Sermon for The Fourth Sunday of Easter - Jubilate: The Sunday of Christian Joy - Luther Memorial Chapel, Shorewood, Wisconsin Pastor Michael Larson 5/3/2020
Readings: Isaiah 40:25-31; 1 Peter 2:11-20; John 16:16-22
Almighty God, You show those in error the light of Your truth so that they may return to the way of righteousness. Grant faithfulness to all who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s Church that they may avoid whatever is contrary to their confession and follow all such things as are pleasing to You; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Our Lord this morning tells His disciples, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” That little phrase a “little while” is repeated seven times in our Gospel text, so what’s going on there?
These words are spoken by our Lord on Maundy Thursday, the night of His betrayal and arrest, and the start of His Passion. With these words Jesus is teaching His disciples that He will soon endure suffering and death, but that He would rise again from the dead. A “little while,” He says – a couple short hours - “and you will see me no more.” That is, “I’ll be arrested, removed from your sight, crucified, dead, and buried. You won’t see me when darkness covers the earth and I’m laid in a tomb.” But then Jesus says to His disciples, “and again a little while, and you will see me.” That is, “I’ll rise from the dead and you’ll see me again.”
Jesus is speaking to them in such a simple way just as a father might speak to his own children. But the disciples are having a hard time understanding. Jesus is speaking of His dying and rising but they just don’t get it.
You can’t be too hard on them for that. After all, you have the advantage of being a disciple of Christ, 2000 years later, after the fact. You’ve had Sunday School lessons and many sermons on the resurrection. But the disciples found these teachings, at the time, incomprehensible, and understandably so, that their Lord should be suddenly torn away from them - arrested, crucified, and buried – and that He would come back again from the dead and show himself alive.
So in that upper room after they heard these words from Jesus, the 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’…so that were saying, ‘what does He mean by ‘a little while? We do not know what He is talking about.”
Well, as we will learn today, Jesus is strengthening their faith. He’s comforting them and teaching all Christians everywhere, how to endure suffering and all the unpleasant “little whiles” of this life until every sorrow gives way to joy.
This “little while” that our Lord is speaking of this morning has both an immediate meaning and an extended one as well. It would be a little while in the garden of Gethsemane sweating blood, a little while on trial before Caiaphas, a little while of brutal hours suspended on a tree suffering and dying for the sins of the world. For a little while darkness would cover the earth, and no one would see Him when He would be laid into the darkness of that tomb. But then, in a “little while,” on the third day, the disciples would see Him again, risen from the dead! There in the upper room they’d see Him alive, forgiving their sins, giving to them His Holy Spirit, and calling them forth to bring that same word of the Gospel to the very ends of the earth!
I hope those words of Jesus are starting to make some sense this morning: “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.”
Jesus is comforting His disciples. He’s acknowledging the sorrow they’ll experience when He’s ripped away from them, suffering and dying on a cross. “You will weep and lament while this evil world rejoices. But take heart, dear friends, because when I’m raised from the dead, I’ll come to you again, you’ll see me, and your sorrow will all turn into joy.”
That’s the immediate context of our Lord’s words this morning but they also extend far beyond. You see, that “little while” our Lord speaks of in our Gospel this morning also extends throughout our entire earthly life – all the way to the consummation of the age when our Lord comes again.
Now when you hear the phrase “a little while” what immediately comes to your mind? When or where might you be when you hear those words? Remember when you were on a car trip with mom or dad in the car. Maybe you were off to see grandparents or to go on a family vacation and you’d ask again and again, “Are we there yet?” Long trips aren’t always terribly fun or comfortable – sometimes their downright unpleasant. Maybe your parents tried to comfort you, calm you down a little, and they responded with something similar to Jesus answer, “it will be just a little while.” It didn’t seem a little while. The trip was long, hours upon hours, and some uncomfortable ones too. But then again, once you pulled up to Gramma and Grandpa’s house, the fun and the familiar sight, then you realized it was worth it. The long little while, the journey, was worth all the unpleasantness, which was soon forgotten about. The “little while” was in fact a short discomfort in comparison with the joy of arriving at the final destination!
Our epistle this morning reminded us Christians that we’re all pilgrims and exiles in this age. We’re on a journey in this earthly life, travelers to the holy city of God and the Kingdom of Heaven. Remember that journey to gramma and grandpas’ – that long journey which seemed to take so long – sometimes unpleasant or uncomfortable – it was just a little journey in comparison with the joy of the reward.
This morning our Lord holds before us also the example of a woman in childbirth. She has sorrow because her hour has come. She’s laboring and giving birth. There’s blood, and sweat, and tears. But what is all that compared with the joy that a child has born into the world? When all is put in perspective, the sheer joy and delight of that reward, a newborn baby placed right upon your chest, a woman might look back and consider the labor a minor inconvenience.
Our Lord wants us to see the whole Christian life with such a perspective. Those heavy trials, discomforts, and pains will come your way too. This world rages against Christians. The devil will join in theOur Lord wants us to see the whole Christian life with such a perspective. Those heavy trials, discomforts, and pains will come your way too. This world rages against Christians. The devil will join in the fray and aim some fiery darts at your heart till you’re brought to a near meltdown! You’ll be pushed to the brink! But then because you have this Gospel today you can say to yourself, “Oh, I know what’s going on! Jesus told me this would happen. He told me to expect this. This is the “little while” He was talking about. And He instructed me not to grow impatient but instead to remain cheerful. He told me that my sorrow would all turn to joy – that I would see Him again – and my heart would rejoice!”
Therefore, whatever the world throws at me, I won’t dwell too much on my sufferings at all, and besides, what are my sufferings compared with those of Christ my Lord who suffered all and gave His life for me! Instead I’ll endure every “little while” gladly and hold on to Christ’s pledge and wonderful promise when He says to me: “I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” When Christ my Lord comes again, this little while of weeping will give way to an eternity of rejoicing in the presence of Christ, the crucified and risen Lord. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Hymn of the Day: With High Delight Let Us Unite - LSB 483