Sermon, The Third Sunday after Easter, Jubilate, Gospel, John 16:16-22
You’ve all heard the stories about children who get in the family car for a vacation trip and after an hour or so say, “Are we there yet?” Our daughter Vanessa says something like that, “Are we almost there?” Sometimes children do that because they’re bored with the long ride, or they are looking forward to arriving at the destination and having fun. Sometimes, when we have planned a trip to the zoo or a museum we tell Vanessa about the trip early in the day. Throughout the day she’ll ask, “When are we going?”, and we tell her, “Not till after nap” or, when it gets close to leaving time we’ll say, “In a little bit.” She’ll go, “Uhmm.” in disappointment. Children don’t have the sense of time that grows as they age. They remember things in the past, and have a vague idea about the future, but mainly live in the present. When they are having fun, time flies and they don’t want it to end. And it seems to go too slow when they are bored or doing unpleasant things like cleaning their room.
And even though adults understand the concept of time better than children, they still feel time moving faster or slower according to how pleasant or unpleasant, engaging or boring things seem to be. A three hour movie can just zip by if it is exciting and an hour and a half movie seem to drag on forever if it’s bad. Waiting for a late social security check to arrive, or for a visit from a friend or family in the nursing home can seem to make time drag. A day filled with activity and purpose flies by, but one without hope or meaning slows to a crawl.
As parents, we prepare our children for long trips with games and activities to play in the car, or we tell them that it is going to be a long ride, but that the drive is worth it. Jesus is doing something similar but also different with his disciples, his “little ones”, in today’s gospel text. He is preparing them for His departure from them when He is arrested later that night, tried, crucified, killed and buried. He knows that when the Good Shepherd is struck, that the sheep with scatter, despite all their protestations. He knows that it will be a time of mourning for them that will seem to last forever. So He reminds them one last time that He will be gone only for “a little while” He told them several times before that He would be raised after three days. Now He says that in a little while their mourning would be turned into rejoicing.
And so it was. When He was arrested they all fled. Peter denied Him. Only John and a few women were at the cross. From that Thursday night until Easter morning must have seemed forever. Did they remember Jesus’ words that in a little while they would see Him no longer; and again a little while and they would see Him again? (John 16:16). It seems unlikely, as the apostles didn’t go to the tomb on Easter morning. They didn’t come to Him, but He came to them. He appeared to them, the women first, then Peter and the men on the road to Emmaus, and then the disciples in the upper room on Easter evening. Their mourning did turn to joy. He said to them, “Peace be with you.” and showed them his hands and his sides, and the disciples rejoiced. They rejoiced because He was alive again and with them, but also because they were starting to understand what the cross meant. They saw the marks of the nails and the spear and they were glad. Why was that? Because they knew they were forgiven and somehow the nails and spear and death were part of it. Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit on them which gave them the understanding that His death, and His suffering were causes for rejoicing, not mourning, something only grasped by faith.
This is the message of today’s Gospel reading. Suffering is more than something that alternates with joy in life. That is the experience of most people, the ups and downs of life. But for the Christian, suffering is turned into joy, because it is a sharing in the body of Christ, in His suffering and death, and therefore in His resurrection. Suffering is not a good thing, though, don’t get me wrong. Suffering came into the world because of sin. God created the world perfectly and without suffering, without pain, and He will restore the heavens and the earth when His Son returns again on the last day, as eternal home for those who died believing His promises, and for those believers who are alive when He returns. No, suffering in itself is not good. It is merely the just punishment for the sin that clings to all of us till we die. As Saint Peter puts it in our Epistle reading, it is no credit to us if we endure punishment for our sins. But if we do good and and suffer for it and endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. It is gracious, because we only do good through the power of God’s grace in Jesus Christ working in us, strengthening us, lifting us up to endure the “little while” of suffering that seems to last forever. Lifting us up with eagles’ wings. Waiting for the Lord is suffering turned to joy because of the knowledge of the resurrection, the knowledge of Easter.
We are in another period of waiting for the Lord. We are waiting for His coming again in glory on the Last Day to judge the living and dead. When Jesus ascended into heaven forty days after the resurrection He promised that He would come again. He didn’t say when He would return. He did not say, “in a little while”, but in the book of Revelation He says “Surely I am coming soon.” (Revelation 22:21). But how soon? The apostles lived their lives, some longer, some shorter, preaching the Gospel, suffering and rejoicing and dying for their faith in Jesus’ promise. The apostle John lived the longest of all of them. He did not see the Lord return in his life, but he no longer despaired, as he had done on Good Friday. For he knew the joy of Easter. He knew the Lord keeps His promises and if He says He will return soon, He will return soon. For John and for all who live in the joy of the resurrection, time takes on a different dimension. Time is not just a flow of past to present to future, but eternally now. We who have been baptized into Jesus have been reborn already into eternal life, where time is eternally the present, the present joy of being adopted into God’s family, the present joy of being forgiven, the present joy of fellowship with the brothers and sisters in God’s family, the present joy of the Holy Spirit living within us. For us, whenever Jesus returns will be “soon.”
But we are also children waiting for something good. We are impatient. We live in an age of instant gratification. We want what we want and we want it now. But God knows He is coming. He is faithful. He will come soon, “in a little while.” And when He comes, all our waiting and worry will seem like an instant. We will be like the woman who, giving birth, forgets the anguish for joy that a human being has come into the world. Jesus does not say that the woman forgets the pain. She doesn’t. But the pain has been transformed, suffused, overwhelmed by joy.
Jesus is also with us right now. When He ascended into heaven He promised to be with us always, to the end of the age, that is, to the end of history, the last day. And He has kept His promise. He has given us His Holy Spirit in Baptism, His body and blood in the Sacrament. He talks to us in His Word, if we will listen.
For Christians who suffer, who mourn, their time of waiting may seem more than “a little while.” But it is not pointless or meaningless. For the Christian, suffering has meaning in Jesus Christ, who suffered for us so that we do not have to suffer eternal death, but will share in His eternal joy, and who already share in that joy. Saint Paul said in second Corinthians, chapter 2. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, (2 Corinthians 4:17)
Jesus said to the disciples on the night when He was betrayed, “ you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will be able to take your joy from you.” That is why we call this Sunday, Jubilate Sunday, jubilation, for the first words of the Introit are “Shout for joy to God, all the earth. Alleluia. Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of His praise be heard, who has kept our soul among the living and has not let our feet slip.
As a child of God, each day is filled with meaning and purpose. Each day is filled, packed, with patiently trusting in God, and showing His love to those around you, whether you are a child, an adult in the prime of life, or flat on your back in a hospital or nursing home. Through your patience in suffering, your gratitude for every kindness shown you, your sharing of the blessings God has given you, and your forgiving others as you have been forgiven, you live in the joy of the resurrection. Your mourning hasnow turned to joy. No, Jesus does not say, “Your suffering goes away in this life.” He says it is turned into something else–joy.” Do we understand how this works? We know this is not our doing, that it is God working in us, but beyond that not much. Someday, though, we will know fully. And when will that be? “In a little while.” Amen. Christ has Risen! He has risen indeed, Alleluia!”