“Pain into Joy”
Rev. Leah Lyman Waldron
Park Avenue Congregational Church, UCC
April 3, 2022
I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up,
and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
Sing praises to the Lord, O you faithful ones,
and give thanks to God’s holy name.
For God’s anger is but for a moment;
but across a lifetime there is only love.
Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
Jesus said, ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.’ Then some of his disciples said to one another, ‘What does he mean by saying to us, “A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me”; and “Because I am going to God”?’ They said, ‘What does he mean by this “a little while”? We do not know what he is talking about.’ 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.’
– – –
I was talking with a neighbor this week who is having a stressful time of it of late. She’s moving, with all that packing and staging and selling and closing on a house entails; her business is in a time of transition as the old way of doing things clearly isn’t working anymore; she’s dealing with legal issues and cost of living questions and all sorts of things. At one point she said, “it’ll all be okay in the end,” to which I replied, “and if it’s not okay, it’s not yet the end.”
It’s the message of this morning’s scripture passages: God doesn’t let our stories fizzle out or burn up; God ends things not with tears and loss but with rejoicing and reunion. And if you aren’t there yet, it’s okay; that simply means you haven’t yet reached the end of your story.
In some ways, that can be hard to believe – or hard to stomach. When you’ve just lost a loved one to a tragic or untimely death, or you’ve just watched the door close on a dream you longed for with every fiber of your being while others around you celebrate living the life you can’t have, it seems like a trite, woefully inadequate platitude at best, and like a bold-faced lie at worst. Oh really, God – it’s going to get better? That’s my consolation? My whole world has fallen apart, but it’s alright because one day I won’t feel quite so terrible? How nice. If you are powerful enough to promise me that, maybe you could have just skipped all of the terrible in the first place.
But then I go back and read Jesus’ words to his beloved friends:
“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.” And it sounds not like a hollow promise, but like a tender love note: a reassurance that on the other side of our pain – even the deepest kind where we lose what matters most to us – is not just a reprieve but, miraculously, joy. As the Message version of our Psalm puts it, “The nights of crying our eyes out will give way to days of laughter.”
– – –
This almost turned into a sermon about how God brings good out of loss and tragedy. But I’ve preached that sermon before (more than once); and I also think the scriptures here are saying something slightly different. Yes, if we lose someone or something we dearly love, God can and, if we’re open to it, will bring good out of it – an increased sense of empathy for others’ suffering, a determination to prevent others from experiencing the pain we did, a movement to honor the person or thing that was so dear to us with acts of kindness or justice or generosity.
But all of that, while deeply powerful and even essential to our surviving and creating meaning out of our loss, is not necessarily joy. You can empathize and prevent and honor and still be… miserable.
These verses remind us that God does not just promise to bring good out of the losses that bring us grief – God also promises to bring real smiles back onto our faces and to put a song in our hearts. Though making meaning out of our loss or finding peace in our grief are deeply important, God does not want to give us only goodness – God also wants to give us joy.
I went for a walk a few weeks ago with a dear friend who lost a child in tragic circumstances almost a decade ago. Although nothing could ever replace her child and part of her heart will always be broken over that loss, these days, you could certainly call her life “good” – a growing family, a burgeoning career as a writer, a foundation that honors her daughter’s life by advocating for and protecting vulnerable children.
What struck me about our conversation, though, wasn’t the “good” in her life. What struck me about our conversation was the amount of laughter in it, as she told me about something silly her kids did, and the ridiculous ways her husband is trying to convince her they should get a dog. At one point I was laughing so hard I was wiping tears away. Yes, in our conversation there was the sadness of the anniversary of her deceased child’s birthday coming up and remembering those deeply terrible days in the wake of her death – and, there was also the joy of a writer navigating her way through a memoir about her experience, and the joy of a friendship where we can talk comfortably about the despair of grief and the absurdity of our spouses all in one conversation. And there was the sheer joy of laughter after entire seasons when we were sure our tears would never dry.
Friends, wherever you are in your grief, or in your depression, or in your just-getting-through-the-days-doing-what-you-need-to-do, know that God doesn’t just promise you mere survival, or that out of your suffering will come some greater good, or that if you can just get through the drudgery that it will all be worth it. God promises you joy, and not in some far-off future, but “in a very little while” – the word in Greek is actually micron.
Friends, wherever you are in your grief, or your depression, or your just-getting-through-the-days-barely-getting-doe-what-you-need-to-do-only-to-get-up-and-do-it-all-over-again, know that God doesn’t just promise you mere survival, or that out of your suffering will come some greater good, or that if you can just get through the drudgery that it will all be worth it. No, God promises you joy, and not in some far-off future, but “in a very little while,” as Jesus says. The word in Greek is actually micron – do you know how small a micron is? In just a split second from now, there could very well be joy. And God promises us this joy not just in the hereafter, but in the here and now.
And so as we make our way through a world and toward a Holy Week filled with heartache and suffering, let us indeed rejoice in that promise, that tender love note from Jesus to us. Amen.