[Y]ou will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.
This selection of text nicely lines up with themes we’ve been grappling with all week. We’ve contemplated the ambiguity regarding the demarcation between sorrow and joy. Is it when Jesus dies and rises? Is it when He ascends and comes to us by the Holy Spirit, sacramentally or mystically? Is it when He ascends and returns at His second coming?
We’ve pondered whether the “little while” during which we sorrow is not so much a chronological thing as it is a faith qualifier. Small-visioned faith sorrows; Jesus-seeing faith rejoices.
This selection of text retains the ambiguity. It does so by the analogy Jesus brings up, an analogy He introduced already in John 3, and that is the analogy of being born again. When exactly are Christians born again? Well of course, as Jesus teaches, that happens at baptism, for unless one is born of “water and the spirit” he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
But we know baptism is something lived out daily. In baptism we die to Christ – we take up our cross – but we take up our cross daily, as Jesus informs us in St. Luke’s Gospel. Also, we know that the fulfillment of baptism is at our resurrection. We die daily in this world, rising to new life each day, and rising to ultimate new life in the end. What’s beautiful about Jesus’ words in this week’s Gospel is, however we understand baptism, He anchors it solidly in His own death and resurrection. He’s the woman in sorrow, giving birth, a point amplified by His “womb” bursting forth with water and blood, as He gave birth to the Church. And the moment of joy is when Jesus brings forth the Church, His Body, as He did in the 50 days following His resurrection.
So now let’s place the “sorrow/joy” theme into this matrix. Jesus sets it up as before being born again = sorrow; after being born again = joy.
If this is talking about Jesus before being “born again” on behalf of mankind in the tomb, then the sorrow is when Jesus is dying, and the joy is after He resurrects.
If this is talking about us before we are born again in Holy Baptism, then the sorrow is the general sadness that we don’t see Jesus, that is, we belong to world that sees no hope, no Savior, but only dying, and return to the dust. But upon baptism, a new mind sets in. We see joy everywhere for which we give thanks, for “He is risen!”
If this is talking about us before our daily “dying to our Old Adam and sins,” then the sorrow is the general sorrow we have living in this world, bearing our Old Adam, mourning over our sins and sicknesses. The joy is over our faith and hope in a world to come, the “vision” of Christ granted sacramentally and mystically in Holy Communion, and the great joy we confess.
If this is talking about us before our final death, then the sorrow is similar to that above. We struggle and burden in a world bearing the curse. Along with all the creation, we groan. The world is full of many evils. The joy would be when we see with our eyes our Lord Jesus at His return, a vision granted after our death to this world.
I actually am learning to love the ambiguity. In this little Gospel, Jesus brings up powerful points about the sacramental life, how we “see” Him sacramentally at the right hand of the Father, eating His flesh and drinking His blood, how we are granted to live in joy insofar as we embrace the baptismal life.
Life is sorrow and joy. But in Christ, joy always overcomes the sorrow.