Practicing the Scales of Rejoicing

Practicing the Scales of Rejoicing

Homily for First Sunday in Lent

February 18, 2024

Practicing the Scales of Rejoicing

Homily for Sunday, February 18, 2024
The First Sunday in Lent
John 15-17 (Lord's Farewell Discourse)

In Jesus’ so-called “Farewell Discourse” in St. John’s Gospel, Jesus uses the word “joy” (“χαρὰ”) seven times. For example:  “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete”(15:11).   In that same Discourse, Jesus uses the word “peace” three times: “Peace I leave with you; my own peace I give to you,” Jesus said (14:27).  And then again after the Resurrection, Jesus uses the word “peace” three more times: “Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you’” (20:26).  By John’s use of the word “joy” seven times – the number seven signifying wholeness or completeness – and by his use of the word “peace” three times and then three more times – the number three likewise signifying perfection or completeness – John signifies that Christ’s passion and resurrection bring complete joy and perfect peace to those who are Jesus’ disciples. And I want to get back to the complete joy and perfect peace of the Resurrection, but first, one day in the Denver airport…

One day in the Denver airport a colleague of mine arrived for his flight to discover that his flight was delayed; and not just a little delayed, but seriously delayed – like he could be there for hours or might even need to come back the next day.  And not only was my colleague’s flight delayed, but – on account of major storms moving through other parts of the country – dozens of flights were delayed.  The airport soon filled with anxious and angry passengers.  My colleague said that there must have been a swing dance convention somewhere because shortly,in the midst of the increasing tension and anger, somebody produced a trumpet and someone else a sax and, gathering around a piano in an open space they began to play, and people began to dance. And he said soon, there were maybe eight or ten couples kicking it up, swinging and swirling and dancing with abandon in the middle of the airport.  My colleague said that though he, too, had been angry and frustrated, the music and dancing were so exuberant, so surprising and so joy-filled that he let go of his anger and found himself no longer anxious about when he might get home.

We don’t often associate Lent with joy.  We tend to associate Lent with (as we heard in Wednesday’s liturgy) [with] “self-examination and repentance,”and with “prayer, fasting and self-denial” (BCP, p 265).  But the purpose and aim of Lent (as we also heard in Wednesday’s liturgy) is to prepare ourselves “to observe with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection.”  And if John is right, our Lord’s passion and resurrection are occasions for joy and peace.  For it was just before his Passion that Jesus spoke of joy, seven times, expressing his desire that his joy might be in us and that our joy might be complete.   And it was likewise just before his Passion that Jesus spoke of peace, three times, leaving peace with and giving his own peace to the disciples.  Our Lord’s resurrection and his Passion, according to John, are occasions for joy and peace.  

“Disciples” are those who practice “discipline.”  The disciplines that we as disciples may take on for Lent are not about weighing us down and being a burden.  Rather, the purpose of our disciplines is to help us become less weighed down and more free to receive Jesus’ joy and peace.  The uncovering of sin that may occur when we practice self-examination, and bringing that sin forward for repentance may not feel good in the moment.   But Lent’s self-examination and repentance free us – at their best our disciplines free us – to be more available to receive the joy and peace of Jesus’ Passion and resurrection.

For those musicians and dancers whom my colleague saw in the Denver airport, joy did not just happen.  To play the trumpet well, or the sax or piano…. or to dance well and with seeming abandon, takes practice.  Those who are musicians or dancers know how many hours of practice is required to play or to dance with abandon!  So for us, if we wish to experience more fully the joy and peace of Christ’s Passion and resurrection, it helps to practice.  We can – to borrow from W.H. Auden –“practice the scales of rejoicing.”  

Lent, then, is about practicing the scales of rejoicing, or practicing the “arpeggios of peace,” as it were.  The purpose of our Lenten disciplines is not to burden us or to make us gloomy but rather to free us to more fully know the joy and peace – the complete joy and perfect peace – of Jesus’ Passion and resurrection.

I encourage us, then, as we may still be wondering about what discipline we might take on for Lent, to talk to Jesus.  Maybe tell Jesus of your desire to experience more joy in your life or to know more peace.  Maybe ask for his help to identify places in your life where you feel weighed down or stuck and would like to be free.  Maybe (if it seems right) ask him for forgiveness, or if you might have a felt, inner knowledge of the depth of his love for you.  It could be that this Lent Jesus is calling us to more fully be his disciple, to take on a discipline that will set us free so that, come Holy Week and Easter, we may know more of Jesus’ complete joy and more of his perfect peace.


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