Image: Rainbow in the mist
An air of puzzlement veils the Gospel reading today with Jesus talking in what seems to be the manner of a parent playing with an infant, a game of peek-a-boo, now you see me, now you don’t. I cannot help but wonder if the record of the encounter reflects a verbatim account of what happened or is simply a description of how the disciples where feeling as they reeled from the news that Jesus was leaving them.
There are stages that we must go through when experiencing grief and the first stage is typically denial. Bad news is often met with an emotional wall. “This isn’t happening, this can’t be happening,” people often think. It is a normal reaction to rationalize overwhelming emotions. It is a defense mechanism that buffers the immediate shock of the loss. We block out the words and hide from the facts. This is a temporary response that carries us through the first wave of pain.
Processing grief takes time and it is one of the reasons that Jesus began early to forewarn his disciples what was going to happen to him. While his conversation with them caused confusion and sadness it was in fact the kindest thing that Jesus could have done to soften the blow of the reality that was to follow.
Jesus speaks of the feeling that has been experienced by anyone who has ever lost a loved one. The pain is raw, and it feels like we are going through it all alone. There is a sense of isolation and a feeling the world is passing us by as life continues around us seemingly oblivious to our suffering and loss. Despite this overwhelming sense of pain, it is important to remember that it will not last forever. The Gospel tells us,
“You will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.”
Jesus shares with his friends, words of comfort by telling them that their sorrow will not last. With time the grief that they experience now and, in the days to come, will turn to joy. With time, the painful emotions of loss will be eased by the memories of happy shared experience. The joy that Jesus refers to is not the ecstatic joy of happiness bubbling over but rather the peace that comes with knowing that, in the words of poet, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Tis better to have loved and lost, than to have never have loved at all.” Except that, in this case, the loss of love is an illusion.
Tennyson was talking about the deep love of human friendship that, while a gift, comes eventually to a mortal end. Jesus is talking about a deeper experience of love that is lasting and transcends even death. This is the love of the Father for his Son, it the love that Jesus has for us.
This love will manifest itself in the gift of the Spirit which can only be given once Jesus is gone. Christ’s departure, while painful, is the pre-requisite for the coming of the Holy Spirit which will deepen and intensify our relationship with God.
This gift of the Spirit will soon energize the disciples. It will turn ordinary men who once trembled in fear at the thought of persecution and death into courageous preachers of the word. The gift of the Spirit enabled the growth of the Church so that one day we would have the opportunity to be baptized in that very same Spirit.