O God, who to those that go astray dost show the light of Thy truth, that they may return to the path of justice: grant that all who are enrolled in the Christian faith, may both reject all that is hostile to that name, and follow after what is fitting to it.
– From the Collect for Third Sunday after Easter
Starting this Sunday and continuing for the three weeks following, the Sunday Gospel readings are from the 16th Chapter of St. John’s Gospel. This chapter is part of Christ’s Farewell Discourse to his disciples at the Last Supper, and the Church sees the Easter Season as an appropriate time to delve into the rich teachings found there.
This Sunday, the focus is on Christ’s words, “a little while, and now you shall not see me: and again a little while, and you shall see me.” These words, like many of the sayings of Our Lord and others in Scripture, have multiple meanings. The first is the most obvious: Jesus is about to die on the Cross and descend into Hell—the disciples will not see him. But in three days he will gloriously rise again—then they shall see him. It also refers to the fact that 40 days after Christ’s Resurrection he will ascend to the Father, after which he will not be seen. Yet ten days later at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit will come and Christ will be “seen” again, in the sense that those who receive the Holy Spirit are able to understand the mission of Christ and see his work in the world. Further, although Christ’s earthly mission ended, one day he will be fully seen again: at his Second Coming in glory at the End of Time.
Placing this reading during the Easter Season points to a time when converts baptized at Easter were receiving their final instructions for life as Christians. They learned the Faith during the catechumenate, and now they were being sent out to live the faith. This life would not be easy; it would entail many struggles. These words of Jesus about departing and then coming back, therefore, apply to the life of discipleship. When we receive the Sacraments, or experience a sense of his presence in prayer, we “see” Christ very clearly. However, often in the Christian life Christ seems to go away. The spiritual masters called this the Dark Night of the Soul: a time during which we feel abandoned by God, completely alone. We experience a Holy Saturday in which the Lord apparently leaves us, and we are despondent and seemingly without hope. We might wonder to ourselves: will he return?
Our Lord tells us in no uncertain terms that he will keep his promise to return: “Amen, amen, I say to you, that you shall lament and weep, but the world shall rejoice: and you shall be made sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.” And further, “your joy no man shall take from you.” It is a joy that passes all understanding. We sometimes experience it here on earth, but we will experience this joy in its fullness when we enter into Christ’s presence in Heaven.
We must, therefore, remain faithful to Christ, even when we don’t see him, so that one day we can see and be seen by him. St. Cyprian writes, “Does it delight us to stand here long among the swords of the devil when we should rather long for and choose to hurry toward Christ? Who would not choose to be free from sorrow? Who would not speed toward joy? But our sorrow is indeed to be turned into joy, as our Lord makes clear…To see Christ is to rejoice, and we cannot have joy unless we see him. What blindness of mind or what foolishness is it to love the world’s afflictions, and punishments and tears, and not rather to rush to the joy that can never be taken away!” (On Mortality, 5). Let us during this Easter season, then, choose the joy of Christ over the sorrow of this world. Even when we can’t see the Lord, we know he is always with us, and by being faithful to him, we will one day see him in all his glory, and then our joy will be complete.
Eric Sammons is the Executive Director of Crisis Publications.