By Stuart Powell
Suffering and sorrow stink!
Pain—whether physical, emotional, or spiritual—is seemingly ever present in our lives, and there often is no good way to deal with it. It never passes quickly enough. Some pain never diminishes. The death of a loved one gives birth to intense and enduring pain. Philip Yancey explained that God gave us memories of those who are absent from this life as a gift to help with the pain. The weakness of our memories is the best weapon we have to combat the pain of loss. Memory is limited, but memory also is a wonderful gift.
A few hours before his betrayal, Jesus revealed what was about to happen to his closest followers. Jesus understood not only the pain he would endure, but also the agony with which his followers would wrestle. John recorded Jesus’ consoling words to his followers:
I tell you the solemn truth, you will weep and wail, but the world will rejoice; you will be sad, but your sadness will turn into joy. When a woman gives birth, she has distress because her time has come, but when her child is born, she no longer remembers the suffering because of her joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you (John 16:20-22, NET Bible).
John didn’t say whether this conversation took place before or after Jesus passed the loaf and the cup. But there came a time—later, after Pentecost—when the apostles put all of the pieces together: Jesus’ death, their sorrow, his resurrection, and their unquenchable joy. The memory of those days of horror at the loss followed by the weeks of joy in Jesus’ presence again helped them connect Jesus’ sacrifice to the bread and the cup. The apostles passed on to us the same emblems to remember their witness of sorrow and joy. When we focus on their stories of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, God builds in us not only joy like theirs, but also hope in another resurrection that is yet to come.
Remember Jesus—alive and loving—as you partake of these emblems.
Stuart Powell lives outside of Terre Haute, Indiana, where he serves with the North Side Christian Church.