Archbishop of Canterbury: Joy is still possible in a world of injustice

Authentic happiness does not take away from the reality of threat or the risk of suffering, but can be experienced in spite of these because of Christ’s resurrection, the Archbishop of Canterbury said today.

Delivering his Easter sermon at Canterbury Cathedral, Dr Rowan Williams affirmed that it was possible to experience joy and happiness in spite of difficult circumstances.

He pointed to the examples of Christians who remain faithful despite facing threats and attacks in Pakistan and northern Nigeria.

"[Authentic happiness] doesn’t take away the reality of threat or risk or suffering; it’s just there.

"This is one of the hardest things to get hold of here. How can I feel ‘happy’ in a world so full of atrocity and injustice?

"How can I know joy when I’m aware of my own failure, my own shabbiness, my own depression?

"There are no answers in theory because this isn’t a matter of theory."

Joy, he maintained, was "not feeling cheerful" or simply pretending that things are not so bad after all.

"And it’s a grim reproach that that’s all too often what people half-expect from Christians, a glib and dishonest cheerfulness,” he said.

While he welcomed the Government’s recent announcement that it was going to start taking wellbeing as seriously as the nation’s GDP, he warned that there was no “programme” for happiness.

“It’s a perfectly good idea to test and tabulate the ways people measure their own happiness – but beware of thinking that it will yield a foolproof method for being happy.”

Mankind, he said, could never find fulfilment “in just loving ourselves”. True joy, he said, was more than just a feeling or a "self-conscious determination to put a brave face on things", and depended instead "on something quite other than our efforts and our will power”.

“What we can contribute by our will or effort is not a system for making ourselves happy but a habit of readiness to receive,” he explained.

Pointing to the disciples who did not expect the empty tomb, the Archbishop suggested that Christians learn to disregard their own expectations.

“One of the things that makes [the resurrection story] so believable is the just that sense of unexpectedness – the disciples don’t come to the empty tomb and say, ‘well, there you are, just like he said.’

“They arrive never having really believed that their Lord would return from death, and now they find themselves in a disturbing new world where anything is possible.

“[The disciples] have been jolted out of the rut of what is usual and predictable – and joy springs on them without warning.”

“And joy arrives, irresistibly. The world is even more dangerous and strange than before, the future is not quite unimaginable, but there is nothing that can alter the sheer effect of that presence.”

The Archbishop urged Christians to develop a “habit of readiness to receive” and not let their mind be cluttered with the “anxiety, self-absorbed worry or resentment” that could rob them of moments of “gift and surprise”.

“For many of us, like the disciples at Easter, it takes something of a shock to open us up to joy, some experience that pushes its way through the inward clutter by sheer force and novelty,” he said.

“Perhaps part of the message of Easter is very simply: be ready to be surprised. Try clearing out some of the anxiety and vanity and resentment so as to allow the possibility of a new world to find room in you.”

The Christian, the Archbishop said, was not someone who had accepted a particular set of theories about the universe but someone who “lived by the power of the joy that is laid bare in the event of the resurrection of Jesus”.

“Ultimately, joy is about discovering that the world is more than you ever suspected, and so that you yourself are more than you suspected.

“The joy of the resurrection has a unique place in Christian faith and imagination because this event breaks open the shell of the world we thought we knew and projects us into the new and mysterious realm in which victorious mercy and inexhaustible love make the rules.

“And because it is the revelation of something utterly basic about reality itself, it is a joy that cannot just be at the mercy of passing feelings.

“To be baptised ‘into’ Christ is to be given a lasting connection with joy, a channel through which the basic sense of being where we ought to be can always come through, however much we choke it up with selfishness and worry.”

He concluded by saying that although Christian joy could not guarantee a permanently happy society in the sense of a society free from tension, pain or disappointment, it could nonetheless affirm that whatever happens in the world, love and reconciliation are still “ceaselessly at work”.

“And on the first Easter morning, it is as if ‘the foundations of the great deep’ are broken open, and we are allowed to see, like Peter and John at the empty tomb, into the darkness for a moment – and find our world turned upside down, joy made possible.”

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