“You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy.”
Friday, 22 May 2020
Acts 18:9–18; Psalm 47:2–7; John 16:20–23.
Today we’re confronted with suffering and joy. In our first reading, the risen Jesus promises Paul that ‘no one will lay a hand on you to harm you’, but then we read that Paul is attacked by enemies who bring him before proconsul Gallio, who has no patience for intra-Jewish disputes. At first glance it might seem where is Jesus’ promise – how is that being fulfilled? But then Paul is released unharmed. Paul get to continue to preach the Good News to the yet-to-be-converted, in a world that is waiting to hear.
As we celebrated the Ascension of Jesus into heaven yesterday, the readings of this week revolve around Jesus’ departure. In today’s Gospel, Jesus returns to this theme. He tells his disciples that the sorrow they will soon experience—namely, his suffering and death—will in fact be the pangs of birth. Painful at the time, but heralding a great joy! This is not a new image. Isaiah used the image of the woman in labour to announce the arrival of a new day, the Day of the Lord (see Isaiah 26:16–17; 66:7–10). We believe that day shall dawn when Jesus arises. “On that day,” he tells his disciples, their hearts will rejoice and all their questions will be answered.
But all of us still have questions, and perhaps for many of us in this time of COVID-19, the question of suffering is one that is on our hearts. Even after the resurrection joy of Easter, we are still waiting, forced like Paul into an uneasy truce with the world around us. There are moments where we suffer, but if we can remember the hope of Jesus’ promise, we can also experience the joy that always follows. Can we look at our lives and see how the Lord has turned our suffering into joy?