Solemnity and Joy- Summary

Recently I considered the different rituals we observe in life, and the different attitudes we have towards them. We have cheerful birthday parties and solemn sacraments, happy chatting around the newborn baby and soft condolences in the funeral hall, times where we are expected to be joyful and times where we are expected to be solemn.
And as I thought about these different moments I had a sensation that this was good. It seemed right to me that some times were reserved for solemnity and some for joy. I wanted to explore that concept further, though, and I began this study to examine the correct application of each expression. I also wanted to consider the incorrect application of each expression, too.
At the end I gained a greater vision of what gospel life is supposed to look like. I saw how a disciple who has a full appreciation of all the different walks of life would feel moved by them in a natural and healthy way. Here are a few of the main takeaways I had from this study.

The Value of Joy

We are meant to experience joy. We are meant to feel truly and deeply happy. Angels came to declare “glad tidings,” Israelites were commanded to have feasts and celebrations, and Jesus encouraged his disciples to glory in his presence. We do not have to shy away from our genuine happiness.
In fact, the word gospel means the “good news.” It is brought to cheer us from the otherwise certain doom of our fallen world. It gives us hope in a better life. It is an expression of love from a Father who wants to save us. It empowers us to become a better, truer version of ourselves.
What sort of response could be appropriate for all of this except joy? Those that have the realities of these messages in their hearts have a cheerfulness as their natural resting state. Though they may still experience sorrows, though at times they may be caught in waves of grief, beneath it all is a resting state of gladness.
Numbers 10:10- Also in the day of your gladness, and in your solemn days, and in the beginnings of your months, ye shall blow with the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; that they may be to you for a memorial before your God: I am the Lord your God.
Luke 2:10-11- And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

The Value of Solemnity

But we are also meant to have solemn moments. Just because all challenges will end in victory does not mean that the pain before that triumph is negligible. It really does hurt, and that really does matter. Jesus knew that Lazarus was going to rise from the tomb, but that did not make him impervious to the pain of temporary loss. He wept.
And while we are told God will “wipe away our tears,” it is not as though our sorrows are cheaply swept under the rug. They are significant, and they are only healed by a significant process. The overcoming of our death and sorrow comes at great cost. It comes through a Savior that endured all of those hurtful moments in his own body and spirit so that he could overcome them and know how to cater to us in them.
And that brings us to the other great reason for solemnity: sacred reverence for what great deed has been done for us. Of course we often feel a sadness when we observe the sacrifice of Jesus, but even deeper than that is our quiet awe for it. We feel the great gravity of it, and we wish to show it proper respect.
John 11:34-36- And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept. Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!
Alma 7:11-12- And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.

The Fulness of Life

So life has joy. It has a happy ending and many sweet moments along the way. We can show our joy without shame. But also we are meant to embrace the sad and somber moments that give life its gravity. Between our joys are times to pause, reflect, and even shed a tear.
There are inappropriate times for a joke and there are hypocritical displays of somberness. We should not try to make light of heavy matters, nor should we try to make heavy of light matters. The full-hearted disciple is perfectly capable of experiencing the full spectrum of emotion.
Because, after all, coming to Christ is meant to bring us to a life that is full and rich. The soul is not to merely meant to be expanded in a single direction, as we learn in Ephesians 3 it is meant to feel “breadth, and length, and depth, and height.” Thus if there is a sector of life that we are denying to ourselves, then we are not embracing the completeness that God intended. All these different slices of life are part of the whole. God has always meant for us to have the whole, but we cannot receive it without embracing the separate parts.
John 10:10- The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
Ephesians 3:17-19- That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,
May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;
And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.

Solemnity and Joy- Matthew 6:16-18

Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;
That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.


Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance
Yesterday I looked at examples of inappropriate levity, and today we consider inappropriate solemnity. Already in this study we have considered Jesus approving Mary and his disciples for joying in his presence, even though there were others that were calling for a more serious attitude.
But in today’s verses Jesus discusses another situation. He mentions a time when it is totally appropriate to be solemn, such as when fasting, but how it is hypocritical to exaggerate one’s solemn demeanor for everyone else to see. The fact is some of us get the mentality that being somber is better than being happy, so we strive to show as much somberness as we possibly can.
I’m sure all of us can recall times that we or others became extremely pious, not for God’s sake, but for the sake of our fellow worshippers. We wanted their admiration, we wanted them to appreciate how serious we were in the cause of right. “Holier than thou” moments are not the only example of this, either. Even outside of religious circles we often bemoan how busy we are with so much duty and work and responsibility, looking for a pat on the back for carrying so much burden. In our society it is often seen as a virtue to be overworked and overstressed.
I’ve been guilty of these exaggerated displays of solemnity myself. As a general rule, I try remind myself that if I am sad, it is okay to be sad, and if I am solemn, it is okay to be solemn, and if someone asks me about these troubles I can speak of them honestly…..But, if I am exaggerating my outward expression of sadness and solemnity for the express purpose of gaining the attention of others, then I am passive aggressive, and I am treating emotions as a currency, something we don’t ever want to do.

