Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sermon for Easter 4

Easter 4 – May 3rd, 2009 – John 16:16-22

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen
Suppose you were to visit your doctor and your doctor were to tell you that you need to have something done, some procedure, and you asked him about it, and he were to smile at you and say to you, “Oh, don’t worry, it won’t hurt a bit.” Call me cynical, but when I hear that, I assume that it is going to hurt like the dickens. And this is just because it seems like so often, for whatever reason, we like to dance around the issue, wave our hands and say, “Oh, don’t worry, it’s nothing,” when it really is. We even come up with neat names for this – it’s “sugar coating” the truth, it’s just trying to spare someone their feelings. No it’s not. It’s giving into fear. Fear that a person won’t be able to handle a harsh truth.

Our Lord does not act out of fear – and when He needs to tell us something, He tells us, even if it is something uncomfortable, even something that we won’t enjoy. Jesus is not one to whisper sweet nothings in our ears – rather, He will tell us how it will be. And that is what we see our Lord doing in our text for this Sunday – indeed, for our Gospel texts for the next three Sundays. Our Lord speaks these words to the Disciples on Maundy Thursday – and some of the things He says are great, and some, some speak to difficulty and challenge. After Easter, after our Lord’s Ascension, things would be different for the disciples, and for them to be able to handle those changes, they needed to know what was going on. Jesus tells them the truth. Likewise, our Lord deals with us squarely, He tells us what to expect so that we can handle it. Let us see what our Lord instructs us today.

A little while, and you will see me no longer, and again, a little while and you will see Me. This throws the disciples all into a fluster. What does Jesus mean – we aren’t going to see Him? That word “see” there has the implication of seeing someone who is around, who is there. In a little while, I won’t be hanging around with you – I’ll be taken away. And Christ here is speaking to His crucifixion. When He speaks these words, His Crucifixion is less than 24 hours away – that little while isn’t long at all. And He admits that it’s coming. There will be a point where you won’t see Me, where I will not be here with you – I’ll be hanging on a tree, I’ll be placed in a tomb. And that’s going to be rough. In fact, Jesus tells the disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.” Truly, truly. Blunt and honest. The next few days are going to be hard on you. You will weep. You will lament. And even as you sorrow, you will see the wicked of the world rejoice, you will see crowds jeering and cheering. It will seem as though all the hosts of hell are laughing in your face. In a little while.

Note that Jesus doesn’t soft-sell what is going to happen. Jesus doesn’t pretend that what is coming won’t be horrid, that it won’t impact them, that it isn’t a terribly hard thing. He doesn’t play pretend. Rather this – He instructs the disciples to remember, in their grief, that they will see Him again. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. You will sorrow over Christ’s death, but that sorrow will be banished and done away with when you behold the risen Lord. The change will be dramatic – 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. This is a wonderful image. No woman looks forward to and enjoys labor – let’s just get it done with, let’s get through it – and then, when the labor is done, when the birth is complete – there is only the joy of the child, only the joy of the babe. Same thing – the sorrows of Good Friday yield to the joys of Easter. Those sorrows are real, but they pass, and they are replaced by a wondrous joy.

This is the lesson that our Lord speaks to the disciples on Good Friday, and it is an apt lesson, one that is quite appropriate for the disciples. But now, how does this lesson apply to us? What do we learn from it? First, we learn that we will have hardships in this world. Too often, we want to hide from the truth. We want to think that everything in our life will go our way – that because we are good Christian people that everything will be wonderful. Not so. I’d say that the disciples were better Christians than we are, and if they have to face sorrows, then we certainly will. And the reason for this is simple – we are still in the sinful world, we are still surrounded by those who will cheer on wickedness. In this world, bad things will happen, and then will happen to you. We can’t pretend otherwise, we can’t expect otherwise.

All too often we want to deny this, we want to listen to the people who will simply tell us that everything will come up roses. We can want to delude ourselves – and in so doing we miss out. Christ’s solution isn’t to tell you to close your eyes and hope it all goes away. Rather this – you will have sorrow – but Christ will turn even your sorrow to joy. When we consider our Risen Lord, when we consider that Christ has risen from death – we know what this means. That Christ Jesus has overcome the world, the world in which we face these sorrows, the world in which loved ones die, in which we face pain and suffering, where there are concerns and fears and people seeking our harm – Christ has risen and He has overcome this world – and so we will endure through the sorrows of this life until we share fully in His joy. In fact, knowing our Lord’s victory, knowing His resurrection, this is how God gives us peace, gives us contentment, gives us joy even in the midst of our sorrows – our eyes are drawn to something more wondrous than our present sorrow – they are drawn to Christ.

And as such, our Lord instructs us something else. He shows us how Satan is going to attack us. When we have sorrows, the world will rejoice. The world will be loud and brash, and try to rub it in. The world will try to make it seem as though there is nothing else but sorrow for you, nothing else but problems, try to overwhelm you so that is all that you can see. Doesn’t this happen? I’m sure each of us could tell times of when we were overwrought, overwhelmed, when everything in life seemed against us, seemed to beat down upon us. We’ve all been there – and it was bad, we can’t deny that. But we don’t receive comfort by denying that things are bad, that they are rough – rather this. We are focused upon Christ – we are shown our risen Lord, we are pointed again to the truth that Christ has conquered, that He remains, and thus, even in the midst of our temporal sorrows, we are pointed to the eternal joys that are ours in Christ. Satan tries to make us forget this, but our Lord draws us unto Himself, and so we have gladness.

Ponder with me, for a moment, what a most excellent example of this truth we have in the Lord’s Supper. What happens here whenever we celebrate the Supper – what will happen today in just a little while? We will see our Lord, He will come to us, come to us who all have our own struggles, our own pains, our own fears – and He will come to us and be with us – give us His own Body and Blood, tell us we are forgiven, tell us that we are His. And all around this, we sing, we sing songs of joy, songs of heaven. With such a simple thing, under simple common things like bread and wine, our Lord Himself comes to us in His Body and Blood, is with us, points us to and brings us to a foretaste of the joys of heaven – even in the midst of our sorrows. Our Lord says to you, “Friend, this is My Body that was given for you. See, I have risen, even though this world has done its worst to me. So shall you. Friend, this is My Blood. See, you are indeed truly and well forgiven, and nothing separates you from Me, not even these trials and tragedies you face – My Blood covers them all.” And for this brief time, we are brought here, we are pointed to, we are show and share in the joys of heaven, we join with all the company of heaven, even our departed loved ones in the faith who are with Christ, who are indeed with us in this most blessed Communion, for they are ever with Christ, and if He is here with us then so are they – we see this reality, and we understand that even now we have joy in this life – and we are reminded that there will come the time when we have this joy completely unhindered by any sorrow – for sorrows shall pass away – the labor pains of this life will be forgotten and replaced simply by the joys of being brought into the life everlasting in full.

Dear friends, let no one deceive you, let no one pull the wool over your eyes or try to pin your hopes in this life. Life in this world is hard – has been since the fall, and it will be until Christ returns. In this life you will have sorrow – but only for a little while, for our Risen Lord who has ascended will return, and then we will see His joys face to face, and they will be complete. God keep you firm in Christ Jesus, so that His joy might sustain you now, and be with you for all eternity. Christ is risen, (He is risen indeed, Alleluia) Amen.

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