Rejoice, ‘Get Happy’

Acts 10:34,37-43 • Colossians 3:1-4 • Sunday Morning: John 20:1-9

Forget your troubles,come on get happy
You better chase all your cares away.
Shout hallelujah, come on get happy
Get ready for the judgment day. The sun is shining, come on get happy
The Lord is waiting to take your hand.
Shout Hallelujah, come on get happy
We’re going to the promised land.
We’re heading across the river
Wash your sins away in the tide. It’s all so peaceful on the other side.
Forget your troubles, come on get happy
Ya better chase your cares away.
Shout Hallelujah, come on get happy Get ready for the judgment day

In 1930, the Great Depression hit hard and people were suffering. Jobs were scarce. Food lines stretched down street after street. Thousands were homeless. It was one of the worst times in American history. Popular music reflected the desperation of many people, possibly the best-known lament being “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”

But music began to change from laments to songs that reflected hope and joy. The song “Get Happy,” written in 1930 by Harold Allen and Ted Koehler and one of the most popular songs in that new wave of music, has lasted through the years. It became one of Judy Garland’s standards. It has been heard most recently in the television series, Glee.

The song was not entirely original to its composers. It certainly was not plagiarized, but Allen and Koehler borrowed heavily from the long tradition of spirituals from slaves and the segregated world of the United States. The mark of those spirituals is their enthusiasm, hope, and joy despite slavery and the segregation that followed. Many of the old spirituals became anthems in the Civil Rights movement because they gave hope and encouraged perseverance.

If we want to most appreciate the joy that the Resurrection brings, we must acknowledge that life today still can be hard. We suffer from many things. People we love die. Our family life gets into a mess. People walk out on us. We or a loved one becomes sick. We have trouble at work or with the kids. We lose our job. Even the larger issues of the day on the local or national level cause concern and worry.

Our lives can fall into chaos and sometimes this chaos leads us to believe there is nothing more than what we know in the present. We doubt there is any future for us at all. Our troubles may not be the slavery of the past or the Great Depression or segregation, but our troubles are what they are, and they can rob us of joy and hope. At these moments, believing in God or even seeing the Resurrection as something real and tangible is difficult, but at times all we have is faith in the Resurrection, the belief that God is in control despite the chaos.

Knowing that life is hard and that, as a result, faith is sometimes difficult, John’s Gospel uses the characters of today’s passage to represent us so we can see that if we work with our faith, as did Mary, Peter and “the disciple whom Jesus loved, we can beat back the chaos of our lives. As John tells the story, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb while it is still dark. John uses the darkness to represent a lack of faith. Mary approaches the tomb with no understanding of or faith in the Resurrection. Not even knowing what was inside the open tomb, she runs away to seek assistance. The “disciple whom Jesus loved” runs toward the tomb, not away from it. Unlike the story of Lazarus who came out of his tomb still wrapped and bound in burial cloths, the Beloved Disciple saw only the burial cloths and he believed.

By way of symbol, John’s Gospel captures us in our struggle with faith in the Resurrection. There is the deep faith of the Beloved Disciple, but most of us are, like Peter, somewhere in the middle. We don’t completely understand the empty tomb and what it means, but our hearts tell us that because of it God is still with us and we are not alone in the chaos of our lives.

The Easter Proclamation, the Exsultet, may not have the swing of “Get Happy,” but it has the same profound message and more. “Let all the corners of the earth be glad, knowing an end to gloom and darkness. Rejoice. . .let this building shake with joy.” Jesus did not leave us. Jesus proved His power over chaos. What we might now or later experience as chaos cannot defeat Christ. We must let the Lord chase our cares away, and He will chase them away if we let Him.