A little while of sorrow, then everlasting joy

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Sermon for Jubilate – Easter 3

1 Peter 2:11-20  +  John 16:16-23

Today’s Gospel brings us back to Maundy Thursday evening, just before Jesus and His disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane. So many things happened on that evening, so much instruction was crammed into those hours. You can understand the disciples’ confusion, including their confusion about what Jesus was saying to them here. A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father. Confusion about not seeing Jesus, seeing Jesus again, Jesus going to the Father, sorrow and joy, a little while this and a little while that. They didn’t know what to make of it. Let’s consider the words of Jesus, how they applied to His apostles and how they apply to us.

The first “little while” Jesus spoke of was a matter of hours. Within 24 hours, Jesus would be arrested, tried, beaten, crucified, dead, and buried. His spirit would “go to the Father” as He spoke His last words from the cross, “Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit.” And His disciples wouldn’t see Him for a little while, from Friday afternoon until Sunday evening.

I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful. It’s hard to overestimate that sorrow that all of Jesus’ disciples felt during that time. It was the height of sadness and despair. You think you know sadness? You may know it. But in your darkest hour, as long as you have lived on this earth, this one truth remains, whether you perceived it or not: Jesus is alive! But for that little while between Christ’s crucifixion and His resurrection, not even that was true. The Savior was dead. The wicked, hateful world had won and was rejoicing in their victory. And Jesus’ disciples were more alone than anyone on earth has ever been. Ever.

But your sorrow will be turned into joy. The Evangelists report that Jesus’ disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Their sorrow was turned to joy. The resurrection of Jesus changed everything. Their dead Savior was now a living Savior, and what they had thought was defeat when Jesus died turned out to be the very thing that stood between them and eternal death. The death of Jesus had paid for their sins and had purchased for them a place in heaven. And the resurrection of Jesus meant they would never be alone again. Ever. Especially before the judgment seat of God. As St. John wrote, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. The little while of sorrow was replaced with hope and joy that would last forever.

There would be another little while—40 days—of Jesus appearing to His disciples, teaching them, and confirming their faith. And then they would not see Him again for a little while, because He was going to the Father. He would ascend into heaven and sit down at the right hand of God. There would again be some sadness in Jesus’ departure, but not anything like the sorrow of that little while when Jesus was dead. Their sorrow was now tempered with an undeniable fact: Jesus was raised from the dead and lives forever and ever. The disciples would suffer many things, including rejection, being hated, tortured, and killed for their confession of Christ. But the fact of the resurrection meant that Jesus would make them victorious in the end, just as He had been. So, for example, when Peter and John were beaten by the Jews after the Day of Pentecost, even as their bodies were wracked with pain, they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.

Why? Because, after a little while, they would see Jesus again. For some of them, like the apostle James, it would only be a few years until he would see Jesus, because Herod would put him to death. For others, it would take a few more decades. But in any case, death, for the Christian, means going to “be with Christ, which is far better” as the Apostle Paul wrote. It means the end of all sorrow and the beginning of everlasting joy.

There is another little while of the Christian life, a time of temporary sorrow when we don’t see Jesus. Of course, unlike the apostles, we’ve never seen Jesus with our eyes. But the Holy Spirit has called us by the Gospel so that we do hear Him and believe in Him, and, as St. Peter writes, though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.

But there is this “little while” that St. Peter refers to in the verses just prior to those. Let me read the whole section. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials.

You know the joy of Christ’s resurrection, and the joy that awaits all believers in the end, when we will see Jesus, when death transfers us to the Church Triumphant, or when Jesus finally returns in glory to gather His Holy Church once and for all. All of creation, St. Paul says, groans like a woman having labor pains until that day arrives and the sons of God are revealed. And Jesus used the same analogy of a woman in labor.

But now, for a little while, you may not experience that hopeful joy. You may be grieved by various trials that turn your thoughts away from hope, away from Christ’s resurrection, away from the guarantee of victory that we have in Christ. You may be grieved, for a little while, so that the grief becomes all-consuming and all you can think about is the trial.

The trial may be anything. It may be temptation. It may be poverty. It may be riches. It may be too much work, or it may be too little. Family strife. The betrayal of a friend. The apparent victory of wickedness and injustice in this world, or the apparent defeat of Christ’s Holy Church. Where is Jesus? Where is the Lord? There is so much is wrong here. So much is confused. And it looks like the right-teaching Church is slowly crumbling while the false-teaching Church is thriving. You name the trial, Christians throughout the ages have experienced it, and with it, the little while of not “seeing Jesus,” not experiencing the hopeful joy of Christ’s resurrection.

Just ask the Psalmists. They can tell you all about it. For example, How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me? But how does that same Psalmist end the Psalm? But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

The Psalmists understood the trials, but they also understood the “little while,” that the trials are temporary, and God’s faithfulness and love are eternal. More than that, they understood—and so should you—that God’s salvation doesn’t change or go away just because you don’t experience the joy of it all the time. Jesus is real. His death, His resurrection, and His reign at the right hand of God are facts, no matter how you feel. And His promise of forgiveness and divine favor attached to Word and Sacrament are true, even when you’re sorrowful.

So sing praise to the Lord, you saints of His, And give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name. For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning. Amen.


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