Joy and Sorrow Side by Side…

Luke 24:13-35

I am struck today by how closely joy and sorrow live side by side.

Certainly this was so with Cleopas and the other disciple as they made that long walk home to Emmaus that Sunday afternoon.

One can imagine the two of them walking a path they probably knew by heart, caught up in their pondering all they had been witness to those last days, culminating in their confused astonishment at what the women had shared about their experience at the tomb early that same morning.

And as we hear, in their exhaustion, in their grief, in their confusion, when Jesus joined them on that walk, their vision was clouded and they could not recognize the joy and wonder which was walking right alongside them then: this embodied promise which confirmed what the women had seen just a few hours before!

And so this is what I have found myself considering in these last few days: how closely deep joy and profound sorrow often live to one another and how you and I traverse between the two sometimes from one moment to the next.

And also this.  Joy always promises to win.

This was so for me just a few days back. Indeed, I saw it coming.  I knew before the day started that this would be so all day long.

  • For you see, I spent the morning volunteering as the local food bank made a distribution through our county health department.  It had been set up in memory of and to honor a precious friend’s commitment to the larger community.  In fact, before her death last spring, she had always taken such joy in coordinating these efforts there. It  turned out to be a beautiful April morning to be about the work of packing food and then carrying it to the trunks of the cars which had been lined up for hours before we began. Over the course of a couple of hours, 150 local families went home with a little more to tide them through the week.  It was a glad thing to be a part of this.  And yet, through it all, we carried the very tender knowing that one was absent who had so loved to be part of this work of giving away to those who need it most.
  • From there I traveled a couple of hours north to be with family.  My youngest nephew and his wife had closed on their first home and we were going to see it and celebrate with them. I had not been with them since keeping vigil with our mother and grandmother in February, an experience which bound us more together and for which we are grateful.  And yet, again, as we came together the other day, we did so experiencing tender hearts open to joy, but doing so with a deeper understanding of how fragile we all are, and of how changed we are still a few months later.  Unlike the disciples in the story now, we did not speak of it much, but still they were there as they always are, these memories of ones so precious who still shine in our eyes and can be heard in our laughter as well as in our tears.

Surely this is also how it was for Cleopas and the other disciple so long ago.

For as they made that trek back home, they carried it all: their shock and their grief along with this persistent edge of hope which was trying to make its way through to them with the women’s announcement, even before they met Jesus on the way.

And I for one, cannot help but wonder at all they still could not help but carry with them after that remarkable moment when bread was broken and they recognized the stranger for who he was, realizing that what the women had seen a few hours before, was now theirs to witness and be shaped by as well:

  • That the tomb was not the end of the story.
  • That death had not had the last word.
  • Indeed, that the promise of God’s presence and power and hope was theirs to receive and to carry with them for the rest of their lives.

And yet, there was also this.  Even as they ran back to Jerusalem to add their witness to that of the others who were followers of Jesus, they surely also still carried with them everything else that they had seen and heard and experienced over the last week.  Without a doubt, they would also never forget the incredible damage we do to one another when we respond to voices of fear or lust for power. Certainly they would never forget the vivid image of one who suffered unspeakably at the hands of the worst of what we can and too much do to one another. Even so, while those things would always mark them, the promise of life won out.

  • In moments like that one when they knew it to their bones as they hurried back to join their friends.
  • And yes, in others as well when it felt more distant, but was still pushing its way forward.
  • Because no matter the circumstance, the promise is that in God’s economy, in the end joy always wins.

Just as it did that first Easter day which started out marked only by grief and shock and residual terror.

It is still so today.

On sunny April mornings when the absence of one is felt dearly but is overwhelmed by the gratitude on dozens of faces as they received gifts which would help feed family after family.

At tender family gatherings where loved ones are not forgotten, but the joy of new beginnings is celebrated.

And on a walk to  Emmaus and a run back to Jerusalem where the horror of what had been would not be forgotten, but where the disciples would have experienced not only then, but no doubt again and again, that joy always wins.


  • It is a much loved story which is ours to share again this week.  How do you hear it this time through?
  • Does it make sense to you that joy and sorrow live side by side not only in this story, but also in the midst of our lives?  How have you experienced this to be so?
  • What does it mean for people of faith to lean into this joy even while holding the experience of so very much loss and pain? What practices help you to do so?


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