O Lord, when I think of the galaxies and the stars, I am afraid.
“I have said these things to you,” Jesus tells his disciples, “so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
But this is the night before the crucifixion, this is the Farewell Discourse in the Gospel of John, and sadness fills the room. Fear.
How can joy be possible?
In the beginning of John Jesus says we must be “born again,” but now he changes the image. He says, “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.”
And 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.”
Not birth: labor. Not a child anymore. The mother.
No one is happy yet, Goff says, but then he makes a distinction between “the banality of happiness” and the spiritual condition of “joy.”
The Reverend Norvel Goff, Sr. climbs into the pulpit of Mother Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where a few months before a gunman walked through the door and killed nine people sitting in a prayer circle. They had been studying the Parable of the Sower. A grandmother. A little girl. The pastor was one of those killed—Goff is taking his place—and he stands now in the pulpit and begins to preach.
“Many have asked, ‘How are you? How is Mother Emanuel?’ he says. “My response is: ‘With your prayers and encouragement and with God guiding us, we’ll be all right.”