21 April 2016

Homily for Easter 4 - Jubilate

"Grief into Joy"
John 16:16-22

Listen here.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Jesus says at the end of our Gospel reading that He will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you. What does it mean to have resurrection joy? Simply this: God wants you to have joy in His presence. This joy from God is not simply happiness or giddiness. It's being connected to the gift of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Rejoicing in God means having your life connected to the life of your risen Lord Jesus.

That sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it? Let’s look at our text, though, and see what Jesus is really talking about. Today’s Gospel takes place on the night Jesus was betrayed. Shortly after He gave the disciples the Lord’s Supper, Jesus says to them: “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.” He also gives this series of statements, a little while. “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” Seven times we hear that phrase, a little while.

Jesus gives us the picture that He is going on a journey. For the disciples, there would be a time when Jesus would be gone, and a time when He would return. When did Jesus leave them? He left them when He was betrayed, suffered and died. And when did he return to them? He returned to them when He rose again from the dead. This is what He means when He says that their sorrow will be turned into joy. The world rejoiced at His death, but now the heavenly world rejoices at His resurrection.

God turns the sorrow of death into resurrection joy. Simple, isn’t it? Yes, it is simple, and if this is all that it meant, then it wouldn’t have much to do with you today, now, would it?

So what else does Jesus mean when He says, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me”? Notice that word "see". Jesus says that there will be times in each of our lives when we will not be able to see Him. We can’t experience Him first-hand, with our eyes, as the disciples did. But we know that He is still here, with us. Remember again Jesus’ words at His Ascension, “Behold I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). Jesus promises that He will always be present with you. God’s presence does not disappear when things get tough in your life. Instead, it’s when you are weak and helpless that He is strong and helpful.

How did St. Paul discover this and confess this? He had some thorn in the flesh--what, we don't know. He pleaded with God to take that thorn away—not just once, not just twice, but three times. Then the Lord Jesus answered Paul’s plea this way: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). Jesus’ saving, life-giving, resurrection power is made perfect in your weakness.

Jesus uses the example of a woman in labor. A woman in labor has one thing on her mind: safely bring the child into the world. That’s all that matters. Yes, there’s sorrow. Yes, there’s pain. But in a way it doesn’t matter, because a mother knows that all of it will be worth it in the end. A mother can endure the hardship because she knows that the joy of the child soon to be born will make it so she can hardly remember the pain that came with labor. This is what Jesus means when He uses the words, “a little while.” The sufferings and hardships and sorrows of this life last but a little while. In the scale of eternity in God, it just isn’t that significant. Is it real? Yes. Do these struggles and trials and sorrows hurt? Certainly. Sometimes, very much so. But Jesus promises here that He will be with you through the trial.

Remember the words from Romans chapter six: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4).

When you were baptized, you entered into this “little while” that Jesus is talking about. You are now in the time of sorrow and trials that we all face in this life. Don’t let this surprise you. Your life is Christ’s life, and like your Lord, you, too, face trials and tribulations in this life.

And notice, too, where these struggles come. They come in your daily life. They come in dealing with your children and your parents. They come at work, from the pressures of making a living. They come from friends. They come from a culture that grows increasingly hostile to Christians and a Christian worldview. In other words, the struggles of being a Christian rise out of wherever God has placed you in this life. God is the One who has made you a father, a mother, a son or a daughter. He’s the One who has given you a job, or a classroom. He’s the One who put you into a family, has given you friends, and the like. And so it’s in these places in life that the trials of the baptismal life take their shape.

What’s difficult, of course, is to keep your focus. Like the woman in labor from our reading, we really have one goal in life: to endure this life as a Christian so we may live in Christ’s presence in the end. We could say it another way: the goal of the Christian Church is to give birth to Christians who are born into eternal life. That is our purpose. That is our place in this world. Now, sometimes it’s hard to see how that interacts with being a husband or wife or a child. But see it we must. After all, it is only in this hope of eternal life that life makes any sense.

Perhaps this is why God allows sorrow and hardship to befall you, the Christian. He wants you to remember that coming through life alive is a hard thing. Actually, it’s an impossible thing without His grace. God is of the firm opinion that He is God and you are not. God wants you to remember that He is God, and that you are not. He wants to give you all the blessings of eternity, but He can’t do it if you make yourself out to be your own god, or if you pretend that you can make it on your own.

But take heart, dear Christian friends! Remember again the words of Isaiah:
“They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint” (Is. 40:31).
 Remember that scene at the end of The Lord of the Rings. Frodo and Sam had made their arduous, trial-filled, painful, sorrowful journey to Mt. Doom. The golden ring of evil had fallen into the fiery lava, along with Gollum, who was trying to steal it for himself. And there lay Frodo and Sam on the side of the mountain, beaten and bruised, worn-out and exhausted from their journey. Then, all of a sudden the giant eagles come flying to the rescue. And they carry Frodo and Sam away to safety.

Even though you and I live with sorrow for a time today, God will see you through. You cannot see Jesus with your eyes, but He is very much here with you—hidden in your Baptism, hidden in words that absolve you, hidden under bread and wine, that is, His Body and Blood. He does and will give you joy like nothing else, or no one else, can. You are the children of God, and God always keeps His promises to you.

The time and struggles of this life last just “a little while.” But there will come a time, soon, when you will no longer even remember these trials, because of the joy that is in Christ, the joy that is yours now and will be yours forever. May it be so for you. Amen.