Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Are you discussing among yourselves what I meant when I said, ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’? Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.
- John 16:19-22
This passage includes the two “rites of passage” that bookend human existence: our physical birth and our physical death—and also of the reality of our human condition which is the conjoining of pain and joy. What is born will die, but the deeper truth is that what dies will be reborn in a transformed form into a joy that is everlasting, a joy that “no one will take away.”
This IS the deepest truth of our faith: God wants our joy. God does not want fleeting or superficial gratification for us. God is not satisfied with anything less than universal and eternal joy. Jesus shows us the Way to this joy in this life but we have to be willing to follow him, to trust his obedient-unto-death servant leadership, even or especially through the difficulties and pain.
Today is my father’s birthday. He entered this world on May 22, 1933. When he was killed suddenly, I felt immense pain and sorrow. There is still an ache that I know will never go away. I miss him most when good things happen: when my nephew and niece were born; when I met my husband, got engaged and then married; when I preached my first sermon; when I was ordained.
But from the very beginning of my life after his death, when something bad or painful occurred that I know would have hurt or upset him, I have been glad that he was spared those experiences, even when I might have wished I could have shared them with him.
What I have come to see and to believe is that I DO still share those experiences, both joyful and painful with him and with the people whom I have loved and who have loved me in this life, even if I no longer have a physical experience of that sharing. What I have—what WE have—is a spiritual, an in-Spirited, experience that is shared, not just temporarily but always and forever through God’s Love most perfectly and often counterintuitively revealed to us in Christ Jesus.
Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of the Ascension, the day when Jesus was lifted up once and for all beyond the cross, beyond his earthly existence. And though it may have seemed to his early disciples that he was leaving them, what he was doing was once again leading them. He was once again showing them and showing us the Way. He was once again showing us that there is nowhere that we will go, in this life or beyond, where he has not gone first. When Jesus tells us not to be afraid, we can trust that he knows whereof he speaks.
My father was a person who embraced the gift of life and the gift of faith. He loved deeply and joyfully and sacrificially and consequently he also, on occasion, suffered deeply. His rebirth-day was August 15, 1992. And just as my father so often showed me the way in this life, just as he led me and guided me and loved me in so many ways for 33+ years, he is leading me still. I know that he may be gone from my physical life, but he has never left and will never leave me. That is the deep truth, the deep joy, of our faith. We come from and will return to a Love without end, and we are blessed to have the opportunity to live in and through and bear witness to that Love in between. Amen. Alleluia. And thanks be to God.
Ever-loving, ever-living, ever-present God, thank you for being You and for never, ever leaving us, your children, but for always and forever loving us and leading us in ways everlasting. Help us to live and love as you would have us live and love, this day and forevermore. Amen.