“What you will find in your heart is not heaven but a picture of heaven, a silhouette of heaven, a heaven-shaped shadow, a longing unsatisfiable by anything on earth…What you will find in your heart is not heaven but a heavenly hole, a womblike emptiness crying out to be filled” (Peter Kreeft).
Almost. Not Yet. There must be more. God has put in our hearts an insatiable appetite. Frans de Waal is a Dutch primatologist. He has spent his life studying the behavior of primates, especially bonobo, an endangered ape in Central Africa. As an acclaimed atheist, he has published various books about the morality of apes. Sure enough, they do have a sort of ethical society. They care for one another and raise their children with a sense of right and wrong. Yet, a peculiar thing happens when a bonobo dies. Rather, a peculiar thing does not happen. They recognize death. They even mourn for death. Yet, nothing else comes of it. There are no rituals or requiems. There are no ceremonies offering the soul of one’s fellow primate up to divinity. There is nothing more.
It is at death that we discover the infinite gulf between man and monkey. From the tribal drum circles to Mozart’s Requiem, in the heart beat of every man and woman, is a conviction that there must be more. Hope makes us human. Hope is what Jesus Christ gives us.
In our Gospel this morning, Christ tells us that life is like the pain of a woman in childbirth.
“Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:16-22).
“You will weep and mourn.” We all know grief. In the worst of times, grief rings in our hearts like tinnitus. It is deafening and numbing. In the best of times, grief gets quieter, but we still hear it. Grief is a sort of soundtrack that fades in and out, but never really stops. Today, Christ speaks to that grief and offers something more: hope. “You will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy.”
I once knew an old Italian woman named Immacolata. She lived in a home for the elderly with dementia. Locked away in that home, unable to care for herself or see her loved ones, most of whom had passed away, Immacolata suffered terribly with depression. Yet, in her grief, there was something more. You could see it in her hands when she prayed the rosary and in her eyes when she looked up at the crucifix. She had hope. Everything she cherished in life was gone, and yet, her spirit radiated. The hope in Jesus Christ burned in her heart, and nothing could take it away. You could almost hear it, in the room with Immacolata, “So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice.”
Hope. Christ’s words, in our gospel reading, are almost a gentle whisper. “You will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy.” Like a dad going off to work, he leaves his children with this hope. He will be back, and knowing that makes all the difference through the day. Christ knows that we will suffer, but he does not leave us alone in the suffering. He fills it with hope.
In a beautiful sermon, “Hope on, hope ever,” Charles Spurgeon offers us these words.
“It is a happy way of soothing sorrow when we can feel – ‘HE careth for me.’ Christian! Do not dishonor religion by always wearing a brow of care. Come, cast your burden upon your Lord…O child of suffering, be thou patient. God has not passed thee over in His providence. He who is the feeder of sparrows, will also furnish you with what you need. Sit not down in despair. Hope on, hope ever.”
So what does this mean for you and me? We must meditate on hope.
What is hope? What is Christ offering? Why does the Church give us this scripture now in the heart of Paschaltide? Perhaps, she knows how easily we forget to hope. While we are feasting in this season, striving for gratitude, joy, and celebration in all the brightness of Pascha, you have permission to simply hope.
Contemplate hope. Think about heaven. Think about your loved ones who will greet you at the doors of eternity. Remember the heavenly Jerusalem, “prepared as a bride dressed for her husband” (Rev. 21:2), and all the promises that Christ offers. Hope is not escapism. Hope is realism for the tomb is broken open. Christ has risen, so we may rest in hope.