From time to time, I hear some very interesting ideas about what church and the Christian life should be like. ‘I don’t come to church to enjoy myself’ someone once said to me; ‘I don’t expect to be comfortable’ said another and lastly ‘Christians aren’t supposed to be happy’.
Now perhaps these comments reflect the truth that living the kind of life that Jesus called us to has challenges; Christians are not exempt from hard times and struggles, indeed a number of our church family have had to deal with desperately difficult things in recent weeks, and Jesus certainly models a life of sacrifice and service which can also be challenging. But perhaps those comments also reflect a kind of religious understanding that is not a true reflection of Jesus’ life, or the life he calls us to. He says to his disciples that he has come that we might have life and have it to the full, or in abundance.
I remember as a young Christian reading a book of reflections that a minister had given me, and one was entitled ‘do you ever imagine Jesus laughing?’ And I never had. It went on to ask us to imagine the little boy Jesus with his infectious giggles, or the young man Jesus with his friends, laughing at something, or Jesus at the wedding in Cana sharing a laugh with his disciples. Now of course we do not have specific records of these events, but we do see a Jesus in the gospels who is totally and completely human and therefore would have laughed as well as cried, sighed, wondered, dreamt, smiled and frowned.
Christianity is a call to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, to allow God to transform us that we may become more like him. It is tempting to think that means more godly, and less human, but Jesus was fully human, and right at the beginning of the Bible it says that humans are made in the image of God, so perhaps our transformation before God is into fuller, better, more whole human beings, the people that God made us to be. And that encompasses our trials and struggles but also our joys and our fun. Paul’s letter to the Roman church reminds us that we are to rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn.
I hope that our churches are places that offer a place where both our tears and our smiles are welcome: space to grieve and mourn but also space to laugh and celebrate, people with whom to do this and the chance to discover God with us, always with us, whatever we find ourselves going through. Only last month we celebrated Christmas and that eternal truth of the infant Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. God with us, in good times, in times of joy and happiness – but also God with us in the mess, when life is hard and challenging.
I already mentioned Jesus at the wedding in Cana, perhaps laughing in celebration and joy with his friends. This story, found in John Chapter 2, is a wonderful tale of the Jesus who is full of life, the Jesus of abundance and plenty. It describes him transforming water into wine, taking ordinary water and changing it into the finest wine – lots of it, several hundred litres! What a man to have at a wedding! Whether you believe that this story is true or not, the writer of the gospel describes it as a sign, and signs point us to things, or show us things. This shows a God, seen in Jesus, who is full of grace and love and generosity and abundance and when he calls us to follow him, that is the life he calls us in to.
As we begin a new year together, we have no idea what the coming months will bring. However, the truth of that first Christmas is a truth for life today – that whatever does happen, God will be there, and that in him there is space for mourning or weeping, but also in him is found joy and fullness of life.
Rev Rachel Rosborough