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St. John 16:16-23
“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” 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.” 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. 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. In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.
Jesus’ disciples aren’t going to be seeing Him for a significant little while that will include weeping, and lamenting, and sorrow, He says.
You are in the midst of a certain sort of little while too, aren’t you? Your normal life has been taken onto a different course than you were expecting. And it’s a course with some complexity. It’s hard to know how to feel about things, right? More than likely, you are bored on the one hand, having to be at home (none of the fun places are open even if you were to venture out). On the other hand, you watch the news. You feel guilty resenting being homebound when you hear of so much suffering going on in other places. Financially, this time of sheltering in place has taken a great toll on many more - even closer to home here, maybe in your own home too.
Emotionally, the coronavirus lockdown has taken a toll on all of us. You miss family and friends. A couple of you expressed to me this week that you truly miss being with your church family on Sundays. I certainly agree. And I look forward to the time when we can rejoice at being with one another again. Certainly, we expect that to happen sometime soon. But even when it happens, in many ways, we might be more cautious than normal, at least for a while. We aren’t going to be comfortable shaking hands with each other yet, maybe. Will we wear masks to church? Gloves? Life has changed a great deal for us in the past month, hasn’t it?
We’re reminded in this time, aren’t we, that we go through suffering in this world? St. Paul said to the Christians at Iconium and Antioch in the book of Acts, that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God (14:22). Tribulations come in various forms. Moses wrote in Psalm 90, that the span of our years are but toil and trouble before they pass away. There isn’t any Scriptural promise that our days in this world will be without suffering, though it is true that in the midst of our sufferings there are blessings to behold (as I’ve seen myself during this time, and some of you have expressed to me as well). Jesus illustrates it in our text. The woman’s sorrow in childbirth is very real as she experiences great pain, though the joy of her child’s birth comes to overshadow the pain and sorrow.
The disciples’ suffering would be real as well. This text takes place just before Jesus would be arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, and dragged under darkness into a trial before the High Priest, and shuttled back and forth the next day between Pilate and Herod (amid brutal beatings), and then crucified. Physically speaking, the disciples wouldn’t see Jesus anymore, for a little while, after His body was placed in a tomb. Jesus is warning them of a real crisis of faith that lay ahead for them. He aims to comfort them in advance. They will see Him no longer for a time.
What a dangerous time when we cannot see Jesus, when He seems to have gone away from us, when our prayers seem to fall on deaf ears, when we ask the question that the prophet Isaiah answers in his 59th chapter: “Is the Lord’s hand shortened that he cannot save?” (1) And meanwhile, the devil’s temptations are ever-present.
You have felt also this kind of suffering in this life, haven’t you? You couldn’t see Jesus. You heard the mocking words of His enemies all around. They seemed all-powerful. Your faith seemed to have evaporated in their presence. Doubts arose in your mind as to God’s motivation toward you in this dangerous time in which you couldn’t see Jesus. All seemed hopeless. You might even have wondered if the mockers were on to something. We’ve heard in recent weeks of the disciples’ suffering of these things. Jesus even rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart during that time (Mark 16:14).
Just prior to our text, in the same discussion Jesus was having with His disciples, He had told them that He would be sending the Holy Spirit to them. That’s a critical part of the comfort that He is offering them in our text. He wouldn’t really be gone from them (though they wouldn’t be able to see Him). The Spirit would use His Words, and Supper to enable them to see Him through the eyes of faith. The Lord would be near to them - always. The time of sorrow would be a short time.
It wouldn’t seem that way when they were in the midst of it, though. Neither does it for you. St. Paul’s words must uplift you, as they are meant to do. He says, For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:17,18).
Your sorrow will turn into joy, Jesus says to His disciples in our text. That was true in a couple of different ways. The risen Jesus appearing to them is the first of the ways their sorrow was turned into joy. Of this, St. John writes that the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord (20:20). Relieved would be another way to describe how they were feeling. They could see Him again after a time in which they had thought they were without Him. Seeing the risen Jesus demonstrated to them in the clearest way that their faith in Him was rightly placed, that the suffering and death He had endured was for them! Their eyes were able to see it.
We said there was a second way in which their sorrow would turn into joy. Jesus had said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (John 20:29).” The power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word and Supper would be the source of the disciples’ comfort and strength long after Jesus had ascended into heaven, once again outside of their physical view. It is to your advantage that I go away (16:7), He had said to them. The Spirit of Truth would guide them into all truth, declaring Jesus to them (16:14).
You see Jesus by the same means. The Holy Spirit is working through this message, now, to enable you to see Jesus by faith. You aren’t without Him because He doesn’t appear before your eyes. It is to your advantage that the Spirit remains at work though the Means of Grace to declare Jesus to you. He declares the One Who made payment for your sins (for your doubts and despairing too). He declares the One raised from the tomb by the Father as His declaration that your sins are truly forgiven. He declares the One Whose true body and blood are present for you in the Supper that sustains you throughout the little while of this earthly life that isn’t without it’s troubles, but that soon sees those troubles overshadowed with the joy of being with Jesus in His kingdom.
God grant that this little while of our separation from one another soon give way to a blessed reunion, with all of us able to be together in God’s House to hear His Word, and to pray and sing together, and to receive Christ in the Sacrament with joy and thanksgiving. But God be praised that even in times of suffering you see your Lord through the eyes of faith by means of the Spirit’s declaration. Your sufferings of every kind in this world endure only a little while, and are followed by a joy that no one can take from you. Jesus has promised it in this text. Amen.
Other Texts from Easter 4:
so I say, “My endurance has perished;
so has my hope from the Lord.”
Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
1 Peter 2:11-20
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.