“I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”
The context of Jesus’ promise is the last supper; the friends to whom he speaks are understandably confused and anxious. Earlier, they had questioned his allusions to leaving them. Temporarily? Or forever? He’d seen beneath Peter’s bravado (“Why can’t I follow you? I’ll lay down my life for you.”)
Under the arrogance, the needy, vulnerable child who desperately needs comfort. Jesus, not focused on his own imminent ordeal, looks fondly on his friends: bedraggled, flummoxed, sloppy, dear. And dreading more than anything, as most children do, being abandoned by those they love.
A similar situation is described by the marvelous poet Ross Gay in his 2022 book Inciting Joy, which traces the dance between sorrow and joy, the first carving space for the second. His family, gathered around his dying father, leaves the hospital briefly for “a somber dinner…a pallor over us, edging toward the world without this person we loved.”
Like Jesus, his dad has been more focused on his loved ones than his liver tumor. A week after his own diagnosis, his son Ross gets sick. Dad cares for him, bringing a cold rag for his feverish neck, making lightly buttered toast, and when he feels up to eating more, a plate of supper he’s kept warm in the oven.
Ross doesn’t gloss over the fact that like most dads and teen-aged sons, they’d had a rough patch during his adolescence. But their relationship as adults shows “because I live, you also will live.” They share a love for playing basketball, cooking, and smelling lilacs. “He would close his eyes to breathe [the fragrance] in, and I would do the same without noticing I do it, too.” Ross recognizes in himself the same bluster his dad shows when he’s “insecure, threatened, small, dumb, or not enough, which is not exactly infrequent.”
During their last goodbyes, Ross notices his father’s freckles, “like a gentle broadcast of carrot seeds… through my tears I saw my father was a garden… And from that what might grow.” A striking parallel to Jesus, who rises in a garden, bringing spring life. And how are we, maybe without even noticing, like him?