During the Season of Lent, our weekly devotional will feature a personal spiritual discipline for you to try engaging. This week’s discipline is Celebration

Celebration is a strange topic to bring up today of all days. Tonight, we will gather to read the story of the death of an innocent man at the hands of an unjust state – hardly the sort of thing that inspires us to party. But there is a reason Celebration qualifies as a spiritual discipline. We are called to celebrate even when all around us looks grim. Because even on the night that Jesus was betrayed, beaten, and executed, the world was just days away from God’s greatest promise being fulfilled.

Paul, a follower of Jesus, while imprisoned, said “rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again; Rejoice!” Centuries later, from another place of imprisonment, Dr. Martin Luther King wrote “There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed.” Even during the worst of times, we have reason to rejoice, because the promises of God will not fail us.

Let me be clear – I am not saying Christians have some spiritual duty to always be happy, or never acknowledge the sadness, anger, pain, and doubt we experience. We can and we should do so. It’s healthy for us both mentally and spiritually. Instead of reading this as a mandate to smile and be cheerful at all times, think about it this way: Celebration is like love.

Love is not something that simply goes away when we have problems. It is also not a magic defense against having problems. The people we love will upset us, annoy us, neglect us, smother us, and so much more besides. It takes constant work to maintain healthy relationships with people, no matter how much we love them. Sometimes, the amount of work itself is so exhausting, we’re not sure it’s really worth it to love them. Yet through it all, our love remains, and it’s the reason we go through everything else.

That’s how the discipline of celebration – of rejoicing in the Lord always – works. Life is full of hardship, trouble, and sorrow. As we face the day, we often don’t feel like smiling, laughing, or throwing a party.  Underneath all the troubles of life, however, the promises and faithfulness of God remain, and the joy of those promises is able to sustain us through the worst life has to offer, if we can continue to remind ourselves of – and celebrate – them.