Today’s Word by Karl Olsen

It is a human dichotomy, that we can experience joy and grief in close proximity, both exceedingly real and life-impacting. One sometimes influencing the other, but ending up perhaps in gratitude, giving thanks for the good that is, living with hope for what can yet be. It is such a time for me.

I just finished reading Sandy Tolan’s The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East. It is a story of a Jewish, newly-Israeli woman who was raised in the home built by a Palestinian family that was forced out of their home at the creation of the state of Israel. They meet in their 20’s at the inspiration and courage of the Palestinian man, Bashir, and begin a life-long discussion, founded in respect and the desire of each to share their “truth” with the other.

Bashir’s grief at past and present injustices and Dalia’s joy at the new Jewish state, intersect and inform the other’s understanding. Bashir is grateful for Dalia’s ability to live in a safe space, but not at the expense of his people. Dalia is dedicated to the new Jewish state, but comes to recognize the catastrophe that has happened to the Palestinians as a result. Living in the tension between joy and grief.

This past week our world has watched with joy as soldiers came home from a long war, and with horror at the tragedy that has come to the long-suffering people in Afghanistan. God has not caused this, and God surely weeps. I claim to have no answers or solutions, but that many are living in the grief and the joy is an undeniable reality.

In our neighbor, Haiti, the joy of the people many of us played with, worked with and prayed with on our two mission trips there was clear. Life was hard. Life IS hard, but people keep on and so often with a sense of joy mixed with the challenges. Last Saturday a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, 11 years after they lost 250,000 people to another earthquake.

Centered in southwest Haiti, devastated by Hurricane Matthew in 2016, they have been in the path of Tropical Storm Grace the past three days. Grace. Hmm…. So earthquake recovery with a death toll rapidly climbing past 2000. More than enough to bring you to grief. Finding joy can be tough, but we Samaritans can help. ELCA disaster relief is a good way to contribute to the joy.

And then, a family reunion, a wedding of good friends, young sons contemplating their future with great possibilities and, today, our 21-month-old grandson celebrates the birthday of his wonderful mama, Sandra! Celebration and joy—we are so fortunate.

To these two conditions, I bring two hymns. The first, with a text by noted Lutheran text writer Susan Palo Cherwien, In Deepest Night.* You’ll find the text in our hymnal, #699. I took the text and set it to a different tune and harmony for the service of our friend Karen Gervais. The text is bookended by the lines “in deepest night…there is the love of God.” Give a listen here.

Then, an old favorite, hymn #836 is Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee. It is a hymn with text from 1911, inspired by the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts, penned by Henry van Dyke. In it van Dyke lifts up hearts unfolding like flowers before God and God, the giver of immortal gladness. It talks of a giving and a forgiving God, and that “all who live in love are thine!” A no-holds-barred hymn of joy.

He insisted that his hymn be set to Ludwig van Beethoven’s Hymn of Joy, from his 9th symphony. The text that is sung in the symphony by the chorus and the soloists is primarily a poem called An die Freude, by Friedrich Shiller, praising and wishing peace for all people. It’s played a bit faster than we typically sing it on Sunday morning. Here’s a simple version of verse one. Note the one small difference, then listen to the symphony below!

May your grief inform the joy and the joy inform the grief, always finding ways to give thanks to our loving God.

Here the orchestra plays the tune a few times.


Here’s a more complete version with soloists and chorus.



*Susan’s text was Used by Permission. #A706892