Easter 4 – John 16:16-22 – April 29th, 2012
Christ is Arisen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia)
With this week in the Easter season, we reach a transition. For the next few weeks, our Gospel lessons will be from John 15 and 16, they will be parts of the discussion that Jesus had with His disciples on the night when He was betrayed, on Maundy Thursday evening. So, why these Gospel lessons now? Why things that address sorrow and pain - it’s the Easter Season – that’s what it says on the cover of the bulletin! Shouldn’t everything be happy? Why do we have such blunt and dour Gospel lessons here in the middle of the Easter season? Because Christ Jesus is going to be teaching us what life will be like for us, for us who know Christ’s resurrection and yet for a while remain in a sinful, hard world.
A little while, and you will see me no longer, and again a little while, and you will see me. Christ speaks these words on Maundy Thursday evening, after the foot washing, after the last supper, before He goes to the garden of Gethsemane. And right here He is laying out the Crucifixion. Guys, you aren’t going to see me – I’m going to buried in the ground, I will be dead. And this will be rough and harsh on you, you will flee in terror and dread. But don’t worry, in a little while, on the Third Day, you will see me again. But Jesus doesn’t even pretend to think that this won’t be painful, that this won’t be difficult. Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. Isn’t that something that is great about God? How well He knows us, how well He understands? Jesus doesn’t feed the disciples a line – he doesn’t simply say, “Lief will be a bowlful of cherries.” I think sometimes we get this idea that if we are a Christian that everything in life will be wonderful. I’m a Christian, I’ll be happy all the time, always a smile on my face. You will weep, and you will lament. Jesus understands. We are sinners in a sinful world. Bad things happen. There is no constant bliss here on Earth. We even have a book of the Bible called “Lamentations.” And this isn’t a sign of a weak faith. You guys should all know the shortest verse of the bible – Jesus wept. At the death of Lazarus, His friend, Christ Jesus Himself weeps. It’s a simple fact, there are things that will come that will bring us sorrow, it’s part and parcel of this fallen world.
But Jesus understands that, and even as He is getting ready to go to the Cross, even as He is preparing to engage in His epic struggle against Sin and Death and the Devil, He looks at His Disciples, and He sees what will happen. You guys are going to be so scared, so upset, so frightened. And note, Jesus doesn’t give any of the empty words we do. Jesus doesn’t say “buck up.” Jesus doesn’t say “be strong.” Jesus doesn’t say, “Oh, it’s not that bad.” Note what He does say. You will see me again. Jesus points to the Resurrection. Jesus takes the Disciples, and in preparing them to handle their grief, points their eyes towards the Resurrection, points them towards something they have no way of comprehending. And why? Because the resurrection is where it all happens. The Resurrection is where the World is set right again. Behold, Christ Jesus lives, having risen triumphantly from the grave. This is where we flee from our sorrow. This world isn’t right, it’s filled with sin and anger and hatred and death – we cannot deny this, we cannot pretend it isn’t this way, we cannot expect it to be otherwise. Yet you know another more wondrous truth. Christ lives to die no more. Your sin, done away with, gone, forgiven. You have been made right with God. No matter what comes here in this life, no matter what people say or do, no matter what victories they win over you, Christ has won the final victory. You know the end of the story, whatever pain comes in the mean time. Christ is teaching you to look to Him whenever there is sorrow in your life. That’s what He does here, that’s what He’s telling the disciples that evening, that’s what He telling us this morning. You will be sad, but look to my Resurrection for strength and joy.
But Jesus isn’t simply preparing the Disciples for His death and Resurrection. He is also pointing the Disciples towards His Ascension. Hear again the Gospel. 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’?” Because I am going to the Father. You see what that is saying, right? Think on the Creed. And He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father, From thence He Shall Come to Judge the living and the dead. Jesus is also preparing the Disciples for the life after the Ascension. Yes, indeed, Christ is with us always, but think of the situation which the Disciples will be placed in. After the Ascension, if they have a question, they don’t get to just ask Jesus for the answer anymore – rather they have His teachings, they have prayer. The time is coming when the Disciples will have to take up responsibility, take up their own crosses, and serve in the Church. And it will be hard work for the Disciples. Jesus compares what they will go through to a woman giving birth. It will be painful and full of toil – but through these people Jesus will serve His Church. That is the joy they are to focus on and see – to ignore the pain of persecution, to ignore the pain of the mockers and their own torture and death – and rather to focus on the joy of sharing the Gospel, of bringing the joy of the resurrection to people who need it.
