2019 – Cycle C
Acts 14: 21-27; Psalm 145; Revelation 21:1-5; John 13: 31-33, 34-35
Often well–intentioned gestures can become bittersweet experiences for some people causing them unintended anguish.
Consider the blessing of women last week for the civil celebration of Mother’s Day. For how many women is that blessing a source of grief? Mother’s Day can be difficult for women who long to be moms or have lost children in miscarriage and stillbirth or bear the heavy heart of the death of a child after birth. What about the women who have come to regret an abortion or who simply long to get married and start their own family? And what of the infertile or gay couple among us?
Mother’s Day can be bittersweet. Will not similar feelings be experienced by men on Father’s Day?
Might bittersweet not describe the emotional experience of people who sit among us, having suffered through a divorce or spousal abuse, or are experiencing serious relationship issues in their marriage, when we bless couples to mark marriage anniversaries?
In this season of ordination anniversaries when polls have shown that because of the sexual abuse scandal a majority of the Catholic laity do not trust any of us priests, cannot the feelings of many priests be characterized as bittersweet?
Bittersweetness marks our lives and communities in many ways because life is very knotty and complex. It is a mingling of sadness and regret for what is not and hope for what might yet be. Our churches are filled with women and men who, like John in the Book of Revelation, are told to take and eat a small scroll. John is told by a voice from heaven that the scroll will taste as sweet as honey in his mouth but will turn his stomach sour [See Revelation 10: 8-10].
Is this bittersweetness not what Jesus felt and experienced, “when Judas had left them…” that last Passover Supper? “When Judas had left them…” With this phrase with which our gospel passage began there is no turning back. The betrayal has been set in motion and cannot be stopped as Jesus turns and speaks to his disciples of loving one another. How bittersweet the moment. And what of that kiss to be given in the garden? Once used by Judas to express love and care, a sweet kiss will now be transformed into an act of bitter betrayal.
The Christian Gospel is filled with the bittersweetness of our lives. A child is born and heralded by heavenly angels and earthly strangers while the mothers of Bethlehem moan and wail over the slaughter of their children. The child’s mother, Mary, is warned in the midst of her thanksgiving that a sword will pierce her heart. Her husband Joseph’s dream of marriage is marred by thoughts of divorce.
Even this season of Resurrection does not escape the bittersweetness of life as the living Christ forever bears the wounds of crucifixion; the good news of the women that Jesus is alive is considered nonsense; and that no one, not even Jesus’ most intimate friends, ever initially recognize him.
Moments of joy and hope seem always stained with unintended sadness and disappointment. Yet isn’t that the reality of our lives. The Resurrection of Christ does not release us from life’s incongruities. Resurrection does not remove our wounds. We continue to carry them with us as the Christ does. We and the Christ are one. What the Resurrection of Christ does do for us is allow us to bear our wounds. For our wounds, our disappointments, our dashed hopes, our sadness are the ground from which we are encouraged to “love one another”.
It is bittersweetness, a touch of sweet and sour, that allows us to understand another person; to embrace someone even when it hurts; to honour people’s commitments even when our own commitments may have faltered or never saw completion, to see beyond our sadness to their hope and joy.
“When Judas had left them, Jesus said,…”I give you a new commandment: love one another.””