Solemnity and Joy- Ecclesiastes 7:6, Doctrine and Covenants 88:69

For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity.

Remember the great and last promise which I have made unto you; cast away your idle thoughts and your excess of laughter far from you.


For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool
Cast away your excess of laughter far from you
Thus far we have considered the worthiness of both joy and solemnity, the different times that call for each. It also seems worthwhile now to mention the inappropriate application of each. Today we will look at inappropriate laughter.
There is nothing wrong with being happy, enjoying a moment of good feelings, smiling, laughing, and pleasantly being with those we love. But I’m sure we can all think of situations where others or ourselves have taken it too far. Consider, for example the screeching, forced laughter of someone trying to get everyone to look at them at a party.
That behavior reminds me directly of this verse from Ecclesiastes. It is an older expression, but the crackling of thorns is in reference to how throwing thorns on a fire would result in an immediate and loud blaze, which quickly consumed all of its fuel and then died out without providing any lasting heat. It was flashy, but it was worthless for heating whatever you had in the pot.
True joy means something, it bubbles out in warm laughter that has a real depth beneath it. But raucous screeching has nothing of substance behind. It comes only from a place of desperate vanity. It flashes, it crackles, it calls for attention…and then it evaporates into emptiness.

Solemnity and Joy- Revelation 21:3-4

And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.


There shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain
I mentioned before that times of mourning are not the only reason for being solemn, but they certainly are a reason. All of us live in a fallen world, and now and again the reality of that impresses deeply on our hearts. We gradually come to appreciate the hard facts of life. Concepts like death and decay become more than just concepts, we start to feel the reality of them, the totality of them, and the certainty of them. How can we not be solemn then?

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes
The miracle, it would seem, is that we can still be happy in the face of such heavy fates. It is wondrous that we are beings of hope and not despair. All our senses perceive a complete end in the image of a corpse, but the spirit inside denies any end. Never mind what illusion the body shows, the spirit knows that it is made of more eternal stuff.
In the fallen world we have doom and despair. It is real and it is sobering. But in this fallen world are also infinite souls which solemnity can have no permanent hold on. Our souls are in the hands of their Father, and He wipes away the transient tears to uncover the natural, eternal joy that remains beneath.

Solemnity and Joy- Ecclesiastes 3:1-4

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;


To every thing there is a season
A time to be born, and a time to die
A time to kill, and a time to heal
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh
A time to mourn, and a time to dance

We have been discussing the need for times of solemn reverence and also times of unfettered rejoicing. Is it any wonder that we would need both, given the fractured, dual-natured world we live in? As these verses illustrate, we pass through all manner of different experiences, the entire spectrum of good and bad. We get to welcome new babies but also bury old friends. We build things, but we must break things as well. We have times of health, but also times of pandemic. To deny an entire side of this reality for the other would be deluded.
Does living in the gospel give us a hope for a happy ending, and does that hope instill us with an abiding joy and peace? Yes, but Jesus still wept when Lazarus died. And are there times when we are treated unfairly, hurt and offended, some of us even killed unjustly? Yes, but Stephen still passed away rejoicing, surrounded by the glory of his God and Savior.
We are complex beings in a complex world. There is not only space for the entire spectrum of emotion within us, it is necessary for us to embrace them all. We should let each have dominion over its proper season.

Solemnity and Joy- 2 Samuel 6:14-16, 20-21

And David danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod.
So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.
And as the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal Saul’s daughter looked through a window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.
Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, How glorious was the king of Israel to day, who uncovered himself to day in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovereth himself!
And David said unto Michal, It was before the Lord, which chose me before thy father, and before all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the Lord, over Israel: therefore will I play before the Lord.


And David danced before the Lord with all his might. And Michal saw king David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart
Today we have the example of King David when he was caught in the rapture of praising God. He had just concluded a campaign against the Philistines and capped it off by bringing the Ark of the Covenant back into the heart of Israel.
He was evidently very joyous in this moment and took to dancing “with all his might.” Biblical commentaries have stated that this sort of vivacious dance was by no means an unusual practice, but that it was typically performed by a priest. This is likely why Michal felt the king was debasing himself by performing it, she felt he was acting beneath his royal station.

Michal came out to meet David, and said, How glorious was the king of Israel to day, who uncovered himself as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovereth himself!
And David said unto Michal, It was before the Lord, which chose me before thy father, therefore will I play before the Lord.

A rift grows between the two of them, but David maintains his reasoning for showing such levity: it was done as an honor to God, and when honoring God called for joyous cavorting, that was simply what David was going to do.
As I have already stated, sometimes honoring God calls for quiet dignity, and that is what one should observe in those moments. But sometimes it calls for displays of rapturous joy, and in such cases there is no evil in embracing that spirit. Of course that doesn’t mean we loosen our morals and become obscene, but we are welcome to freely display our joy without shame.

