“But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you” (Jn 16:22). Jesus continues to prepare his disciples for his horrific death by offering hope that he will see them again. That he will see them again is not a typo. We can read about the exchanges between Jesus and his risen disciples. Jesus appeared to Mary of Magdalene at the tomb, he appeared to Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus, and he appeared to the ten and then the eleven with Thomas. Jesus sought out those he commissioned to proclaim his Gospel message after his Resurrection, just as he had done during his ministry before his crucifixion.
When Jesus did appear to them again, at the moment of recognition, there was wonder and great joy! It is hard for us to even imagine these early Resurrection accounts. The disciples witnessed his brutal death, lived in fear because of the very real possibility of their own persecution and similar death, and then, they encountered the risen Jesus. St Paul would also shortly thereafter encounter Jesus on a different road, the one to Damascus en route to continue his persecution of the followers of Jesus. All of their hearts rejoiced and it was this joy that they proclaimed with boldness. The Apostles, like Jesus, led with joy and love to embark on their evangelical mission. They lived a difficult and challenging life that for many ended in their own brutal deaths, yet their joy carried them through and into eternity.
Life is hard, even in the best of circumstances. There is evil present in this world, not of God’s creation, because all that he has created is good. Through the corruption of the good that he has created bad things happen to good people, and good people do bad things. Suffering, disease, violence, natural disasters, division, corruption, hatred, and dehumanization abound. It can be easy to succumb to the overwhelming tide of negativity and assume a stance of cynicism, detachment, denial, defensiveness, and/or indifference. Yet this is not the response Jesus modeled nor has infused his followers through the ages with.
Our response to the evil and darkness of this world is to be bearers of the joy of Jesus! We are to be as lights shining in the darkness, providing hope for those in despair, accompanying those in their struggles, and being willing to receive help when we are ourselves are in need. We cannot do any of this alone and on our own but it can be done in participation with Jesus and each other. The Apostles, disciples, and saints, those who have gone before us, have shown us that it is possible to be beacons of hope in very dark places.
Pope Francis reminds us about our mission in The Joy of the Gospel (276): “However dark things are, goodness always re-emerges and spreads. Each day in our world beauty is born anew, it rises transformed through the storms of history. Values always tend to reappear under new guises, and human beings have arisen time after time from situations that seemed doomed. Such is the power of the resurrection, and all who evangelize are instruments of that power.”
Even during this pandemic, we can and need to trust that Jesus is with us, closer than we can ever imagine, filling us with his love and joy. No one can take this joy away from us except us if we are unwilling to share it. We can and must choose to allow the light of his joy and love to radiate through us, no matter how small or insignificant an act of kindness may seem. When we do so the darkness in our realm of influence will begin to fade away.
Photo credit, Jack McKee: September 2013, ordained to share the joy of Jesus!