Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Fourth Sunday of Easter (John 16:16-22)

“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning is the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the sixteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John. Dear friends in Christ, we do not know what Jesus is talking about. We don’t get it, we cannot comprehend His words, they fill us with confusion. “So some of His disciples said to one another, ‘What is this that He says to us, “A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me”; and, “because I am going to the Father”?’ So they were saying, ‘What does He mean by “a little while”? We do not know what He is talking about.’” It’s not that the words themselves are hard to understand, it’s not that we need to consult a dictionary or thesaurus. It’s not as if Jesus is speaking here in code. Yes, He’s speaking a little mysteriously, but anyone who has been with Jesus throughout His ministry, or anyone who has read the Gospels, who has heard the three passion predictions, knows exactly what He is saying. In a little while He goes to die, they will see not see Him, He will dwell in the belly of the grave, but that is not the end of the story. For it is only a ‘little while’ and they will see Him again, He will rise victorious over the grave, “and no one will take your joy from you.”

So it is not the words themselves that cause us the trouble, it is the consequences of these words, it is living out these words. We do not know what Jesus is talking about because we have to live through the ‘little while.’ For the disciples, “a little while and you will not see me” meant that very shortly, in just a ‘little while,’ a night of horrors would begin. They would see their Lord, their Master, their friend and the One they depended on betrayed by one of their own, handed over to a midnight court, and then condemned to the cruelest death imaginable. To the disciples, “a little while and you will see me” meant hours of waiting with Jesus’ cold, dead body languishing in the grave, a day of darkness so excruciating that many lost their faith, and nearly their minds. Jesus’ ‘a little while’ was overwhelming, crushing, it seemed to never end, and they couldn’t understand why. “We do not know what He is talking about.”

You and I understand their confusion. We too live in Jesus’ ‘a little while,’ living in the valley of the shadow of death without seeing our Lord. We dwell in a Holy Saturday that never seems to end, waiting and watching for Jesus to rescue us from our misery, and not understanding why this ‘little while’ is taking so long. We do not see Jesus, He has departed again, ascended to the right hand of the throne of God, but what we do see is what distresses us. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament,” Jesus says, “You will be sorrowful,” He emphasizes, and He never spoke truer words. As the disciples languished in sorrow on Holy Saturday, so we languish in sorrow all the time. We feel like Jesus has abandoned us, that He has left us to languish in our sin and in the midst of a sinful world. To all appearances, Easter hasn’t changed anything; our baptism seems to have been a waste of time, Jesus doesn’t seem to love us or care how much we suffer. Job argued over and over again that the wicked often prosper while the righteous suffer, and Jesus here guarantees it: “You will be sorrowful.” And we do not understand why: “We do not know what He is talking about.” As a pastor, probably the question I am asked most often, in one way or another, is, “Why am I suffering?” Perhaps we started out patient, but as time goes on and sufferings pile up, there is an added urgency to our cries. We don’t understand what’s going on, we do not know what Jesus is talking about, ‘a little while’ seems interminable, we cannot see Jesus, we can only see suffering, and we are bearing the brunt of His words, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.”

That is what it looks like in the midst of ‘a little while.’ The Church at large, and individual Christians, sorrowing and suffering, wondering just how long ‘a little while’ will last, not seeing their Lord, only their sufferings. And all around them, the world rejoices, the world that hates Jesus and His followers celebrating victory after victory, Satan enjoying the torture of Christ’s saints. The world doesn’t see Jesus, and it is glad, because to all appearances its great enemy has been defeated. The foe was triumphant, when on Calvary, the Lord of Creation was nailed to the tree. In Satan’s domain did the hosts shout and jeer, for Jesus was slain, whom the evil one’s fear. You see them gloat, mocking Christ and His Church with seeming impunity, and the frustration of Christians only increases their fun. Nothing happens as they deride your Lord and run down His saints. Instead, they sit in smug victory, rejoicing with every suffering Christian.

