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Sorrow and Joy

+Fr. David Bissias, Saint Demetrios - Hammond, IN | June 3, 2020

On the seventh Wednesday following Pascha, we are quickly approaching Holy Pentecost, our commemoration of the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples and apostles of our Lord. The Gospel reading appointed for this day is perhaps especially poignant in light of our current situation in these difficult days, but also in light of the feast to come.

Referring to his own Crucifixion, death and burial, the Lord confounds his disciples with talk of seeing him, not seeing him, then seeing him again. The trauma they will face in the loss of their master is countered with enigmatic encouragement. In hindsight, we know what the Lord was referring to, but they did not. So too, in our day, we are like the woman in labor to whom the Lord refers, experiencing sorrow in our time of travail, but we also shall experience joyful relief when this current crisis passes—and it will pass.

But there is more that the Lord adds: “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” In fact, we often allow our joy to be taken from us in times of trouble, or at times of apparent loss, or when we are in any type of pain. As the Lord is true to his word, no one can take our joy from us, and our truest and lasting joy is that which comes from our life in Christ Jesus, risen from the dead! Yet we can forfeit our joy. We can allow other persons or circumstances to take it away.

This is perhaps why the Church began to give us reminders throughout each year of the nature, goal and source of our joy. For quite some time, the Church did not have the cycle of feastdays we do today, and in large part it is because they were unnecessary: the earliest Christians lived their faith in a militant way that is rare in our society where we take our religious freedoms and power of choice for granted. Gradually, for various reasons, the cycle of feasts and fasts evolved. One reason seems evident: the hymns and services of the great feasts teach us what was accomplished “for us and for our salvation.” In some sense, they serve as reminders of what our life in Christ and his Body, the Church, is. Essentially, this is nothing other than our communion—common existence—in and with our Lord.

At the end of this week we have an excellent example with the celebration of the Saturday of Souls and Holy Pentecost, somewhat foreshadowed by today’s Gospel lesson. It is no coincidence that currently we celebrate the Saturday of Souls before Great Lent and Holy Pentecost (the other Saturdays of Great lent are actually feasts even if we celebrate general memorials). We “remember” those whom we have “lost”; but they are not lost, for they live in Christ and they are still in that sense with us, even as Christ is with us. They are alive in the communion of the Church made possible by the descent, visitation and power of the Holy Spirit through whom we have been adopted as children of our Heavenly Father.

The journey to the Lord’s Resurrection which Great Lent intensifies, and Pentecost which is the fulfillment of our ability to be in communion with Christ, are two sides of the same proverbial coin, for they express the fullness of the life of the Church, which in our everlasting life of the common Resurrection in the Kingdom of God is the true source of inexhaustible joy. No one can take it away. Let us not give it away! Let us not let it slip away! For the Lord is with us, and there is nothing we need fear.

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