Solemnity and Joy- Luke 10:38-42

Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.
And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.
But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.
And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:
But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.


But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things
Martha was very dedicated to taking care of the business of her home and serving her guests. Furthermore, she was feeling flustered because her sister was seated at the feet of the Savior instead of being as busy as she was.
I have always felt that Jesus’s response to Marth is very compassionate. I do not know the actual tone of his voice in the moment, but the doubly-repeated name is often used in the scriptures when showing great care and affection to the one being addressed. Beyond that he also shows immediate recognition for the care she has been showing to her duties.

But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part
But then Jesus makes a definitive statement that what Mary is choosing to do with her time is greater than what Martha is choosing to do with hers. The fact is Martha is preoccupied with her chores by choice. She could also be choosing to sit with her sister and Jesus.
Sometimes errands are the right thing to prioritize, but sometimes they are a distraction. Sometimes we need to work hard and clear out the clutter that is blocking God’s light from reaching us, but sometimes the light is already there and we need to stop agitating and just bask in it!

Solemnity and Joy- Luke 5:29-34

And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them.
But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners?
And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick.
I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
And they said unto him, Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but thine eat and drink?
And he said unto them, Can ye make the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them?


But their scribes and Pharisees murmured saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? Why do the disciples of John fast often, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but thine eat and drink?
Thus far I have considered a few examples that call for solemnity and sacred introspection. But just because solemnity is called for in some situations, does not mean it is always the right thing for every situation.
The Pharisees criticized Jesus and his disciples for having a moment of joy, for not remaining forever in a state of solemnity. These verses do not describe the behavior of Jesus and his disciples in great detail, but there is nothing to suggest that they were being crass or profane, simply enjoying a moment of innocent levity. It bothered the Pharisees, and I have certainly known a few stiff-collared Christians that it would bother as well. Our view is too narrow if we do not appreciate the role of joy in this gospel, too.

Can ye make the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them?
Jesus’s response was to describe his presence with his disciples as being similar to a groom with his loved ones during the wedding. It was a time of celebration and excitement, a time for being happy, and all the more so when this particular groom was also the son of God! How could one not flow with happiness when they were able to talk and eat with their own Savior?
I am sure that when Christ comes again there are going to be moments of tearfully acknowledging his sacrifice for us, and there will be moments of solemnity as we watch him heal the sick and wounded, but unquestionably there are also going to be moments of vibrant celebration! And that is not only permissible, it is right.

Solemnity and Joy- Exodus 3:2, 4-5

And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.
And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.
And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.


Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground
Before Moses could fully approach the Lord he was instructed to remove his footwear. It was as if God was saying “this place is very delicate, so tread lightly!” Moses needed to show his respect by setting aside that which was callous and hard, and approach with caution instead.
This reminds me of times that I have opened up the most inner sections of my heart to God or another person. “This is a very delicate place we’re going to now, so please tread lightly!” In these moments a soft voice and carefully chosen words make all the difference.
Think also of how delicate God’s spirit is when we commune with it. Anything callous or hard will offend it away and we must take care to handle it gently.
Thus one definition for “solemn moments” would be times that call for being “delicate,” “gentle,” or “careful.”

Solemnity and Joy- Doctrine and Covenants 20:75-77

It is expedient that the church meet together often to partake of bread and wine in the remembrance of the Lord Jesus;
And the elder or priest shall administer it; and after this manner shall he administer it—he shall kneel with the church and call upon the Father in solemn prayer, saying:
O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it, that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them; that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.


He shall kneel with the church and call upon the Father in solemn prayer
Yesterday I mentioned Yom Kippur, a solemn day in ancient Israel with rituals that symbolized the coming sacrifice of Jesus. Now we are on the other side of that sacrifice, and we still have rituals that point backward to it.
One of those rituals is, of course, the Eucharist or sacrament. And notice in this verse how this practice calls for being “solemn.” Though different denominations may vary in the specific details of how they carry out their sacrament, they generally maintain this same solemn demeanor, due to the respect they wish to show for the sacred event they remind us of.

That they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son
And there is a second reason for solemnity in this moment. In addition to reverently remembering what has happened, we see in the words of this prayer an invitation to make a solemn commitment. All those that partake are able to renew a covenant to God to keep Christ’s sacrifice in their mind and live in a way that follows his example.
And we are best able to make a serious commitment when we are of a calm and quiet mind. Consider how it is the same with weddings. Yes those are known for their gaiety, but then everything becomes very quiet and still when the moment comes for bride and groom to make their sincere pledge to one another. It is still a happy moment, of course, but it is a moment of happy solemnity. So, too, we should be of a sober and steady mind when we make our pledges to God.