But really, this is the same situation we are in. We toil in this world awaiting the joy of Christ’s return, the final giving of joy ever lasting. Again, our faith, our love of God doesn’t mean that there won’t be pain in our lives. Coming to Church doesn’t mean the kids suddenly will stop arguing, reading your Bible in the morning doesn’t mean everything will go smoothly in the field. Even really praying hard doesn’t mean that your relationships will be peaceful and joyful all the time. Why? Because we are all still sinners in a sinful world – and sinners we will remain as long as we draw breath. Jesus knows that when He speaks these words. He says this to Peter knowing that in a few moments Peter will draw his sword in anger and cut off the servant’s ear, that in just a few hours Peter in fear will deny Him 3 times. Jesus speaks these words knowing us, knowing that we will sin. But He calls us to the struggle, He calls us to the fight – to battle temptation, to lament and confess our sin – and to look towards the joy that only His forgiveness can give. While we wait for Christ’s return – this is what our lives will consist of – our struggle to follow His Word, to actually love God and our Neighbor in thought, word, and deed. And make no mistake, it is a struggle. If you think that you’ve got this being a Christian thing down, you are fooling yourself. Our lives are ones where we constantly seek to grow and improve – and that is painful, because we will always see how we fail, we will always see our sin in front of us. And in response to this we are to confess our sin to God, and to receive His forgiveness given out to us by His Absolution and by His Supper. This is where we receive again His joy, which gives us the strength to endure in this life.
And finally, Jesus does here also describe how we are to deal with mourning the loss of our loved ones who have died in the faith. There is indeed a time for mourning, for weeping, for sorrow. We must never delude ourselves by thinking that death is just a part of life – just a phase of life. Death is a tragedy, our great foe, it’s wrong, it shouldn’t be this way. But this is why we give thanks to Christ Jesus our Lord – because He takes on death. That’s what His crucifixion is – Christ entering into the struggle against death, Christ taking its pain – and Christ defeating death resoundingly on Easter. That is how we view death, dear friends, by looking at the Resurrection. We see in Christ’s resurrection the defeat of death, we see our own future resurrection which Christ has promised to us. We look at the death of our loved ones through the Ascension – we see and remember that Christ our Lord now rules from Heaven, that He is there with all the saints who have gone on before us. In spite of our sorrow, we see the joy that they have right now this moment, and know that they await the resurrection on the last day, their’s and ours.
Again, this is what we celebrate whenever we have the Lord’s Supper here. With angels and archangels and all the company of Heaven. When we have the Supper here, we publicly confess and bear witness to many things. We confess that our Lord is here, His Body and Blood in Bread and Wine. We confess that He is here for our forgiveness. But we also confess that we with all of God’s Saints participate in Christ’s Body, that we share in His life that He has given us. The Lord’s Supper is not simply a matter of individuality – it’s not a time for just me to hang out with God. At His Supper God brings to us a taste of heaven, we join in the Heavenly Feast with all of His Saints – the Communion of Saints. In this Supper we celebrate the Truth that Christ Jesus lives – today we partake of His Body. Death cannot hold Him, Christ has not decayed away, but now, in His Body reigns in heaven in the Presence of all the Saints – and through His Supper rejoice in His presence here on Earth. Because we know that our Lord lives, we know that we too have Eternal life, right now, it is ours. Right now, God has blessed His saints, and we all simply wait for the last day when we shall see our Lord in our own flesh. We are joined to our Lord and all of His Saints. This is the joy and peace that we see here on Earth.
Dear friends – your life will have struggles – there will be trials and pains and sorrow. But let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, for the grave could not hold Him, for He reigns from Heaven this moment, for He gives us His gifts of life and forgiveness here in His Church. Because of this, we endure the sorrows of the moment, we endure them by looking to the eternal joy which He has won for us with His death and resurrection, which He has promised us. This is the peace we have as Christians, this is the joy we have as Christians, one that no one can take away. In spite of it all, we have God’s love lavished upon us in His Word and Sacraments. Thanks be to Christ Jesus our Lord that He blesses us so. Amen. Christ is Risen.