The Christian’s sorrow and the world’s rejoicing last a little while

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Sermon for Jubilate – Fourth Sunday of Easter

John 16:16-22  +  Isaiah 40:25-31  +  1 Peter 2:11-20

A little while. A little while. A little while. A little while. A little while. A little while. A little while. Seven times in just four verses of today’s Gospel the Holy Spirit repeats it, drives it home and drums it into our heads so that we can’t forget.  One word in the Greek, “Mikron.”  A micron.  A little while.  What is it that lasts only a little while?  The Christian’s time of sorrow, and the world’s rejoicing.

“A little while, and you will see me no longer;

Today’s Gospel, and the Gospels for the next four Sundays after today, are all taken from St. John, chapters 14-16, all from Jesus’ words to his disciples on Maundy Thursday evening, after Judas had left to go betray Jesus. Three years Jesus had been with these eleven disciples. Now the little while ends up being just a matter of hours before Judas catches up with them in the Garden of Gethsemane with the guard of armed soldiers to have Jesus arrested.  Just a little while of having Jesus with them, and then he would be arrested, tortured, tried and crucified.  He would be buried. And they would see him no longer.

and again a little while, and you will see me.”

Just a little while.  That “little while” ended up being just three days.  Just until the third day – or for Thomas, one week after that. But Jesus doesn’t say that here.  He doesn’t spell it out for his disciples or for us or give us a countdown.  “This many days or that many hours until you will see me again and rejoice.” He just calls it “a little while.” And that’s all you need to know.

But the disciples couldn’t understand even that yet.  They were too sad, too sorrowful, too wrapped up in their dashed hopes and dreams for earthly happiness, with Jesus sitting on his throne in Jerusalem and making everything OK on this earth.  According to Jesus words, that was not going to be the case, like they thought it would.  Not yet.  Not for a little while.

What does he mean, “a little while this, a little while that”?  What does he mean “because I am going to the Father”?  “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t know what he’s talking about.”

Do you know what he’s talking about?  Do you want to ask him?  That’s OK.  This isn’t just a private conversation between Jesus and the Eleven.  This is inspired Holy Scripture recorded for our learning, too.  Jesus’ words are meant for you, too.

Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.

The disciples did weep and lament when Jesus was taken from them for a little while.  And the world rejoiced that Jesus was dead.  But it was only for a little while, and then the disciples saw him again and rejoiced.

Of course, the world still rejoices, because the world still thinks Jesus is dead.  The world can’t tolerate Jesus, because Jesus lumps all the works of the world together and calls them all wicked.  He condemns the wickedness of man – all of it.  The false religion.  The hypocrisy. The gossip and the hatred and the staying home from church, as if God had never commanded sinners to hear and honor his Word.  He condemns the good works of men who offer their goodness to God in exchange for his favor and grace.  Jesus insists on being the only way to God, the only righteousness for mankind, the only goodness that counts before God.

So the world rejoices now, for a little while, while Christ is hidden from view. And Christians mourn now, for a little while, when times of suffering and tribulation come and Christ moves away for a little while so that you don’t feel his comfort or notice his presence.  He allows you to be sorrowful and to mourn—for a little while.

Why?  In order to devastate the free will that we wrongly imagine that we have; in order to pull the rug out from under human powers and good works, so that we place no confidence in them, so that we realize again that we are powerless to comfort ourselves, powerless to face life in this godless world where the prince of demons is still the prince.

It’s part of the Lord’s discipline.  And the point isn’t for you to ask, What did I do wrong? How can I fix this sorrow and get it taken away?  No, no, no.  It’s not about you and your works or about fixing yourself or your life.  You’re hopelessly broken.  That’s the point.  You’re a hopeless victim against the devil and sin and the world.  Without Christ you are nothing.  And so he uses affliction to drive us again to Christ, to show that all is worthless and hopeless and lost without him. Only with him is there joy and comfort and safety.

But the promise of Christ is that the sorrow caused by his absence will only last for a little while.  That’s a promise you can cling to.  Your sorrow doesn’t mean he loves you less or that he has somehow gone from being risen again to being dead again.  His death on the cross paid for your sins, even if that fact doesn’t comfort you at the moment.  Jesus rose from the dead and lives, whether you feel it or not.  Even when you don’t feel the tiniest bit of divine comfort, even when the fact of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead doesn’t seem to matter, you have this word and promise of Jesus that it will last only a little while.

So wait patiently for him.  He will return with his comfort and joy.  He will sustain you and hold you up with his Word of forgiveness and with his body and blood, even when you don’t see him or feel him doing it, and after a little while, you will see him again – you will experience his comfort and his joy in the Gospel.  Only don’t lose hope.  Don’t run away from the very Word and Sacrament that are his only tools for sustaining you in times of sorrow.  And don’t doubt him.  See, he tells you ahead of time how it’s going to be.

He tells you it’s going to be just like a woman giving birth.

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. 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.

The pain has to come before the childbirth.  The sorrow has to come before the joy.  The cross has to come before the comfort.  That’s the way it is.  And aren’t you glad it’s that way, and not the other way around?  Aren’t you glad that the sorrow is for a little while for the Christian while the joy is eternal?

Is Jesus talking about the here and now or is he talking about when he comes again in glory and we see him face to face?  The answer is Yes.  The answer is both.  The Christian life is full of sorrow that won’t be completely erased until Christ is revealed at the end, and then there will be nothing to take your joy away from you.  But even now the risen Christ comes to you in his Word and promises to help you here and now, to help you even by allowing times of sorrow and mourning to come into your life, so that he can come, after a little while, with his comfort and joy. And you will see him and understand better than before that Jesus is a faithful and loving Savior, and that his resurrection from the dead really is the truth that gets you through today and tomorrow, so that, even if you don’t have a smile on your face, there can always be joy in your heart.  Amen.

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