September 27, 2004
A Time to Rejoice
"A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn
and a time to dance" (Kohelet / Ecclesiastes 3:4).
If we were to survey everyone who either reads or
listens to this week's message, I am sure that we would
discover that people are going through all sorts of
life experiences. Some are having the time of their
lives, while others are greatly burdened with grief.
Maybe you have just lost a loved one, while others have
just recently experienced the joy of a broken
relationship restored. The news is filled daily with
stories of loss and destruction from devastating storms
and terrorist activities. You may have personally been
affected by some of these things. Yet others are
oblivious to it all due to a turn of events that might
be their greatest dream come true.
Most people's mental and emotional state is greatly
influenced if not controlled by their circumstances.
When things are going well, they are on top of the
world, but in the face of adversity, they are fit to be
tied. This is normal. It is not for me to confront
someone who is going through difficulties and glibly
exhort them with "don't worry, be happy."
At the same time our lives are rarely composed of just
one thing. I know both the good and the bad can be
overwhelming to the point that it can seem that way,
but most of the time, life is far more complex than
This week begins the Jewish Festival of Sukkot
(English: Tabernacles or Booths, beginning Wednesday
evening, September 29 this year). Sukkot is the
culmination of a series of holy days, beginning with
Rosh Hashanah (English: New Year) and Yom Kippur
(English: Day of Atonement). These first two holidays
are highly reflective and at times quite somber. They
give us the opportunity to take stock of our lives,
both individually and corporately and seek to re-align
them with God and his ways. Five days after Yom Kippur
the week-long celebration of Sukkot begins. It is a
time to thank God for his care and provision.
Sukkot is part of the regular schedule of Jewish life
as proscribed by God. It is not based on personal
preferences or the quality of our circumstances. It is
a time to give thanks and rejoice whatever frame of
mind we are in or whatever is our current state of
Sukkot reminds us that whatever is going on in our
lives, there is always a reason to give thanks. No
matter how much grief we must endure or terrible our
lives might be, if we would stop and think about it,
there are things to thank God for.
Each major Jewish festival has a small book from the
Bible associated with it. For Sukkot it is "Kohelet,"
which in English is entitled, "Ecclesiastes." Kohelet
is a short philosophical treatise on the meaning of
life. It is here that we find the famous words, part of
which I quoted at the beginning, stating that there is
a time for this and a time for that. Certainly our life
experiences tell us that there is a time for sorrow and
a time for joy. Sukkot reminds us that we should not
allow our current situations to determine those times.
Choosing to give thanks or to rejoice even when I don't
feel like it, doesn't mean that I am denying my true
feelings. If things are going very well for me, I can
still choose to grieve over someone else's loss. Many
people earlier this month took the time to remember the
loss of the people who died in the September 11
tragedy. Some of those people I am sure were enjoying
their honeymoon, or just received a clean bill of
health after a long bout of cancer, or were happily
welcoming their first child into the world. Yet they
were still able to take the time to stop and grieve.
In the same way, though of course more difficult
emotionally, we can also take the time to rejoice
whatever else is going on with us. There is no need to
pretend that our difficulties are good and wonderful
when they are not. Yet we need to acknowledge that even
in the midst of bad situations, God is still good and
is worthy of our thanks.