Friday, May 26, 2017

“Dying and Rising with Him” by Colleen O’Sullivan

One night while Paul was in Corinth, the Lord said to him in a vision, “Do not be afraid.  Go on speaking, and do not be silent, for I am with you.  No one will attack and harm you, for I have many people in this city.”  He settled there for a year and a half and taught the word of God among them.  (Acts 18:9-11)

Jesus said to his disciples: “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.  When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world.  So you also are now in anguish.  But I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.  (John 16:20-22)

Be not afraid,
I go before you always,
Come follow Me,
And I shall give you rest.
(Be Not Afraid, Bob Dufford, S.J., Saint Louis Jesuits, 1975)

Our Scripture readings today share a theme – To Paul:  Do not be afraid.  I am with you. To the disciples:  Your grief will become joy.  I am with you.

When you’re scared to death or your heart is breaking, it’s difficult to believe Jesus’ words.  If I was the parent of one of the young deceased concert goers in Manchester, England, I would feel like my world had been totally shattered.  I’m not sure I could be convinced right now that I would ever feel joy again.

Had I been with the disciples gathered around Jesus in the Upper Room that first Holy Thursday evening, all I would have heard was that Jesus was leaving.  What would become of us, our little group, without him?   How would life ever go on without him?  Would we even care if it went on without Jesus beside us?  I would have been filled with apprehension and sadness.

But not that many weeks ago, I was on retreat for the Triduum.  I saw for myself the truth in Jesus’ words.  On Holy Thursday, Jesus stunned the disciples by kneeling down and washing their filthy, cracked, tired feet.  The Master became the servant and then turned around and asked us to do as he had done, to serve one another.  The bread was broken and the cup was shared.  Jesus was about to leave the world, but he promised always to be there for us in the Eucharist.

On Good Friday, Jesus, beaten and bruised, was handed over to be crucified after the crowd refused to take pity on him, the innocent victim, and instead insisted on the freeing of Barabbas, a murderer.  Good Friday is a difficult day.  It isn’t easy to compassionately stand by while Jesus suffers and dies.  It is a day of anguish and sorrow, both because of Jesus’ suffering and death as well as the knowledge that it is our sins he has taken to the Cross. 

Saturday is full of emptiness and a profound sense of loss.  What does a person do with herself on such a day?  Had I been one of the first disciples, that day might have seen me wanting to throw in the towel and go back home to Emmaus or wherever home was. 

Then, we are summoned to the Easter Vigil Mass and suddenly Jesus’ words ring true.  We who have been grieving are filled with gladness.  Death does not have the last word!  Jesus is risen and our hearts are filled with joy!

Jesus says “you will weep and mourn… but your grief will become joy.”  This is the pattern of life.  Long before we come to the end of our time on earth, we will have experienced a myriad of lesser dyings and risings.  That’s Jesus’ story and it’s our story as well.  We never do this alone; Jesus is always present in our crucifixions and our risings.  If we’re open to Jesus’ compassionate love, the worst times in our lives can be transformed into the best.

Where have you seen this happen in your life?   

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