“Dark and thorny is the pathway
where the sinner makes his way.
Yet beyond this vale of sorrows,
lies the fields of endless day.
Jesus, Jesus will go with you.
He will lead you to his throne.
He who died has gone before you;
Trod the winepress all alone.”
Those words come from a song by Harriet Tubman.
She was the famous abolitionist behind the Underground Railroad, who brought so many slaves to freedom in the years prior to the Civil War, often at great risk to herself. She would often sing this verse as a ‘signal song’ to nearby slaves so they would know she was there and could seek her out that night to begin the trek to the north – to the ‘Promised Land’ of freedom.
The evocative image of Jesus trodding through a winepress is an ancient image for Christians, in which Jesus himself is the grapes which are pressed for the wine – an image of his suffering and death for our salvation. He himself is the fruit of the vine which we drink to enter God’s Reign.
It is very understandable why a devout Christian like Harriet Tubman would use the image to remind slaves who found their own unjust suffering to be reprehensible and unbearable, that the image of Christ who she says “died and gone before you” (yet another image from the resurrection narratives!). Christ shared in their suffering and “went ahead of them God’s throne” – pointing a way to the hope of freedom – both in this life and the one to come.
To Harriet Tubman and those who travelled the Underground Railroad to freedom, those were words of promise and a reminder that they did not undertake their perilous journey alone – Jesus was with them.
It’s a reminder for all of us who may be on difficult spiritual roads today, that Jesus, too, understands our pains, especially those who feel the sting of marginalization, oppression, violence and war.
By his life and his witness of compassion, care and justice, Jesus leads us through the “vale of sorrows” to the “fields of endless day.”
The ongoing presence of the Risen Jesus strengthening the Christian community of the church is a centerpiece of today’s Scripture readings as well.
In the first reading, Peter and John proclaim the good news of Jesus to the people and to the Jewish leadership court, the Sandhedrin – the same body who had turned Jesus over to Pilate to be executed. For them it had only been a few weeks since that happened! Yet the apostles boldly assert what they have seen and heard before those in power. They testify to their experience of Christ and the power of God within him, who motivates them. Unlike the Sanhedrin, which still fears those who follow Christ’s way, the apostles have become bold witnesses to the Good News!
The Gospel recaps many of the resurrection appearances we have heard in the daily Mass readings since last Sunday, even as the Gospel of Mark reminds us that it took the disciples a while to find that ‘bold faith’ that Peter and John demonstrated.
So these readings are a reminder to us to not be discouraged, even when confronted with what we imagine is the worst situation. They also remind us not to doubt that God is doing a mighty work in our own lives. Even within the locked rooms of our hurting or broken hearts Jesus appears, like he did for his first disciples, to remind us that there is a Word of hope to proclaim – especially now. The whole world is ready for good news! And Jesus is with us to help us see it and share it, and, we pray, to find the path through the spiritual winepress of our own lives and times to the fields of endless day.
God give you peace!