Bishop Goff's Meditation for the Fourth Week of Lent: Joy and Sorrow


I woke one recent morning with words from the Epiphany hymn, We Three Kings, singing in my head. 

            “Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume breathes a life of gathering gloom;

            Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding dying, sealed in the stone cold tomb.”

As I pondered those words out of season, I suddenly recognized how in season they actually are.  In the joy of Christmas, we already see the sorrow of Good Friday lurking on the horizon.  Because sorrow is like that; it is not bound by time, but infiltrates past, present and future.  Sorrow will not stay in its lane.  Sorrow, in fact, does not have a lane but touches all of life.  Thanks be to God, joy is like that, too.  It doesn’t have a lane but crosses every boundary. 

In a scene in the movie, Shadowlands, C.S. Lewis and his wife Joy are traveling in the countryside.  Joy begins to talk about her impending death from cancer.  Lewis objects, begging simply to enjoy the beauty of the day without having to think about the suffering to come.  Joy says to him, “The pain then is part of the joy now.  That’s the deal.”

The pain then is part of the joy now.  Sorrow won’t be bound by time.  Sorrow comes unbidden, even into the joyful moments of our lives.  When sorrow comes, it cast shadows and those shadows give depth to our lives.  In the same way that shading adds depth in a painting, sorrow makes our lives three-dimensional.  It is excruciating for us who have been taught to deny, reject and ignore uncomfortable feelings, yet sorrow makes us more fully alive human beings.   Francis Weller wrote of this in his book, The Wild Edge of Sorrow.

“Life is hard, filled with loss and suffering.  Life is glorious, stunning, and incomprehensible.  To deny either truth is to live in some fantasy of the ideal or to be crushed by the weight of pain. Instead, both are true, and it requires a familiarity with both sorrow and joy to fully encompass the full range of being human.” 

As Lent continues, we stand before our Lord’s suffering and death.  We contemplate the cross and recognize the agony of sorrow.  We also see, right there at the foot of the cross, clear and undeniable glimpses of the joy to come.  We know both joy and sorrow by faith and from our own experiences.  Our wrenching grief for a loved one who has died is colored and deepened by moments of joy, thanksgiving, even laughter as we tell stories, remember past happiness and recall the ordinariness of daily life.  The joy then remains part of our pain now.  As mystic William Blake said, “the deeper the sorrow, the greater the joy.”

So walk boldly through the season ahead.  Touch the sorrow.  Touch the joy.  Do not turn coward before either.  The pain then is part of the joy now.  The joy then is part of the pain now.  Jesus’ death and resurrection make both complete. 

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified:  Mercifully grant that we, walking the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.      
-- The Collect for Palm Sunday from The Book of Common Prayer