In a Little While

Easter 5, May 19, 2019 — Deacon Rex Watt

Acts 11:1-18 / Revelation 21:1-7 / John 16:12-22


+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. +

Grace and peace to you from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed, Alleluia!  Dear saints of Redeemer, a riddle: What occurs once every minute, twice every moment, yet never in a thousand years?  The answer: the letter m.  Riddles can be fun, but they can also be confounding.  For Samson, the riddle that he told to the Philistines, “Out of the eater came something to eat.  Out of the strong came something sweet” was fun (Jdg 14:14), but for the Philistines it was confounding.  Let’s try another one.  The one who makes it, has no need of it.  The one who buys it, does not use it.  The one who uses it, cannot see it or feel it.  What is it?  While you mull that one over, let’s take a look at what appears to be a riddle for the disciples as Jesus winds down his Upper Room discourse in our gospel lesson for today.

We are in the season of Easter, but our text for today takes place Maundy Thursday night.  The disciples reacted with puzzlement to the words that Jesus spoke to them, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me” (v 16).  To us, looking back, that’s not much of a riddle.  We know that in a little while the Lord will bring redemption, life and salvation into the world.  But the disciples?  They were confounded.

“In a little while” – tomorrow from the perspective of our reading – Jesus will go to his death.  In a little while the disciples will see him arrested, tried and convicted, beaten, and hung on a cross to die.  And then they will see him no longer when the stone is rolled over the mouth of the tomb and sealed shut.  Within 24 hours of Jesus speaking these words, “In a little while…” the disciples experienced exactly what Jesus described.  They would have great sorrow.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament…you will be sorrowful,” Jesus told them.  And indeed, they were.  They were crushed.  Their master, their teacher, on whom they had pinned all their hopes and dreams was dead.  What would happen now?

The authorities had killed Jesus.  What might they do to his followers?  It was an unsettling time for the disciples.  That’s why they were locked away in that upper room “for fear of the Jews” the Apostle John wrote.  He should know.  He was there!  But here in our text Jesus assures them that even though things might seem very grim, that would not be the end of the story.  “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.”  There is another “little while” coming, and they will see Jesus once more.  Jesus is referring to his resurrection with this second “little while.”  After Jesus’ crucifixion and burial on Friday, it would be only a little while, on Sunday, until they see him again.  And when Jesus was raised, and they saw him, their spirits were raised also.  “You will be sorrowful,” Jesus told them, “but your sorrow will turn into joy.”

To explain this sorrow to joy transformation Jesus uses the illustration of a woman giving birth.  Being a guy, I’m sure that I cannot completely relate, but I’m going to give it a try.  When a woman goes into labor, the labor pains increase in frequency and intensity, until the woman feels like she is being torn apart and can’t take it anymore.  Although this pain is very intense, it is, relatively speaking only for a short time, and gives way to a surpassingly wonderful joy, joy that a new life has come into the world.  It is a joy that lasts much longer than the pain that she has just gone through.  And so Jesus concludes his illustration by telling his disciples, “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.”

How the disciples did rejoice when they saw Jesus on Easter day!  Not only was their master alive, they also began to understand why he had to die.  They saw the nail marks in his hands and feet, Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures and it all was beginning to become clear.  This was all part of God’s plan all along!  It was necessary for the Christ to suffer and die for sinful mankind.  It was the only way for our sins to be atoned for, the only way for death to be overcome.  God’s Holy Son must die for sinners like you, like me, and like those disciples, or else we would all be lost forever.  But now the risen Lord shows us that his rescue mission was successful and complete.  Sins forgiven; death conquered.  New life, resurrection life, given and received.  Good Friday and Easter–together they do all that.  From death to life.  From sorrow to joy.  A little while, and a lot of joy.

Dear friends, Christ gives you a joy that no one can take from you.  It is a joy that runs deeper than your circumstances.  The world will hate you–and we see evidence of that all around us these days, increasingly so as the world’s hostility against the Christian church grows.  The world will hate you, even as they hated Jesus.  The world will rejoice at the church’s misfortunes.  But no one can take our joy–a real, true joy–that we have in Jesus from us.  It’s too great and too deep for them to touch.  For we know, –the Holy Spirit has embedded this faith in our hearts–we know that our Redeemer lives, and, oh, the sweet joy this sentence gives: He lives, and because he lives, we will live also.  We live as God’s dearly loved children. We live, our lives joined to Jesus forever in Holy Baptism.  The bond is too strong to break.  Your salvation dear saints of Redeemer is secure, come what may.

Testing and trials and troubles will come.  In this world, in this life, we will have tribulation.  For one thing, our sinful tendencies have not totally vanished.  We still stumble and fall, and we need to be picked up and set back on the right road.  Our own sin perplexes us.  And the world around us will persecute us, mock us, make fun of us Christians, speak evil against us.  On top of that, the devil will tempt us, try to draw us away from Christ–through the desires of the flesh, through the deceitfulness of the world’s false values, through the discouragement that comes when we think God doesn’t care for us.  And so, there is this battle we must fight now for a little while.

“A little while.”  There it is again.  Like the disciples, we endure a “little while” of anguish and sorrow, as we await our Lord’s return.  For Christ has ascended and gone back to the Father, and we don’t see him here with us right now.  That doesn’t mean he isn’t with us.  He is.  It’s just that we don’t see him with our eyes.  And our life doesn’t look all that magnificently perfect either.  So, we have a “little while” of our own that we must go through.

But it is just a little while, relatively speaking.  The suffering and the sorrow may be intense, there’s no denying that.  But in the big scheme of things, when compared to the eternal future that lies before us, the sorrow now is just for a little while.  The better time is coming–Jesus himself is coming, he is coming again–when everything will be restored and made new.  “Behold, I am making all things new!” our returning Lord declares.

And so, for now we have our “little while.”  But it’s a little while that leads to a lot of joy!  Because even now we have that joy, a significant taste of it–Easter joy, and that’s a joy that no one can take from us.  It’s the joy of sins forgiven.  It’s the joy of knowing our Savior is risen and lives forever.  It’s the joy Jesus gives us through the Holy Spirit, our Lord’s “going-away present,” so to speak, the Spirit testifying to our Spirit that we are indeed God’s children.  And it’s the joy of knowing that Christ will come again to take us home.

We began with a riddle.  Here it is again: The one who makes it, has no need of it.  The one who buys it, does not use it.  The one who uses it, cannot see it or feel it.  What is it?  A coffin: a casket.  And the one who uses it will not need it long, for in a little while the Lord will come again, and for his redeemed, all the sorrows of this world, including death will be turned into the all-surpassing joy of resurrection to eternal life.  May God grant this to us all.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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