[Disclaimer: Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.]
I got a phone call from someone affiliated with the congregation, let’s call them “Pat”. The person radiated glee, mirth, and excitement. The person received permission to leave their house to come to church to tend to a few things. The person wanted to know when they could come to church AND make sure no one else would be there.
Despite protest, COVID, and rioting, “Pat” found the buoyancy of life. “Pat” had cause for pure happiness. It sang in her voice. It stretched across a telephone line. “Pat’s” glee was contagious. I smiled and laughed with “Pat”. I could do no other.
Laughter feels a guilty pleasure these days. The gravitas of each moment multiplies. The sobriety of these days weighs down everyone and everything. To be sure, the racial divide in the United States has come into clear focus, as it should. The fear of contracting COVID-19 still alters ALL our behaviors, as it should. To act contrary to the seriousness feels disloyal. To laugh while so many cry, to find joy while so many sorrow, to know happiness while so many despair, seems vulgar.
At the same time, laughter/joy/happiness form one of the foundations of our humanity. To deprive the world of this asset seems just as vulgar.
Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf, renewer of the Ancient Moravian Unity, wrote ‘We have nothing to do but be happy’. In a letter to the Bethlehem congregation, Zinzendorf says that he wrote that line on the door of the Nazareth community—whether metaphorically or literally, I do not know. Zinzendorf, I believe, had a whole theology of happiness based on the work that Jesus has already done. In light of everything Jesus is doing, we have nothing to do but be happy.
If I left it there, that would be well and good. The full quote says this, as he speaks of Bethlehem’s responsibility to care for her neighbor nine miles to the north:
Do, I entreat you, nurse and care faithfully, both bodily and spiritually, for your Sister Nazareth, upon whose door I have written: ‘We have nothing to do but be happy.’ Adopt bold measures to promote their building-up and everything else to their best advantage, even if it should be to your own disadvantage. Never say No to anything that they may demand. The Saviour will help you and enable you to assist liberally.”
We have nothing else to do but be happy—AND take care of our brother and sister communities. We have nothing else to do but be happy—AND adopt bold measures to build up other people. We have nothing else to do but be happy—AND give another community whatever they need—even if it is to our own disadvantage.
I think we should take Zinzendorf at his word about being happy. He meant it. The revolutionary salvation offered in Jesus is the source of all happiness. He also meant take care of your brother and sister neighbors. In 1743 for Zinzendorf and the Moravians that meant the totality of humanity, not just the white ones.
I rejoice with “Pat”. “Pat” has every right to be happy. “Pat” has nothing else to do but be happy. I rejoice with advocates and allies pleading for racial justice in the United States and around the world. I rejoice with all people committed to taking care of our sisters and brothers. I rejoice with all people adopting bold measures to build people up—even as they sacrifice their own advantage. I rejoice…I have nothing else to do but be happy…AND…
I love you.
I need you.
I hope for you.
Please be safe.