Sunday, May 3, 2009

Jubilate

Sermon on John 16:16-22
For Our Savior Lutheran Church of Norwood Park, Chicago, IL
May 3, 2009 (The Fourth Sunday of Easter)

On the next several Sundays, the Church has traditionally read from the 15th and 16th chapters of the Gospel according to St. John. These readings are all taken from the long discourse Jesus gives in the upper room on that first Maundy Thursday. Now, at first glance, that may seem a bit strange. Why do the Gospel lessons for the Easter season come from Maundy Thursday? After all, we’ve celebrated the Lord’s resurrection, we are in the season of joy and fulfillment. Why do we choose now to hear about our Lord’s words right before He went to the cross and death? Why do we hear about Jesus’ going away from His disciples now when we celebrate the fact that He came back to them?

This is the fourth Sunday of the Easter season. The novelty has worn off. Just like on the mount of transfiguration, we can’t stay forever. The old world is still out there, and it is still old and sinful, and our own old selves are still here with us, too. And even though He is no longer dead but living, the Lord is not visible to our physical eyes. And so the temptation to doubt, depression, and despair sets in again, even in the midst of the Easter season. It is precisely at this time, when the Easter celebration starts to look forward to the Ascension and Pentecost, rather than continuing to look backward to the Resurrection itself, that Jesus’ words to His disciples in that upper room take on new meaning for us. They are addressed, not just to the disciples who would shortly witness His death, but also to us who live in this world after His ascension and before His return.


The Ascension of our Lord is not a sorrowful event. It is in fact a wonderful event because it means that Jesus Christ our human brother is sitting at God’s right hand in glory and where He is there we shall be, because He is of us by virtue of His birth of the Virgin Mary, and we are of Him by virtue of our rebirth in the waters of Holy Baptism. However, it does mean that we can’t see the resurrected Christ with our physical eyes, but must instead rely on the eyes of faith to see Him. It means that everyone born since Jesus ascended, including you and me, has had to rely on the preaching of the Word of God and on Baptism and Sacrament of the Altar in order to know that Christ is present among us. We have not been able to see Him with our human eyes. It means that there is yet another “little while” before we receive the fulfilment of what is promised to us in His resurrection and ascension.


The thing of it is, that “little while” doesn’t seem so little from our human perspective. In historical terms, the “little while” before we see Jesus again has lasted almost 2,000 years. In personal terms, that “little while” has lasted a lot longer than our whole lives. How can Jesus say that such a large delay is a “little while”? Remember that God’s view of time is not our own. He has eternity in view. Compared to that, 2,000 years really is only a “little while.” And, to put it in more personal terms, our lives on this earth are themselves extremely short compared to the eternal life that awaits us after we are raised from the dead on the last day. Think of it. We will live forever with Christ. 2,000 years or even 10,000 years is only going to be the barest beginning of the time we will spend with Him. Compared to that, the 80 or 90 years, if that, we spend in this old world is nothing.


But even though our time here is only a “little while,” it’s a dangerous time. After all, life in this world has more than its share of pains and sorrows, because this world is corrupted by sin, and so are we. The temptation to ignore God’s promises given us in the means of grace and pursue our lives and careers here on this earth as if this world were all that there was, is very strong. The temptation to live in a manner contrary to His intentions for His creatures is very strong. The temptation to give in to depression and anger at God when things go badly for us here, is also very strong. And when we see so many others around us giving in to those temptations, it makes the temptations that much worse for us. And these temptations are something that we face day in and day out, year in and year out, over the entire course of our lives. Whether you have almost your whole life ahead of you or almost your whole life behind you, it can seem like a long time.


But in God’s sight, our time here really is only a little while. And after that little while, the joys we will share will completely obliterate for us the sufferings and the sorrows we have faced while we were here. There will be no pain, no sorrow, no sickness, whether that be mental or physical. There will be no terrorism. There will be no economic troubles, no layoffs, no companies going out of business, no debt spiraling out of control. No stupid arguments and power struggles between individuals in the church or in the world. God will provide us with everything we need. And even that isn’t the half of it. What’s even better is that He Himself will be right with us, to comfort us and be with us and give us blessings that we can’t yet even imagine. That’s God’s promise to you. Compared to what is in store, our lives here really are only “a little while.”


And even during this “little while” we get to have Him among us. He never left, after all, even though we can no longer see Him with our physical eyes. He dwells in our hearts by faith, and comes to us Sunday after Sunday to strengthen and renew that faith through His declaration of forgiveness and through His body and blood. And so even during this “little while” of our lives in this old world, we have Him with us. Our sorrow is even now turned to joy, because we have Him. And having Him, we have a joy that can never be taken from us. Amen.


✠ Soli Deo Gloria ✠

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