From Pain of the Cross to Risen Happiness (Reflection based on John: 13: 21-32)
‘The happiness now is part of the pain then’.
This sentence was written by William Nicholson for his play, Shadowlands, which was about the Christian author, C. S. Lewis, and his relationship with Joy Gresham, an American poet he fell in love with, and later married. Joy says this after discovering that she has cancer and they both enjoy a happy holiday in the Golden Valley in Herefordshire.
‘The happiness now is part of the pain then’. This might also be said of the Supper in the upper room that Jesus shared with his disciples. This could have been a happy communing. Jesus is sharing bread and wine with his disciple companions. The word companion means ‘eating bread together’.) As they all dipped their bread into the same dish this might have been a time of remembering the wisdom and goodness of their Lord Jesus, in gaining strength and joy in bread and wine and in going forward into the blessedness of God’s light.
Yet here, at this Passover supper, as the Franciscan Brother Ramon expressed it: ‘the shadow of the cross has fallen on each of them.’ The atmosphere is changed and darkened as Jesus announces: ‘One of you is going to betray me.’
The ever-eager Peter needs to know who Jesus means. Who is the betrayer? It will be the one who eats this piece of bread (‘sop’ in King James Bible) that Jesus has dipped into the dish. None of the disciples, including Peter, understand when Judas is told to do quickly that which he is destined to set off in the painful chain of events which will lead to the Cross.
We are told: ‘It was night’. In John’s Gospel Jesus is frequently referred to as ‘the Light of the World.’ So the symbol of darkness is apt for Judas’ evil betrayal.
In truth, each of the disciples will, being human, like us, bear guilt from hiding in the safe shadows after Jesus is arrested: by lying, doubting or denying their companionship and discipleship with Jesus.
Some Christian theologians have argued that Judas’ betrayal is a necessary device in the Christian Drama, that he is pre-destined to be the betrayer of the Son of God. But for me, this takes away the choice of free will God has gifted each one of us with in our lives. Jesus is the only person in that upper room who knows that Judas will betray him. He could have exposed Judas’ treachery to his disciples, and forced him to break his evil resolution.
But Jesus lets him keep the purse with all those heavy gold coins, allows him to flee into the dark night.
Jesus has welcomed Judas as one of his trusted disciples, a companion. He has called him to a way of love, albeit through suffering to come. But Judas turns away, chooses betrayal and personal despair and self-destruction. Jesus accepts refusal because the final word is always with Christ, through his Father, and that word is always: LOVE.
To invert that sentence from Shadowlands: ‘the pain now is part of the happiness then’. The final two verses of today’s reading from John, spoken by Jesus to his disciples after Judas has gone into the dark, are expressed so that they will understand that his imminent, emptying suffering and death will be followed by the contrasting amazing joy of Resurrection. God’s glory can then be seen in light of the Cross and the After-Life.
After the Resurrection we can then say, looking back on the time of pain and suffering: ‘the happiness now is part of the pain then.’