Easter 3 – Sorrow and Joy

Easter Monday - Caravaggio Supper at Emmaus

1 Peter 2:11-17       St John 16:16-22


You have sorrow now: but I will see you again,
and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.


We are continuing in this season of Easter.  It has now been 21 days since we celebrated Easter and we are to imagine Jesus still appearing and disappearing among his apostles.  Imagine the boosts to their confidence and to their joy as they tried to take in the profundity of what was happening to them, of what it all meant?

We are told that Jesus spoke with them during this time, but the accounts of what he said are limited.  So this Sunday and the next two Sundays our Gospel readings come from John’s account of what Jesus said to them on the last night he was with them.  He gives the most extensive account of that last night – 5 chapters of the 21 chapters of his gospel.

“A little while, and you will see me no longer;
and again a little while, and you will see me.”

These words I think describe well the experience of every Christian – our lives are a mixture of sorrow and joy.

It seems that it is the life of faith.

If we look at the experience of the great people of faith in the Old Testament we see something of this dynamic.

  • Remember Abraham – how he was visited by God in Ur and called to the Promised Land. He acted upon the visitation, he followed in faith.  But in the account of his life in Genesis we hear of only a few other confirmations of that calling by God during his whole lifetime.
  • Remember Moses and the people of Israel whom he led. He grew up in Egypt, and then he fled and spent 40 years in the exile pasturing sheep in the wilderness, then he has his call at the burning bush, then he follows in faith, and witnesses God’s great deliverance through the powerful signs and wonders.  He wandered in the desert with the people, and we hear of only moments in that time when God again acted or spoke.  Of course the people were given the testimony of the Old Covenant – the Law was a written record they could now consult and the Tabernacle was in their midst for a daily leading through Moses and then through the high priest.
  • Remember David, called through Samuel the Prophet and then guided from time to time by Nathan the prophet. He did not have continual contact with God but followed in faith.  He and the people of Israel, now with the testimony of the Law and the Prophets (adding to their knowledge of encounters, through another, with the living God), and David added to the writings, with the Psalms.
  • The Wisdom literature built on the wisdom of the Law and the Prophets – with the highlight being the Song of Songs. In that book a romantic love between a bridegroom and his bride are seen as figures of God and Israel, and later, Christ and the Church.  Here the experience of God’s appearing and then disappearing is very clear – sorrow for the bride when her bridegroom disappears, followed by her searching with tears, and then joy when he appears again.
  • The Apostles after the death of Jesus are experiencing this – joy at Jesus resurrection appearances and then loss and wonder when he disappears, then joy and then loss, faith growing all the while, sadness being replaced with joy. Their joy is more complete when the Holy Spirit is poured out on them at Pentecost.  But even then in the Acts of the Apostles we read that they are not continually experiencing the Spirit’s guidance.  We hear of them often praying and fasting, and only then receiving guidance about the next steps.

So it is to be expected of our experience – that there will be times of closeness to God and times of experiencing the absence of direct guidance. But we are to be watching and to be expectant.  We too have received the gift of the Holy Spirit in our baptism and through faith.

This absence and presence is the means by which God leads us and is helping us to grow in faith into mature Christian believers.

You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.  


There are sorrows because we live in a world that is fallen – and we are right to have sorrow at the loss of loved ones, at the loss of abilities, at sickness and death, and the difficulties of living in a world where the kingdom of God has not fully come.

But I want to stay with our experience of sorrow at God’s apparent absence.  Here are three reasons why we might experience this kind of sorrow:

First, it could be our own fault – it may be that we are led away by our passions, falling into the world.  We may have forgotten the one true God.  In the experience of God’s absence, of sorrow, it is a time to reflect:  a question to ask is, am I being faithless in some way?  Am I following the way of God?  St Peter says…

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.  Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honourable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.  [1 Peter 2:11f]

Our life here is to be seen as a journey of exile on route to our home in heaven, the Promised Land.  In this time, before the life of heaven, St Peter says we are to…

Live as people who are free, not using (our) freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.  

So the experience of sorrow, should lead us to ask ourself: am following the moral life?  When we turn in the opposite direction from seeking out God, to satisfy excessively any desire of the flesh, whether bodily desires or desires of the soul, such as prideful ambition or staying angry in response to hurts, we will not find peace or joy, but sorrow.  If we discover in our introspection a failure, we are to ask for the grace of God, to be transformed.

Second, we may experience sorrow at God’s absence, as a wake up call to re-engage in our journey of faith.  It might not be that we are doing something wrong, but we may also not be doing much right – just stuck without growing.   And if that is the case, there are many spiritual disciplines given us in the Bible to help us: prayer; fasting; almsgiving; reading Scripture; going on retreat – to a room by yourself; and, of course, renewal through the sacramental life, receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus.

Third, there is another reason for the experience of God’s absence, and I say, the experience of it, because God is never absent: we are living in the mind of God, this is His creation we inhabit, God is everywhere.  The reason may be simply that God is removing the experience of His presence, what is called, his consolation, so that we might grow as independent freely willing subjects.  Like parents need to absent themselves from their children, a little more and more, or they will not grow.

So the experience of God’s absence may not be that we are culpable of some wrong, but simply because we’re being given by God the space to grow spiritually, as people of faith: learning to love God and our neighbours freely, not because of what we get from it, but because that is what it is, to be like God.


These sorrows that we experience in our Christian walk are, Jesus says, like childbirth:

When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for 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 from you.

The experience of suffering is about giving birth to the inner man, or inward person, made in the image and likeness of God.  It is a process that is painful.  Expect it.

But there is a promise that comes with it – our sorrow will turn to joy.

In heaven no one will take our joy from us – it is described as “seeing God face to face”, or the beatific vision. Or in Revelation, it is described as, a place where there will be no sun because God will be our light.  We will be fulling living and aware that we are in God.

This is our trajectory – and as we grow we will know it more and more in this life:  it is to think the thoughts of God, and to will the will of God, and to be infilled with His love.

Let us prepare ourselves now for our sorrows to be transformed into joy as we encounter and receive our risen Lord.

Amen +

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Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. Psalm 127:1,2