The Face of Joy
In the Eighth Revelation, Julian saw Christ’s face on the cross utterly transformed from all suffering into radiant joy. It was as if Julian herself had died, letting go of her assumptions about earthly reality and the inevitability of death. Her mind was privileged to glimpse the glory of Christ’s reality in the bliss of heaven, where sorrow and suffering do not exist. Immediately, Julian became “completely merry” – that is, bubbling over with joy.
"I understood that we are now, in our lord’s intention, on his cross with him in our pains and in our passion, dying. And we, willfully abiding on the same cross, with his help and his grace, into the last point, suddenly he shall change his countenance toward us, and we shall be with him in heaven. Between that one [the pain on the cross] and that other [being in heaven] shall all be one time, and then shall all be brought into joy. And this is what he meant in this showing: 'Where is now any point of thy pain or of thy grief?' And we shall be fully blessed."
By the sheer suddenness Julian suggests what a holy death might be like: one moment in pain, the next in bliss. She understands that not only has Christ overcome the fiend through suffering, he has eradicated the mighty grip of death altogether: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55).
Right now, according to Julian’s understanding, we abide in the reality of the cross; we are living existentially within the passion of Christ, “in our pains and in our passion, dying.” In fact, when we look at the cross (and the pain that is all around us), we “see” what sin really looks like by the terrible suffering it causes. We also recognize in Christ’s sufferings what our own suffering feels like. Yet Julian envisions that, at the last moment of our lives, suddenly Christ will “change his countenance toward us, and we shall be with him in heaven.” By this she means that Christ will instantaneously convert all our suffering into joy—simply by transforming our mind’s ability to perceive him!
Julian insists that between the time of suffering and the time of joy will be “all one time”; that is, in medieval terms, no time at all. So great is the glory of the transformed Christ that Julian imagines that if he were to reveal his blissful countenance to each one of us, here and now, there would be no suffering on earth that could cause us grief; rather, everything would be pure joy and bliss. But he must show us now the countenance of his passion because, until we are purified and sanctified by the catalyst of suffering, we will not be able to “see” his blessed face. Therefore, we are still in great distress and labor with him for our salvation.
Julian is convinced that we are Christ’s own children for whom he has labored long and hard, like a woman enduring a painful childbirth, in order to overcome our mental and emotional fiends and give us new life. Therefore, he is personally responsible for us, like a good parent who will never give up on his child. This is a theme which Julian develops at length in her theology of the Motherhood of God.
"And for this little pain that we suffer here, we shall have a high, endless knowing in God, which we might never have without that pain. And the harder our pains have been with him on his cross, the more shall our honor be with him in his kingdom."
With great understanding, Julian is only too aware that the reality of Christ’s triumph over each individual’s death, and the soul’s liberation into resurrected bliss, is yet to be made manifest in each person’s experience. Meanwhile, the length of days and nights of suffering persists and the large stone that keeps us walled up in our minds and bodies seems too big and heavy ever to be rolled back. Death seems so final, for ourselves and for those we love. Nevertheless, Julian bears that, in no time at all, we will experience that the great stone of our suffering and death has already been rolled back . . . indeed, pulverized. It will be no more. Darkness has been obliterated by the resurrected light of Jesus Christ. And for “this little pain that we suffer here” (no matter how devastating it may be for us to endure right now), we shall bask forever in the radiance of his Holy Face.
Let us hold onto this vision of divine joy that Julian offers us, so that even amidst our present sufferings and fears, we may be full of hope that Christ has already overcome every type of evil . . . and all that we suffer in union with Christ shall be turned into incomparable joy.
NOTE: Excerpt above and translations from the Middle English are from my book, Julian’s Gospel: Illuminating the Life & Revelations of Julian of Norwich (Orbis Books. 2013). Copyright © 2013 by Veronica Mary Rolf
All text copyrighted © 2013-2018 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. No copying or reprints allowed without the express permission of the Author.