Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Fourth Sunday in Easter

16 “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” 17 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’?” 18 So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” 19 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’? 20 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. 21 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. 22 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. (John 16:16-22)

“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.” Your sorrow will turn into joy. He will turn your mourning into dancing.
Jesus is trying to prepare his disciples. The disciples are perplexed and don’t quite understand what he is talking about. A little while and you will not see me and a little while and you will see me. He speaks of both his death and resurrection, and his ascension and second coming. Perhaps, even as his death and resurrection remain central to the Christian faith, its greatest and most concrete reality, it also serves as a picture to the rest of his disciples for the reality of his return. For as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim his death until he comes. In so many ways it is the cross that we know in this life, the fullness of the resurrection, well that is the great weight of glory for which we are being prepared daily as the old man wastes away in and through all the trials and tribulations of daily life, and the new man being renewed day by day as the Holy Spirit works through his word, and the church, daily forgiving our sins, and sustaining us with Christ’s body and blood which he shed for you. Until the day comes when he returns in all his glory and we see and experience the full weight of that glory, just as the disciples were brought from sorrow to joy when they saw Jesus on the third day.
You will weep and lament but the world will rejoice.
This is just a reality. And the world rejoices when they see it. We are tempted then not to weep and lament, not to give the world reason to rejoice. We want to face it all with a stiff upper lip. Chin out, perhaps with a cocksure grin and a cigar stuck in our teeth. Too often we get the idea that being a Christian means not suffering, not failing, and always being happy. And yet Jesus says this isn’t so. You will weep and you will lament, you will have your days of sorrow and distress.
Who here hasn’t had them? Oh, it isn’t as if our lives are always full of this. We experience many happy days in this life for which we are thankful. We have our successes. We have our joys. And there certainly isn’t anything wrong with enjoying them, and celebrating them. But we also have sorrowful days, and we have our failures, and our stressful days when we struggle, and all we can do is wait for the circumstances to change. Wait for the veil of sorrow to be lifted. And hope for Christ’s return.
There are many causes for our sorrow and distress in this world. Sometimes it is watching our children stray from the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. Sometimes it is our own failure to speak up for Christ when he is being maligned. Maybe there are friends and family we wish we could speak to about Christ with more boldness. Maybe, we let our tempers get the best of us, or jealousy and greed, envy and malice, and so we find ourselves not behaving in Christian love to our neighbors. Rather we resent them, and it shows in what we say and do with and to them. Perhaps our pride gets the best of us and feeling insulted we react with spite. And then as a result we are left with sorrow and distress.
Then there are things, those external things we have no real control over, like our kids who have wills of their own. But there are problems at work. We get laid off. We struggle to find a new job. And all the while the world laughs. If your God is so great, why doesn’t he help you! Perhaps we lament with Isaiah and think is our God’s hand so shortened that he cannot help? We begin to wonder if we see Christ at all.
Yes, a little while and you will not see me. And a little while and you will see me again Jesus tells the disciples. But the sorrow hits us like labor pains for a mother. And all we can see is the pain and sorrow. Our prayers seem in vain. We toss and turn all night for what seems an eternity, insomnia and suffering punctuated with prayer, and sometimes we don’t even have the strength to pray, we don’t know what to pray. At those times though we remember that it is the Holy Spirit who prays for us, and translates our prayers before the face of God, in groans we cannot understand. But for us to see Christ at these times seems so hard.
Yet, even then he is here for us. He sustains us in his word. He sustains us through his saints as Christians come together the body of Christ who rejoice together even as they suffer together, because when the toe is stubbed the whole body aches. It is so tempting at times like that to leave, and suffer alone, but this is not healthy. These are times when you need the church more than ever, more than ever need the prayers of the saints, more than ever need the forgiveness of sins, more than ever need the sustenance of faith found in the body and the blood of Jesus Christ shed for you. They are there precisely to get us through those times, those hard times when the world laughs.
Yes you can see them now, laughing. Look at Christ on the God. He saved others why does he not save himself! He saved others why does he not save you?! The world laughs as they laughed at Christ on the Cross and mocked him. So they laugh at you, the body of Christ, who know nothing but Christ and him crucified. Hah, but it is a little while. A little while and the infinite length of sleepless nights is forgotten for the joy, just as a mother rejoices for a child brought into the world. Joy that cannot be taken from you, because the disciples saw! The disciples saw Jesus! Three days, such a short time, and the world’s mockery turned on itself, the sorrow turned to joy, the mourning turned to dancing. Yeah.
Your sorrow will be turned to joy he tells the disciples, and it is this joy we now share. Yes we share this joy even now in the midst of this world, in the midst of this sorrow, the joy of the disciples who saw Jesus on the third day, a joy that cannot be taken from us. No, behind all the trials and tribulations through which we enter the kingdom of God, there is Christ sustaining us with his joy which is the forgiveness of sins. Nothing brings him greater joy, brothers and sisters, than for him to sustain us in the faith, to forgive our sins, to sanctify us completely with his death and resurrection. And this joy? Yeah it is there even as the old man dies, daily wastes away in toil and tribulations of this world, and the new man is daily renewed so as to finally feel the full weight of glory in resurrection with the return of Christ.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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