I think everyone needs Summer. Everyone needs to sit outside on the back porch and go inside only after darkness falls and the mosquitoes come out—or even better—when the pillow beckons more loudly than crickets and cicadas. Lemonade and home grown tomatoes, cucumbers and onions, a cold beer with the smell of freshly mowed grass filling the air—these things enrich life, especially when too much of our daily existence is front of LCD screens and being bathed in florescent lighting and freon-ified chilled and recirculated air. We all love our shows and movie spectacles, our social networks and computer games, but those “loves” are so vapid and ephemeral to the deeper joy of a supper shared outside while the kids are cackling with delight in the backyard.
It’s Summer time and living is easy. It’s lake living and it’s good. It takes work to live like this, though. It’s easier to hide inside with the screens. Or even to venture outside with phone or tablet in our hands and stare at the screens out there. It takes some effort to pack for the lake, to bring the meal outside, to fight the bugs and the heat, but even for the “indoor people” it’s a deeper joy when you commit to it. It’s a deeper joy, but it is enriching. It’s worth it.
So I get it. I get how easy it is for a lot of people to say, “I worship God outside. Golfing. At the lake.” I get it. They are experiencing a Joy that doesn’t exist at work or inside or at home and they like it. They recognize that something different and natural is happening. Something that connects them with the Creator. The Psalmist writes, “ The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psa. 19:1 ESV).
We Christians recognize a Joy even deeper than this, however. It is the Joy of Communion—fellowship, one-ness with God that He gives us through the mystical waters of baptism. The Divine presence and Joy when the ancient words are spoken again and again, ever unfolding, ever deeper with peace, and the ordinary bread and the drops of wine are life and Joy beyond Joy.
This is work to see this. It takes patience and faith. It takes trust to know that there is Joy here even if we don’t feel it yet. We can attend Church for years and be somehow hardened to it. We can go for months and only catch a glimpse here or there. And sometimes we forget that it exists. Sometimes it is dull routine and we think “What’s the point?” Maybe going-to-church was a phase. Maybe it’s just boring or frustrating.
But this happens to the golfer too. And the boater. And the otherwise “inside guy” who loves the early days of Summer. Boats break down, sunburns hurt, the nasty slice returns and mosquitoes and heat drive us inside. The Joy we feel comes and goes.
It comes and goes. This is the hard truth. Joy comes and goes and the harder you hang onto it, the more elusive it seems. Our emotions, our capacity for joy, our feelings are gifts of God, and yet God would have us to be more than just a bundle a feelings. And God calls us to more deeply drink of Him and His Spirit, to become more than we are today, and to enter more deeply into His Joy. This is how Jesus characterizes the Kingdom of God. Not in clouds or harps, not in passive pleasure or relaxation, but Joy. “ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ (Matthew 25:23 ESV).
So we pursue the Joy of our Master. We find hints and tastes and samplings of this in all Creation, in all the gifts God gives of hearth and home and sun and shade, of food and family and water and trees. Even more fully in the deeper and more lasting peace and joy of His Word attached and made manifest in Baptism and Eucharist, but even this is not the end, not the completion, not the goal. For even these blessed sacraments and sacramental worship is but a foretaste of the feast to come—the eternal feast, the Joy that we will not experience, but enter.