The word for today is “cheerful.” At this challenging time, many people are frustrated and depressed. Yet even amidst this pervasive dreariness of heart, there are some who raise our spirits. These persons are bright lights in the darkness. Of them, the wise sage of Proverbs writes in today’s readings of Proverbs 17:17-18:5, “A merry heart does good, like medicine” (NKJV vs. 17:22). Today we learn that we, the faithful, are called to “lift up our hearts” so that our cheerfulness can be medicine for others in a gloomy world.
Nowadays, the word “merry” is associated with Christmas and its festivities. However, the word in the Hebrew Bible means to be glad, joyful, and rejoicing (Strong’s Hebrew #8056, 284). On the other hand, the Septuagint (LXX) uses a Greek word that suggests a good frame of mind. Thus, the Greek term for “merry” means to make glad (Strong’s #2165, 107).
It’s Hard to be Merry
At times, feelings of loneliness, isolation, boredom, and frustration may bury our zest in life. The sage graphically describes this sense of a vague sadness: “A broken spirit dries the bones” (NKJV vs. 17:22). The Hebrew term for broken refers to a spirit that is afflicted or wounded (Strong’s Hebrew #5218, 187). The Psalmist puts this condition well when he writes, “Why art Thou cast down, O my soul? ( NKJV Psalm 43:5).
The Invitation to Lift Up Our Hearts
The image of being bowed down to the ground suggests what the downcast need. They need to be “lifted up,” as we are in the Divine Liturgy. As we begin the “Anaphora,” (“Eucharistic Prayer”), the priest announces, “Let us lift up our hearts.” This is an important invitation to all to raise their spirits from the cares of this earthly life to the joys of heaven.
The Holy Mystery (sacrament) is meant to be celebrated with such an uplifted attitude, for it is the “Eucharist,” the “Great Thanksgiving,” the high point of our worship of the Holy Trinity. As Fr. Alexander Schmemann wrote, the Eucharist “is the lifting up of the Church to heaven, to the throne of glory, to the unfading light and joy of the Kingdom of God” (Schmemann 1987, 165).
We may come to the sacrament exhausted, frustrated, and downcast. Our spirits may seem as dry as the desert at noon. But though we may be downcast, we join the faithful in participating in the Lord’s offering of Himself for our salvation. Together as one Body, we raise our hearts to God. Thus, what we find so hard to do by ourselves, we accomplish with the support of the community of believers. We recover the spirit of joy in our hearts. And with our fellow members, we “lay aside all earthy cares” to receive the Lord with gladness as He comes to us.
The experience of the Eucharist makes us, the followers of Christ, the people of a “cheerful heart.” Of all people, we have the promise of our Savior, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (NKJV John 16:33). And St. Paul has urged us, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I will say, ‘Rejoice’!” (OSB Philippians 4:4).
Let Others Know Us as the People of Joy
Accordingly, the world around us should know us as the people of overflowing joy. We need not be anxious or troubled about anything. But if we are disheartened about anything, we can bring it to the God of grace (OSB Philippians 4:6). The Great Physician who took the sick by the hand and lifted them up will do the same for us.
But we do not have this “good cheer” of the Lord for ourselves alone. That joyfulness is the medicine that our dreary world so desperately needs. Where else can people find this unshakeable gladness in this world of troubles and heartaches?
Today we have found the source of cheer that is so needed in a cheerless world. Above all, that fountain of gladness is found in the Eucharist when the whole Body of believers lifts up their hearts that they may be lifted up into the Kingdom. Note that in Great Lent, the Divine Liturgy is still celebrated on Sundays and the Feast of the Annunciation. And, in Orthodoxy, as Fr. Schmemann writes, “the Eucharist has always preserved its festal and joyful character.” It always is the Feast of the Resurrection (Schmemann 1990, 46). Therefore, we have it every Sunday, even in Lent, as the epicenter of our cheerfulness, a deep sense of joy that uplifts us so that we can uplift others.
Schmemann, Alexander. 1987. The Eucharist. Translated by Paul Kachur. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.
Schmemann, Alexander. 1990. Great Lent: Journey to Pascha. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.