It is a difficult thing, you know, to rejoice with those who rejoice. Perhaps for some, it is not; for me it is. To lay aside my own perspective and enter fully into the experience of another is a vulnerable thing, a frightening thing. And what if I am asked to celebrate a blessing bestowed upon another; one that is denied to me? What then? Can I rejoice without the sound of a sigh marring the melody every now and again? It is work, I tell you. Work.
I think most of us carry an excess, either of grief or joy, and the measure of each makes up the accents of the soul. We seek those whose heart language resonates with our own; we understand them and they understand us. There is no need for the persevering work of vulnerability.True, some undiscerning folks weep when they’ve been handed every ingredient of joy; and yes, heedless ones often rejoice who should rather fall prostrate in self-ruin. But for those who walk the shadowlands — that misty edge between joy and grief — laughter proves a bittersweet pang.
As long as I am only able to enter solely into one or the other, whether joy or sorrow, I have not lived out the Incarnation of Christ. Christ, who grieved with and for the hearts of Mary and Martha (John 15:32-35). Christ, who, fresh from the vision of a soldier’s unmatched faith, cast a compassionate eye upon the weeping widow (Luke 7:9-17). Jesus, whose convulsive cries passed over the heads and hearts of those who did not know enough to weep for themselves (Luke 19:41-44). This was His incarnate ministry here on earth, to take up the work of weeping, to become for us, “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).
But then, what of laughter? And what did joy look like as it spilled from the eyes of the Man of Sorrows? What is Messianic laughter? It must be a reality. Jesus made Himself a friend to children and the kindred heart of lovers. The One Who chided the disciples dandled the children. His recurrent imagery of weddings and feasts reveals the heart of the Bridegroom Who delights in the mere presence of His beloved.
What could make Messiah laugh anyway? I can guess at many things, but one thing I know for sure: Redemption. When God promised a child to Abraham and Sarah, He bade them call their child Isaac, meaning, “laughter.” Isaac, at whose birth they laughed — not because they had forgotten the noise of past suffering — but because God had redeemed it, blessed it, and laid it wriggling in their arms (Genesis 17:19; 21:3). And later, when they were called to lay their laughter upon the altar (Genesis 22:9), He would again redeem, and He would multiply their laughter throughout the ages (Genesis 22:18; Galatians 3:8). Only Redemption could inspire such joyful, glad mirth in the heavenlies (Luke 15:7). Only Redemption could inspire laughter in the hearts of earthly mourners.
Redemption means that life will not always be this way. It heralds a coming time when weeping will be heard no more, and it offers a balance to the present weight of grief and suffering. One day “sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” One day. But not yet. For now, weeping is but the interlude of an eternal composition whose finale is joy.
“There is a place called ‘heaven where the good here unfinished is completed; and where the stories unwritten and the hopes unfilled, are continued. We may laugh together yet…”**
**J. R. R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien and Humphrey Carpenter, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2000), page 55.