by Laurie Gudim
Most people I talk to tell me that their families, those with whom as children they sat down to big holiday meals, were a mixed bag. There were groping grandfathers, licentious cousins, and aunts whose every compliment was a veiled put-down along side those folks who were genuinely affable. Tensions between parents and grandparents, smoldering feuds, and historical family events no one was allowed to talk about were land mines in the fabric of these gatherings. And, regularly, people got hurt – sometimes badly.
This is one of the many reasons that the Christmas season can elicit all sorts of difficult feelings. A huge number of people suffer at this time of year. And being sad and angry as Christmas draws near is, of course, very isolating in a culture that is always chanting “merry and bright”, “joy to the world”, and “happy, happy Christmas”. It’s hard to break out of the mindset, induced by constant advertising, that suggests that we buck up and work hard, making those perfect purchases which will guarantee that the holiday will be magical.
Today’s Gospel reading is about a different sort of family gathering. Jesus and his disciples are preparing for that mementos Passover celebration that has come to be known as The Last Supper. Here we find the mysterious account of the man carrying the jar of water who leads Peter and John to the upper room where they will eat the Passover meal. And we also learn about another preparation. Judas confers with politicians and police, mapping out a way to betray Jesus.
Judas was one of Jesus’ closest disciples, beloved by the entire inner circle of Jesus’ followers. His betrayal of Jesus is horrible, unbelievable – only obscured by the even-worse things that happened after it.
I am reminded again that Jesus Christ did not come to bring an end to suffering, betrayal and death on this planet. He did not. Nor did he refrain from experiencing the worst, the most painful, the most debilitating, and the darkest aspects of living as a human being. He did not try to rise above his feelings or to change what was happening in his inner circle; he suffered. He did not try to cheat death; he died.
But there is more to the story. He conquered suffering not through denying it but through living it, and then going on, going through the worst of it, on to the other side. And the same is true of death. He experienced death. He was truly and completely dead. But then he went on.
There is something more, something beyond, something larger, if only we can allow our suffering souls to embrace the worst of our pain and then live on through it to the other side. There is something bigger even than death, a belonging that transcends the worst the world can dish out.
In this Christmas season I promise that our pain is real and needs our care-full embrace. Our suffering is authentic and must be allowed its say. And there is another shore beyond this huge black river in which we might find ourselves swimming. Jesus Christ waits for us there, having come this way himself and having experienced every bit of it – first.