I have been thinking a little about Lent.
I looked it up in Merriam-Webster:
Lent comes from the Middle English word lente, meaning “springtime,” which is itself descended from the Old English lencten. Lenten remains a word in modern English, though little used, and has the meanings of “of or relating to Lent,” “suitable to Lent (meager),” and “meatless” (a lenten pie is a meatless pie).
The 40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday to Easter observed by the Roman Catholic, Eastern, and some Protestant churches as a period of penitence and fasting.
Then I went to the United Methodist Church:
Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word lencten, which means “spring.” The forty days represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry.
Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection. In the early church, Lent was a time to prepare new converts for baptism. Today, Christians focus on their relationship with God, often choosing to give up something or to volunteer and give of themselves for others.
Sundays in Lent are not counted in the forty days because each Sunday represents a “mini-Easter” and the reverent spirit of Lent is tempered with joyful anticipation of the Resurrection.
The UMC also states:
The first day of Lent. It marks the beginning of a period of reflection and penance. In the Bible, sprinkling oneself with ashes was traditionally a sign of one’s sorrow for having committed sins. In the Christian tradition, Ash Wednesday also marked the beginning of preparation for the understanding of the death and resurrection of Christ. The particular symbolism of ashes for this day comes from a practice in the Roman Catholic churches in which the ashes from the palms used in the preceding year’s Palm Sunday celebration are blessed. With these ashes, the priest on the first day of Lent marks a cross on the forehead of each worshiper. This practice has become a part of Ash Wednesday services in many United Methodist churches.
Why am I telling you this?
Because, I am a Christian, a United Methodist, and I just got out of a lenten service.
This service included the confession:
Indeed, I have been wicked from birth, a sinner from my mother’s womb.
Pretty deep stuff.
But the good news is in the following lines from the liturgy:
In the name of Christ you are forgiven!
And we are charged:
Go forth into the the world in the strength of God’s mercy to live and serve in newness of life.
We are sent in Christ’s name.
Wow! Lots of deep stuff there. We are steeped in sin from birth; but praise be to God, through the act of Christ on the cross, all those who accept Christ are forgiven.
On my drive home after this service, I started thinking about the joy of serving Christ for we are called “to serve in the newness of life” and we are “sent in Christ’s name”. Whenever I think of serving Christ, I think of joy because the two seem to go together. That lead me to thinking of Joy in general. Another thought popped into my head, I wondered, “Can non-Christians experience joy?” Which immediately lead me to think of “What is joy?”.
The answer came immediately: Joy is a fruit of the Spirit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
So, joy, is a mystical thing. It is not something that we can describe simply in worldly terms. Joy is not happiness. Happiness is an emotion. Joy is more than an emotion. Joy is like love. It is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit within us. It is a decision and a choice made with the mind and the heart. The devil tells people that happiness is joy and they should be satisfied in their life if they find happiness. But, there is so much more to joy than happiness.
Happiness is the worlds approximation of joy. Just as eros is the worlds approximation of the love of the Lord, agape. The love a parent for a child is perhaps the best worldly approximation of the love God has for us; but, that is still not the agape love of God. When someone says, “I love you with the love of the Lord”, they are expressing an unconditional love. God does not say, “Clean up your act, then I will love you.” God loves you despite who you are. Indeed, God loved you so much, before you were born, that he sent His son to die for you. This is in stark contrast to other religions. The false gods say you must send your sons to die for them. Allah, demands your sons be sent to die in jihad. Moloch required sacrifice of your children in the fire. Only God the Father, sent Jesus the Son, to die for our sins. That is love.
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15: 13.
Joy comes from knowing Jesus, from feeling His presence while at the same time from knowing His love. Joy comes through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Joy does not come from the world. We are called to love God with our mind and our heart; because, that is how God loves us. He chooses to love us no matter how unlovely we are. We are blessed when our heart and our mind is mysteriously united by the Holy Spirit; for, joy is from the mind and the heart simultaneously feeling and knowing the presence of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit.
We both know and feel joy. We only feel happiness. We both know and fell agape. We only feel eros. So joy and the form of love we call agape are not just a feeling nor just a matter of thought. Agape, is love tempered by the mind. Joy is happiness tempered by understanding. But, without the presence of the Holy Spirit, our hearts and minds cannot experience the union of emotion and intellect required for the experience of joy and love.
We see the devil at work when we see people confuse eros with love and happiness with joy.
It seems that the answer to my question, “Can non-Christians experience joy?”, is no. Non-Christians are not indwelled by the Holy Spirit, therefore they cannot have the Fruit of the Spirit. Furthermore, they lack the mystical connection that the Holy Spirit provides between mind and heart that allows us to experience joy. So my Christian brothers and sisters, be thankful for your salvation, be thankful for the Holy Spirit and his gift of joy and love. But most of all be thankful that your God loved you enough to die for you and be thankful for the miracle of Easter.