The Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer serves as pastor of First Congregational Church of Woodstock. She is a Racial Justice Ministry facilitator and a member of the CTUCC Board of Directors.
Scripture: John 15:11
“I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”
I can think of a whole lot of reasons not to feel joyful.
The death of loved ones… depression and addiction… shrinking membership in our churches… ecological disasters… racism and misogyny and homophobia… the ongoing refugee crisis… the threat of nuclear war…
I’m sure you could add another ten things to that list without even trying. There are, it turns out, a whole lot of reasons not to feel joyful.
But the thing is, this is not a new phenomenon. This moment in which we live is not the first time that humans have found ways to be awful to one another. This is not the first time that bad things have happened to good people. This was as true in the time of Jesus as it is today.
The gospel reading for this week comes from Jesus’ “farewell discourse,” which takes place on the night of the Last Supper—a night of betrayal and desertion, a night of agonized prayer and unjust conviction, a night that was marked by fear and pain and horror.
And yet, Jesus told his friends, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”
What would it mean to have complete joy, even in the face of unrelenting bad news?
What would it feel like to tap into the endless supply of joy Jesus offers, to drink from his well of hope and grace, in spite of the fear and cruelty that seem to be all around?
I don’t mean a pollyannaish joy that ignores suffering, that denies injustice, that shuts its eyes and covers its ears and sings LA-LA-LA-LA-LA at the top of its voice to drown out what it doesn’t want to know.
I mean a joy that is rooted more deeply than our personal or global circumstances. I mean a joy that comes from the bedrock conviction of God’s love. I mean a joy that springs from the Easter promise that hate, fear, sin, and death do not get the last word. That even when it seems like everything is going up in flames, God’s resurrection life is rising like a phoenix from the ashes. That even when it seems like all is lost, you—and I—are being found.
Holy One, when I am filled with fear, with pain, with despair, plant the seed of your joy in my heart. Let it take root; let it grow; let it blossom. And let it bear fruit in my life and in your world. Amen.
New Prayer Requests:We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prayers of Intercession:
- for the people in Syria where fighting has escalated leading more deaths.
- for the hundred of migrants in Mexico who wait near the U.S. border for asylum.
- for the family of Janet Silver, wife of retired UCC pastor Rev. Jim Silver. Janet died on April 27.
Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:
- for the Federated Youth of New Haven, North Haven, and Hamden who collected and distributed clothing to over 200 homeless people in Boston this weekend.
- for the North Guilford Congregational Church, UCC, who voted to become an Open & Affirming Church on Sunday, April 29.
Please Remember These Connecticut Conference Churches
In Your Prayers:
Middlebury Congregational Church UCC
Middlefield Federated Church
First Church in Middletown, UCC
South Congregational Church, UCC
First United Church of Christ
This Week in History:
May 4, 1970 (48 years ago) National Guard troops fired weapons at anti-war demonstrators on the campus of Kent State University, killing 4 students and injuring 9 others. The troops had been called to the campus to suppress riots in protest of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Four years later, a federal criminal investigation ended with all charges dropped against the 8 guardsmen involved in the shooting.
The Rev. Jocelyn Gardner Spencer is the President of the Southern New England Conference and the Senior Minister of United Church on the Green, New Haven CT.