The word “Gospel” literally translates to “Good News.” This is because there is no better message we could hear: God has become one of us in order to give us eternal life. What could be better?
And yet there seems to be a touch of sadness to this message.
Lately I’ve been watching the most recent season of the streaming show The Chosen which chronicles the call and mission of Jesus’ disciples. In one of the most recent episodes, the Lord begins to reveal to them the sacrifices they will have to make in order to spread the Gospel. The show does a wonderful job of placing us in their shoes as they receive this news. For example, Simon Peter and his wife look forward to spending time together and starting a family. But Jesus tells the Twelve that they must go out two-by-two to preach in His name.
While this particular story element is an embellishment of the Gospel, there are moments in the stories where there are elements of lament. Peter says to Jesus “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” (Matthew 19: 27).
And the Evengelists were careful not to avoid the times where Christ Himself felt great sorrow. Jesus’ heart was broken over how He would be rejected: “And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.'” (Luke 19:41-42). This is in addition to where he wept over Lazarus and went through His Agony in the Garden.
And this sadness can still be found in the life of His Apostles after the Resurrection. In Acts of the Apostles, Paul tells the disciples at Ephesus that they would never see his face again. “When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again.” (Acts 20: 36-38)
So why is there so much sadness attached to the Good News?
First of all, it is a reminder that this is a truly human faith. I do not mean that it comes from human beings, but that it is for human beings. Human beings are messy, complicated creatures. Even in the greatest joys of life, there is sadness.
We feel the thrill of life, but we know that life will end. We enjoy the innocence of the children we raise, knowing that time will not last. We celebrate holidays like Christmas, while in the back of our minds we rember that we must return to the drudgery of daily life.
I can tell you that there is nothing I love more to do in this world than to spend quiet at-home time with my wife. But as much as I love that time, there is always a tinge of sadness because I know that this time is fleeting.
Christianity is for us, the complicated and contradictory Children of God. We are not unfeeling robots. We do not simply flip a switch in our brains and change the feelings in our hearts. The Gospel captures the reality of this sadness that we experience.
Another reason for the sadness is the element of sacrifice. All love is sacrifice. If there is no sacrifice, then it is not really love. This is why the greatest sign of love is Christ on the Cross: it is the complete sacrifice of everything He is, holding nothing back.
We are called to be a people of love. And love requires us to sacrifice. And all sacrifice is at least a little sad or it would not be a sacrifice. The reason why we give up meat on Fridays is because for many of us, it is a sacrifice. But if we are already a vegan, then there is no sacrifice taking place. This is why the Church encourages those who are in that situation to offer up something else.
To choose a celibate life is to sacrifice romantic love and children. To choose marriage is to sacrifice all other potential romantic partners in the world. To have children means that one day you will have to give them away. We see this play out at a wedding as the father gives away his daughter to her new husband. And in this last scenario, we intuitively understand that while this is one of the most joyous moments of life, there is clearly an element of sadness. This is because of the sacrifice of the old life, the old relationships.
But if there is no sacrifice, there is no love. There is a sadness at dying to yourself. For many, it is the most difficult thing to do in life.
Finally, we acknowledge the sadness to remind us that our faith is not built on emotion. Christ felt enormous sadness over his rejection, but He did not let that stop Him from His mission. While we must be honest about how sad we are at what we are sacrificing, we must not let it stop us from doing what we are called to do.
And we can do this because the Gospel really is Good News. A parent gives away a child in marriage because despite the sadness there is the hope that this will bring a better life. It is not wrong to mourn the losses we have. But Paul reminds us that the mourning of a Christian should take on a different quality that the rest of the world. He reminds us “do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Yes, we grieve because we are human. But our grief should be saturated with hope.
When I get up each morning to go to work, I am grateful for the job, but I am grieved at the time I have to spend away from my beloved wife. This grief is not crippling, since I look forward to returning to her at the end of the day. My beloved mother passed away five years ago. Sometimes the grief still hits me out of the blue. But, I look forward to being reunited with her at the end of all things.
Even in our sadness, God calls us to bear witness. We experience the sadness that all others feel so that we can walk with them in their pain. But in our own pain, we do not grieve like those with no hope. We fill our sadness with the hope of Christ’s promises.
So especially around this holiday season, if you have been experiencing any sadness, please know that it is a natural part of our faith journey. Christ walks with you. And in that sadness, He will help you walk with others.
Copyright 2022, WL Grayson