From the beginning, what happens in the garden, early in the morning on the first Easter day, has been associated with joy.

St Luke only records two resurrection appearances and joy is characteristic of both. At the end of his gospel we read that ‘they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy’.

The joy of the disciples recorded in St Luke’s gospel went on to become the hallmark of the Christian life when the Holy Spirit fell on the disciples. Joy is a fruit of the spirit listed by Paul, and unlike the other ones – love, peace, forbearance etc which require an effort of will, even If it is spirit-filled, joy is different. You can’t work at being joyful, it’s a gift, it’s sheer grace.

How can we possibly be filled with joy in the face of some of the terrible things that life throws at us? Joy certainly can’t be the only thing we experience as Christians. It’s no accident that the joy of the disciples came after the desolation of the passion. That teaches us that death and resurrection are the pattern of things as we understand them as Christians. Joy and sorrow are bound to be mingled in our life.

As William Blake wrote memorably:

“Man was made for joy and woe

Then when this we rightly know

Through the world we safely go.

Joy and woe are woven fine

A clothing for the soul divine.

Under every grief & pine

Runs a joy with silken twine.”

Joy and woe have been much on my mind since my wife Denise died on Easter day, three years ago, leaving me and my two daughters, then aged 8 and 14, bereft. Since her death, sorrow has often prevailed, but joy has crept up on me unawares, as it can do, even in times of desperate sadness.

It did so especially when my 17 year old daughter gave birth to her daughter last year. It wasn’t what she’d planned or I’d expected. But Lily, now aged one, has brought untold joy and laughter in the midst of sadness. It is indeed true that ‘under every grief and pine runs a joy with silken twine’.

Flashes of joy are intimations of the profound truth, that though joy and woe are woven fine in this world, it will not be so in God’s future. The Christian hope, the resurrection hope, tells us that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus, our Lord. Love will prevail. God will prevail, joy will prevail.

Happy Easter!