Saturday, June 4, 2011

Amen, Go Lord Jesus?

There was a song that was popular when I was in high school among the Christian circles in which I was walking called “Trading My Sorrows.” The jist of the song was quite simple: we trade our sorrows to receive the joy of the Lord. Other common trades we would talk about include trading our sin to receive Christ’s righteousness, or trading our death to receive his life. These are all a bit unbalanced as far as trading goes, and in each case we seem to get the better end of the stick. Perhaps that was supposed to be the scandal of the gospel. (I’m not going to attack these happy trades right now, though I have taken the first one to task in an earlier post.)

There was one passage in particular that confused me as a college student that did not fit neatly into the trading rubric. While Luke’s version of the beatitudes says logically enough, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh,” Matthew’s much more quoted version renders it, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” a strikingly less triumphant trade. Even if those who mourn have comfort to look forward to, I would ask, wouldn’t it be better not to have mourned at all? What is blessed about receiving comfort, at least as opposed to not mourning to begin with?

Moreover, the Ascension seemed like the worst trade of all. When Jesus is explaining to his disciples that he will be going to the Father and they will see him no more, he anticipates their grief and asserts, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” How is it to their advantage that he go away in order that he may send them someone to help in his absence, I would wonder. Wouldn’t it be better for him to stick around so that they wouldn’t need a helper? It would have seemed a rotten trade to me.

Thus there is a mystery we celebrate this weekend on the Feast of the Ascension, a mystery that looks ahead to Pentecost and the gift of the Holy Spirit, the mystery that the comfort for the mourners and the Comforter whom the Father sends the disciples is not mere consolation: it/He is further blessing. It is for our good that we mourn, for we will receive his comfort. It is for our good that we seem to be bereaved, for the Spirit has come.

It is good theology to be certain, a theology that says that God will not abandon his people nor allow their weakness to triumph over his redemption. Half the time I don’t believe it; half the time I think mourning trumps comfort and human frailty trumps the Holy Spirit. Thus this weekend the biggest act of faith I can muster is to rejoice.

Go on up to your Father, Jesus, in order that we can receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Alleluia, I suppose.

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