But short was their triumph; only ‘a little while.’ The world killed the Lord of glory, their foe and bitter enemy, but in ‘a little while,’ their victory turned into defeat, their rejoicing into mourning. The tomb was robbed, the grave left empty; the enemy they had left behind them dead and defeated rose to put an end to their victory party. Jesus rose to turn the world upside down, to give mourning in the place of rejoicing and rejoicing in the place of mourning. The world didn’t see Jesus for ‘a little while,’ and they thought victory had been won, but now they see Him again, a terror to His foes. John cries out in the first chapter of Revelation, “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him.” In ‘a little while,’ the world will see Jesus again, coming with the clouds of heaven, and He, whom they mocked and killed, the Head of His body, the Church, which they persecuted and harassed for these many centuries, will return as the judge of the living and the dead. In just ‘a little while,’ the world’s smirk will be wiped off its face, in just ‘a little while,’ the world’s joy will be turned into sorrow.

In just ‘a little while,’ the sorrow of Christ’s suffering people will be turned into joy. “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” The same vision that gives the world terror, that melts those who stand against Christ’s Church, will give you joy. Satan oppressed you, sin overwhelmed you, death threatened you and finally took you, but their rejoicing, their victory, will be turned into sorrow, and joy will instead belong to you. On Easter morning, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb filled with sorrow. But as she wept, the promise of Jesus in our text for today was fulfilled, and her sorrow was turned into joy. “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” No one understood those words when He spoke them, but when Jesus looked Mary in the eye, risen and glorified, she finally understood. We do not understand why we must suffer so, we do not understand ‘a little while,’ but like Mary, we will. When we see our Lord face to face, then we will know that we have only been waiting ‘a little while.’

Jesus’ promise is ‘a little while.’ He guarantees that your suffering has a termination, an end, that this world does not have the victory, but is foolishly rejoicing in defeat. That is the promise of the cross and the empty tomb: Satan has been dealt with, sin has been paid for, death robbed. The world has no victory over you, but has already been defeated. Your sorrows will terminate, but joy will never end. Jesus led the way, winning joy—eternal joy—through His sorrow and sufferings; He too walked through the valley of the shadow of death to the joys of eternity. Without the sorrow of the cross, no joy is possible, without the death of Jesus sorrow lasts not ‘a little while,’ but for eternity. Because Christ has passed that way before us and in our place, we know that all the sufferings of this world last only ‘a little while,’ and a Day is coming when they will not be remembered any more. “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” This joy drives away all sorrow, because this joy lasts forever. In this world, you will have tribulation, but take heart, Christ has overcome the world, your sufferings have an end in perfect joy. Saint Paul captures it perfectly: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

‘A little while’ doesn’t remove the hurt, ‘a little while’ doesn’t eliminate the pain. ‘A little while’ will not immediately bring back your lost parent or child, it will not restore your marriage. ‘A little while’ doesn’t remove all the questions: “We do not know what He is talking about.” As a pastor, when people ask, ‘why am I suffering?’ I desperately want to take away their afflictions like the apostles of old. There are times that I wish I was a faith healer, and could simply say, ‘be healed,’ and their sufferings would be gone. But I am not an apostle, and neither are those faith healers, all they have to sell is a false theology and empty promises. Instead, I, along with all faithful pastors throughout the centuries, are to preach, we are to bring God’s Word to the hospital bed and the living room of those entrusted to our care. We are not given to ‘fix’ suffering, we have been given to say: ‘a little while.’ ‘A little while’ means that all suffering has an end, ‘a little while’ means that relief is coming, ‘a little while’ means that the cancer, the heart disease, the family conflict, the addiction, your sinful desires, even death itself, do not have the victory, but their days are numbered, in the new heavens and the new earth, they will not even be remembered. The cross and the empty tomb guarantee it. As Jesus was raised, so you too will be raised, and you will see Him face to face in an eternity that will be characterized by joy. Sorrow has a termination; joy will last forever. “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

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