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John 16:20

John 16:20
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John 16:20, “You will be sorrowful…”


I think the disciples’ experience of the crucifixion over Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Resurrection Sunday gives us a pattern to understand the sufferings and sorrows in our own life, in the world around us, and in history as a whole.

On Good Friday, the worst thing imaginable happens—joy is extinguished, peace is shattered, hope is made a mockery of; God With Us is put to death. There is no horror greater than this. On Holy Saturday there is stupefied silence, inarticulate grief, sorrows attempting to numb themselves with disbelief, the agony of a fresh wound. Then, on Resurrection Sunday comes the eucatastrophe, the unexpected, unlooked for inbreaking of joy, the dawning of a gladness whose brilliance does not eclipse the horrors of Friday, but transfigures them into beauty, into glory, into the notes of the Lovesong we were made to sing, into the image of Him for whom all things exist. Sunday’s resurrection light turns Friday’s cruciform sorrow into joy…..turns Friday’s suffering into glory.

And, since Christ’s crucifixion truly IS the embodiment of ALL sorrow, suffering, sin and agony His people will ever face, the Easter transfiguration of His cross from sorrow into joy is the firstfruits of what God is going to do to ALL the hardships of His people. Indeed, Christian, since all darkness you will ever face was endured by Jesus on the cross, whenever you sing of, think of, or rejoice in the beauty of God revealed on Calvary, you are—in that moment—bearing visceral witness that every hardship you can possibly face (all of which are embodied there in the crucified Christ of whom you sing)…that every hardship you will ever face has been and will be turned to a witness to the beauty of your God and so a servant of your joy. God has—by the resurrection of the crucified Christ—turned the supreme horror into the supreme beauty, and on the basis of that transfiguration, he will transfigure ALL our sorrow into joy. This is what Easter’s illumination of Good Friday teaches us.

BUT—and this is crucial for today’s point—the transfiguration of the crucified Christ into the radiance of the glory of God DOES NOT HAPPEN until the disciples can look back on Friday from the vantage point of Sunday…the cross becomes the burning bush whereupon YHWH is seen and known in His beauty only when kindled by the interpretive light streaming from the empty tomb.

It would have been madness tantamount to blasphemy for the dicisples to invent a “good side” to the cross on Saturday……for them to say, “well, at least we learned something here…” or “well, at least he taught us to be good people…” or “well, if he hadn’t been taken, maybe Judas’s treachery would never have been exposed….” Such attempts at man-made “silver linings” would have been grotesque in the extreme……No, Saturday was for silence….Saturday was for waiting….Saturday was a time for sorrow.

Similarly, ALL of our losses and sufferings and sorrows and failures—these things are like “Good Friday”….they are like the crucifixion, and in relation to them, we are living in Holy Saturday……The cancer was Friday; losing her was Friday; the shattered dream was Friday; the broken relationship, the stubborn sin, the chronic pain—these are analogous to Christ’s crucifixion on Good Friday (and, again I have to reiterate, they are not only analogous to, but were actually endured in the moment of the cross)…..we—many of us—are living in Holy Saturday, and just as it would have been madness for the disciples to go “silver lining” hunting on Saturday, so too it is often weak medicine for us (or others) to start calling out the “good side” of our various Good Friday-moments. What is called for rather is silence…mourning…and waiting in hope.

Yes, waiting IN HOPE. Because—unlike the disciples—we HAVE seen the resurrection….we HAVE seen all sorrow transfigured to joy, we HAVE seen the Lamb who is slain take his stand in the midst of the throne, and we know that—just as the agony of His crucifixion is now the song of heaven (Revelation 5:9)—so too ALL the agonies, ALL the sorrows, ALL the losses of His people will be turned to a song of beauty IN HIM.

How will this be? How will that horrific sin committed against you be turned to a witness of God’s beauty and servant of your joy? How will that loss that felt like a blade of ice in your heart ever be turned to a sweet song of God’s goodness? How will this present, chronic, debilitating experience ever be transfigured into an image of the love of God?….We dare not try to say….not on Saturday. We may be given glimpses here and there (and these are gifts to be sure) but ultimately, we will not see the transformation of our sorrows into joy until our entire history is bathed in the light of the face of the risen Christ.

In the meantime we remain in liminality of Holy Saturday…and yet we remain here in HOPE because in the crucified Christ who is risen, we have seen the greatest sorrow—in which all sorrows are borne—transformed into the greatest joy—from which all joy flows, and we know that, if we are trusting THIS ONE as our Lord and God and All, we too have been, are being, and will be carried with Him through sorrow and into joy; through suffering and into glory.