the usual Gloria “Glory to God in the Highest and Peace to God’s people on earth.” In Morning Prayer it replaces the Invitatory Psalm. During most of the year this is either the Venite (“Come let us sing to the Lord, let us shout for joy to the rock of our salvation”) or the Jubilate (“Be joyful in the Lord all you lands. Serve the Lord with gladness and come before his presence with a song”). Note here that a call to joy is present in all these opening rites.
During penitential seasons like Lent, we open with something more austere, like the Kyrie Pantocrator, whose most moving line is “I have sinned O Lord, I have sinned, and I know my wickedness only too well!” But even this confessing invitatory begins with a subdued acknowledgment of grounds for joy: “O Ruler of the Universe, Lord God, great deeds are they that you have done, surpassing human understanding. Your ways are ways of righteousness and truth, O King of all the ages.”
Why all the joy? On bad days when I am getting off to a slow and little depressed start of the day, sometimes I feel like Ren, the ill-used and set-upon cartoon chihuahua, fitted out against his will with an electronic joy-inducing Happy Helmet by his well meaning but ultimately clueless pal, Stimpy the cat. With the helmet activated, a forced smile is pulled onto his face, he begins robot-like dancing, and begins singing in a forced fashion “Happy, happy, joy, joy!” But the striking thing is this: singing a joyful invitation to prayer each day does in fact change how I feel, and I regularly find myself recharged and peaceful, if not outright happy, by the end of the prayers.
As we live as resurrection people, we must live in joy. And reminding ourselves each day in prayer of the joy that comes from our faith and experience of God is a key practice in maintaining joy as the default position of the Christian heart.
In the diocesan clergy conference in Silverton this week, we heard Sr. Simone Campbell (of “A Nun on the Bus” fame) tell us ways to cultivate the prophetic imagination in us and our communities and live as burning bushes in the desert of modern life, ever burning and shedding light, but never being consumed. She said that when in difficulty and challenge, we must focus on mission. She noted several habits of the heart we need in order to be sustainable and lasting witnesses to the gospel. Among these were: Practice holy curiosity (ask, and listen, and find out the unknown); Engage in sacred gossip (tell the stories of our faith and of the faith of others); Do your part (and not anyone else’s) in addressing the problems. But first among these was this: Practice joy. Our witness to the mercy and justice that Jesus calls us to cannot be heard or attract unless it is rooted always in the joy and peace of the Resurrected Lord.
That’s why the Jubilate is not some evil Happy Helmet. It is an affirmation of our most basic state, a reconnection with what feeds us and sustains us and gives us the will and power to do what Jesus wants us to do.
Joy to you all.