JoyJoy: Meditations on the Joyful Heritage of Christianity
by Louis Evely

It’s easy to find a new book for Lent almost every year, but satisfying books for the Easter season don’t seem as plentiful. This book has been a favorite for many years now, and I still don’t seem to have worn it out. Every few years, I find myself picking it up again between Easter and Pentecost. Despite all the times I’ve read it before, it still has fresh insights to give.

As the author points out in the Introduction, “At Calvary, there were still a few of the faithful who remained, some women and one man. They were the poor representatives of our species. But at the time of the resurrection, no one was there, no one believed any longer, everyone had despaired. Jesus had to convert all of them one by one to the reality of his joy.”  In this little book, the author walks us through Seven Stations of Joy, as a sort of counterpoint to the Fourteen Stations of the Cross.

We begin with Mary Magdalene at the tomb, then we walk with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we share breakfast with Peter and Jesus on the seashore, we join Thomas in the locked room and Paul on the Damascus Road. We pause to understand the confidence of Mother Mary, and finally we climb the hill of the Ascension. At each Easter visit, we are asked to pause, reflect, and rediscover Joy in a world which seems to argue against it daily.

Mary Magdalene was the first to encounter this Joy. Yet at first glance, she failed to see it. She was looking for death and sorrow and mourning when she came to the tomb. Looking at Jesus, she saw only the gardener, and asked, “Where have you laid him?” He must recognize her first, calling her by name, before she can recognize him.

Yet she was not the first to fail to recognize him. Evely reminds us that “We always take God to be different from what he is. He began by living among us, putting all he was capable of into his prayer, his family, his work, his friendships, and this was the stupefying summation: that after thirty years, no one (not even his precursor) had noticed him.”

God is never only what we expect, as every encounter with him makes clear. He is always infinitely and delightfully better than we expect. We expect pomp, and discover humility. We expect severity, and discover mercy. We expect distance, and discover intimacy. We expect God to be our judge, and discover that he is our advocate. This contrast between the God we have imagined and the God we unexpectedly encounter is the author’s repeated theme, a constant joyful surprise.

The long section about the disciples at Emmaus particularly stayed with me this year. They did not recognize him, either. Yet they invited this seeming stranger to stay and eat supper with them. And this was an important step. We may feel as though we are groping in the dark, searching for God’s hand and not feeling it. I know I ought to see God in every encounter with every person I meet, and yet I struggle and see nothing of the sort. Here was encouragement for me. If I behave as though I do see him, that’s enough.

As Evely points out, there are many of us who will ask God, “When did we ever see you hungry and feed you? That is, we know we should have seen you, God, so we kept trying to, but we failed. We only saw hungry people, but we never saw you.” We must remember God’s reassuring reply, “It doesn’t matter. When you fed that hungry person, you were feeding me, whether or not you were able to recognize me.” These two who asked Jesus to stay for supper at Emmaus had the pleasure of his company, one way or another. They enjoyed that company even before knowing exactly whose company it was. It was only after they had welcomed the stranger and recognized the friend in him that they suddenly became able to recognize Jesus in him.

This is the thought which struck me most deeply and stayed with me the most strongly with this year’s reading. The quotations that have followed me around this spring season are all about this insight.

  • They  were able to recognize with their eyes the one whom they had already recognized in their hearts. 
  • You will find him waiting for you in each of those to whom you bring him.
  • This, then, is our choice: either to complain of not meeting him anywhere, or to rejoice in meeting him at every turn.
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