Jesus makes many bold promises in the Gospels, but perhaps none is more audacious than when he tells his disciples, “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” (John 16:22). Really, no one will take our joy? How could that be when we spend days sitting beside our spouse as she has poison pumped through her veins on the promise that it will heal? When we fear that each Christmas, Easter, birthday might be the last we share with our child? When our parent needs more assistance with daily tasks than we have time to give? When we fall exhausted in bed but cannot sleep worrying about what tomorrow might bring? Jesus surely never spent hours, days, weeks or years caregiving for one with cancer.
However, Jesus spoke those words on the night of his arrest in an attempt to provide care for his weary, confused and scared disciples. He promises that he will see them again, knowing that to keep that promise he must first die on the cross. As we too stand on the promise of God, what we find is the cross. It is through the cross that Christ stands “with us” in the midst of the suffering, trials and tribulations of life. At the foot of the cross we discover a deep truth: that, as they say in the Orthodox liturgy, “through the cross joy came into the world.”
Yes, the joy that is rightfully ours as Christians is a joy that is not immune to confusion, despair, pain, suffering and death. It is a joy that emerges as we glimpse Christ even in chemotherapy bags, final birthday cakes and candles, a spoonful of chicken soup brought to parched lips and a weary head upon a pillow. Through the cross we know a joy in Christ that does not seek to avoid or escape the tragedies of life. Through the cross we know that even in the midst of the darkest night, light still shines and in God’s loving care all will be well. Through the cross we know a joy that acknowledges the pain and difficulty of life, but transforms them through faith, hope and love.
Through the cross we know that the final word belongs not to cancer, not to death, but to Christ who has promised to see us again and who brings with him the joy of new life. On the morning of the third day, beside an empty tomb, her eyes flowing with tears, Mary Magdalene encountered one she did not recognize. Yet, when he called her name, she sees her Lord again, risen from the grave, and she rejoiced. Though you have pain now, may you see him again today, may your heart rejoice, and may no one take your joy from you. For through the cross we discover the joy of resurrection.