What would make you shout for joy at the top of your voice? I shouted for joy recently. I was at a retreat with fellow clergy a few weeks back and not only were the Blue Jays in the post-season for the first time since I was 9 years old but it was game five of a five-game series. They had lost the first two games and it looked like the dream was dead. Then they won the third game. And then the forth. And then in the fifth game we experienced what was probably the wildest 7th inning in the history of baseball. After multiple errors that allowed the Jays to take ground Jose Bautista stepped up to bat with two runners on base and hit one out of the park. Bat-flip. The room of a dozen or so clergy exploded! We shouted for joy, all of us, and literally ran around the room high-fiving and hugging one another.
That sense of joy was caught up in a sense of gratitude, of thankfulness, for witnessing together what was an historic moment for Toronto sports fans. I even got a text from my wife, who is no sports fan, saying that she was almost in tears! It sounds a bit silly, I know, but I think that anyone who was in the SkyDome that evening or watching on television had a sense of the giftedness of that moment. This was a moment that didn’t have to be. In fact, that looked like it wouldn’t be. And so the elation, the joy, was caught up in a moment of gratitude.
In many ways gratitude, and thus joy, are inseparable from life in Christ.
Pope Francis recently remarked that in spite of the joy of the gospel many Christians leave church looking as if they have come from a funeral! And we have all met, I’m sure, brothers and sisters in Christ who can be downright miserable—complaining, gossiping, angry, resentful, or maybe just coming off like a wet-blanket. In fact, if we’re honest with ourselves, we know that this is a temptation for all of us. That is, to think we have nothing much to be joyful about.
In our gospel reading today we witness the healing of ten lepers one of whom, when he realizes that he has been healed, turns back and shouts for joy! He then throws himself at the feet of Jesus and thanks him. In a world like ours—a world where we tend to take things for granted and people often walk around with a sense of entitlement, a world marked by wars and rumours of wars, by violence and the threat of scarcity—what is more surprising here, that the nine were ungrateful or that the one was grateful?
In a world like this one, a life of gratitude and joy, rooted in the peace and abundance of God, is a peculiar occurrence. It is a sign, a witness.
I wonder if this isn’t part of the appeal of Pope Francis whom I mentioned moments ago? Here is a man who is clearly being transformed by the joy of the gospel, a joy that I suspect comes from a life of thankfulness to God in Christ. A life of indebtedness, knowing full-well that all things come from God.
In his letter to the Ephesians the Apostle Paul writes that we ought to give thanks to God “always and for everything,” (5:20). If we have any Christian faith at all, we know in our heads that our God is the giver of all things: every mouthful of food, every breath of air, every smile on the face of a friend, a child, a spouse, every note of music we hear—all of this, and so much more, everything that is at all, are good gifts from God. The world didn’t need to be this way, it didn’t need to be at all. It is gratuitous, it is gift, it is grace—all the way down.
“Get up…your faith has made you well.” The word for “get up” is one that early Christians would have known had to do with “resurrection”. This man was dead and is alive again. New life had arrived in his village that day and it had called out of him a faith he did not know he had (Wright). We see here, again, the relation between faith, healing, gratitude, and joy. Christian faith is not just any old belief, but the belief that the living God is at work in and through Jesus, and a deep trust in this here and now. That Christ has raised us up, with himself, to new life and we are being healed, made whole. May we never lose sight of this mystery and may it generate in us an ever increasing rhythm of gratitude and joy. For this is simply what being a Christian, whether in the first or the twenty-first century, is all about. Amen.