Shakespeare’s Juliet says to Romeo: “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” English teachers might call that an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.
But life is full of seeming contradictions which are not so contradictory. We talk about “bitter sweet moments,” or a “deafening silence,” or “an open secret,” or a “tragic comedy.”
There is a sweet sorrow laced in the lines of today’s epistle lesson from 2 Corinthians. Paul says: “Godly sorrow produces repentance, which leads to salvation, leaving no regret. On the other hand, worldly sorrow produces death.”
What kind of sorrow can be sweet? What sort of sadness brings gladness? What brand of grief leads to relief? Is such a thing possible? Jesus told His disciples: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
If Christ’s own congratulations rests on the heads of believers whose mourning paves the path to their comfort, then it must be so.
Can you think of some past pain or problem in your life that became a path to blessings you could not have predicted? Have you taken the time to listen to some white-haired veteran of the cross? Did it surprise you that she talks about a nearly unbearable burden she once endured, some dark valley through which God led her years ago. In the way she tells it, can you hear a joyful peace that runs deep like a river in its well-worn channel?
Is there something like this in your own story, some unspeakable sorrow that became strangely sweet because it made you run into the arms of God in a way that otherwise might never have happened?
This is especially true when it comes to repentance. If people are no longer troubled by their sins, if they no longer wonder what might happen to them if they die, if they no longer consider the wrath and punishment of God, then the Church has no reason to exist, it serves no useful purpose. If people no longer see that they need saving from their sins, then what is the purpose of Christmas, Good Friday and Easter? Why should the Son of God have stepped on to this planet in the first place? That is why Martin Luther used to say that when God wants to make us glad, He begins by making us sad.
Through the law God gives us to see ourselves for what we have been and what we have done, and what we are. Through the gospel, God gives us to see that only Christ can save us and that Jesus has done just that by His atoning life, death and resurrection. He has wiped out our sins and given us back to God as His dear children. How sweet is that!