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Third Sunday after Easter

Fr. David Curry

Christ Church, Windsor, NS

April 17, AD 2005


“Your sorrow shall be turned into joy”


Nowhere, perhaps, is the idea of the Resurrection as radical new life more profoundly and provocatively expressed than in this gospel story. We are presented with such a compelling image, an image of transformation, an image that somehow connects to our experiences, whether we are literally mothers or not.  All of us, surely, can relate to the experience of pain and sorrow, suffering and disappointment in some way or another.


The wonderful point of the gospel story is that such things are neither denied nor ignored.  In a way, it is the experiential reality of such things in our lives that is being emphasized in order to underscore the greater idea, the idea of transformation from the graves of our sorrows and pains to the paths of joy and peace, the idea of the Resurrection itself.


“Because I go to the Father” is the recurring refrain of the Easter season and that refrain becomes the critical matrix through which to understand the radical meaning of these readings on the third, fourth and fifth Sundays after Easter.  You see, the gospels that are read on these Sundays are all taken from the 16th chapter of St. John’s Gospel, a chapter which is known as the “farewell discourse” of Jesus, Jesus bidding adieu, we might say, (literally, to God but yet more profoundly to God as the Father) to his disciples and friends.  Such things are, of course, wonderfully and emotionally charged but how much more so in this situation?  Why? B ecause of the radical meaning of Christ’s going from us is, ultimately, the condition of his being with us. At the heart of that paradox lies the Resurrection.


In the farewell discourse Jesus is talking about his going from them in a twofold sense: his going from them in his passion and death for “where I am going you cannot come”; and his going from them in his ultimate homecoming to the Father in his Ascension, that “where I am you may be also”.  He goes “through the valley of the shadow of death” for us that he might open out to us the true homeland of the spirit. But the wonder of it all is that we live in that homeland of the spirit through the comings and goings of the Son to the Father now in prayer and praise, in Word and Sacrament, and in holy lives of service and sacrifice.


The meaning of all that is captured in the Easter mantra, “because I go to the Father”.  It signals the orientation of the Son – everything is ordered to God as Father – and it signals an end, a telos, for us in our lives through our identity with Christ, an identity which is forged in the crucible of his passion, but in which we are privileged to participate through the power of his resurrection in our baptisms into his death and resurrection for us and in our continual nourishment and succour from the food of the altar of his love in us.  The further significance of this is expressed in the image of the transformation of our sorrows into joy, “a joy”, moreover, “that no man taketh from you.”  The image is that of the pain of childbirth giving place to the joy of motherhood, an image which makes utterly trivial and banal the commonplaces of our culture about ‘no pain, no gain’. Here is something far deeper, something far more profound.


It signals a freedom for us in our lives, in the struggles and hardships of our lives.  It signals a freedom to God.  It signals that there is a joy and a freedom to be found whatever the circumstances in which we find ourselves ,whether we are dying upon our beds or in anxiety and great fear for ourselves and our children – whatever, quite literally.  It requires something from us, of course.  It requires our actively taking a hold of what is shown to us and what is provided for us; in short, we have to will it.


But then, that is the whole point upon which human dignity and human freedom ultimately depend.  The grace of God demands our active acceptance and embrace of it.  We cannot be passive and indifferent to it.  When we are, then we empty it of its meaning for us in our lives, the very thing which the Gospel is at pains to show us.  The grace of the Resurrection is accomplished only in and through the pains of the passion and that grace provides us with a whole new orientation on life and whole new foundation for our lives socially, morally, economically and politically.  This is what the lesson from 1 Peter is saying – that we are freed to the will of God while living “as strangers and pilgrims” in the world.


The conditions of the world are seen in a new light.  We can live in the world but as oriented to God in all that we are doing.  Profoundly, there is joy in and through the hardships of life.  But we have to will what has been accomplished for us.  Here Jesus is providing his disciples and friends with the lesson before the events of his passion and death, his resurrection and ascension. But we, on the other hand, are hearing after both his passion and his resurrection!  We are given to see the idea and its reality!


The Resurrection is this utterly remarkable thing which changes our whole outlook.  It gives us a direction and a purpose that allows us to face with compassion the sufferings and the pains of the world without being merely victims, on the one hand, or without assuming that the world is everything, on the other hand.  It gives us a freedom in relation to the practical affairs of our daily lives because it counters our idolatry of the practical, an idolatry so prevalent in the fearfulness and anxieties of our culture, itself a culture of disrespect and a culture of death.  The two are related.  There can only be a deep respect for the dignity of our humanity through the overcoming of the deep fears of the culture of death.


“I will show you fear in a handful of dust” as T.S. Eliot puts it, naming, in a poetic way, one of the conditions of modernity in its uncertainties and cynical despair of God.  The fall out from such fearfulness appears in the multitudinous parade of vanity and violence that has become so much a part of our world and day, and so much, too, a part of our church in its sad and willful rejection of the principles of the gospel that define our catholic identity.  The vanity of the much-vaunted autonomy of the national churches has wreaked violence upon the integrity of the Communion.


At issue for the North American church is precisely an idolatry of the practical which has collapsed the things of the Gospel of Christ into the issues of the day; in short, a church which chooses to define itself by the policy of same-sex marriages, for instance, or some other immediate and pressing issue, at the expense of the Scriptural and Creedal doctrines which would free us from the deadening tyranny of our subjectivity; in short, the doctrines which free us to the Father.  “[Our] sorrow shall be turned to joy” only when we enter into the radical meaning of the Son’s going to the Father and realize that the affairs and conceits of our world and day are not only nothing worth but also deadly and destructive when they are divorced from the Gospel of Christ.


In the mercies of the Risen Christ, however, there is always the hope that our sorrows and pains, our sufferings and disappointments, even our betrayals and wickednesses can become the occasion of redemption and joy, when like Picarda in Dante’s Paradiso, we might say about our own follies and foolishnesses, “yet gaily I forgive myself”, but only “because I go to the Father”, only because “[our] sorrow has [indeed] been turned into joy” by the crucified and risen Christ.


“Your sorrow shall be turned into joy”