Sunday, April 28, 2013

Easter 5, Series C

Sermon on John 16:12-22
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
April 28, 2013 (Fifth Sunday of Easter)

We human beings are funny creatures.  Our emotions tend to dominate us moment by moment.  When we feel sorrowful or downcast or depressed, it seems as if we have always felt this way, and as if we are always going to feel this way.  But when we feel happy or joyful or cheerful, we can’t even hardly imagine what it feels like to be depressed or saddened.  We definitely can’t imagine that our emotions could possibly shift to something other than what they are in that moment.  We have all heard it said that when someone is in love with another person he or she says that they can’t even remember what it was like before they met that other person.  Well, that is true of all our emotions.  What Jesus says about the woman giving birth is to some extent true of all of us in all sorts of emotional states.  What we feel like right now in this particular moment has a tendency to color our view of our past and our future.  When we’re depressed, all of the worst parts of the past pop out at us and we imagine that we have led a life of nothing but misery.  When we’re cheerful, all the good times pop out at us and we feel like our entire lives have been good and happy and pleasant.  It’s the same way as we imagine what the future will be like.  When we’re depressed we feel hopeless about the future, as if we will always feel this way.  When we’re cheerful we feel hopeful about the future, and the future looks bright and cheery to us.

This is why Jesus had to warn the disciples about what was going to happen.  The events later that evening and on Good Friday were going to be so traumatic that the disciples would be tempted to give in to despair and fall into the devil’s trap.  And to some extent they did, especially two of them, Peter and Judas.  Peter repented of his despair and his denial of Christ, while Judas gave into his despair over his sins and took his own life.  I would imagine that if it had not been for the words that Jesus spoke on Maundy Thursday which John records at length in his Gospel, that more of the disciples would have followed Judas in his suicide.

And so Jesus tells them in advance what is going to happen.  He also warns them about their own emotions.  He warns them that their emotions will try to trick them into despair because of the sorrow and the hurt and even the guilt that they will experience during and after His crucifixion.  He warns them that it will seem as if their whole world had ended and that there is no possible way the future could hold anything for them.  But He tells them to be patient, because their sorrow will only last for a “little while.”  It would only be until Sunday morning, when their sorrow would be turned into joy and their hopelessness replaced by hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  We have celebrated this joy for these past few weeks of the Easter season.

But why is this text part of the Easter season?  Why should a warning not to despair be sounded now, during that blessed season of the Church Year when we celebrate the resurrection and the new life that is ours in Christ Jesus?  Why should we hear that we will mourn and weep now, in the midst of our rejoicing?  The answer is that already we are starting to look forward to the Ascension.  Now, the Ascension of our Lord is not really supposed to be 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.  However, it does mean that we can not see the resurrected Christ with out own eyes, but must instead rely on the eyes of faith to see Him.  It means that we, and the many generations before us who have been born since that time, have had to rely on the preaching of the Word of God and on the Sacrament of the Altar in order to have Christ present among us, and 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.

During this little while, we will have sorrow in this world.  This is because sin remains in this world, and because of that things in this world simply don’t work the way they should.  The relationship between the crown of creation and the creator is broken, and so all sorts of other things in creation end up breaking as well.  The relations between people, including husbands and wives, parents and children, bosses and workers, and other people in general, become strained, full of anger and even hatred.  What happens on a personal scale also happens on a national scale, as wars and rumors of wars are always present.  Our own bodies fail to heal diseases and injuries as well as they should, and our health breaks down, the parts of our bodies seeming to work against each other, rather than in harmony as they should.  Our relationship with creation itself is broken.  We fail to exercise good stewardship of the resources God has placed in our care.  And ever since Noah’s flood the weather and even the earth itself have been unstable, as earthquakes, fires, floods, famine, tornadoes, hurricanes and other natural disasters seem a daily occurrence in one part of the world or another. This world which we live in is not without suffering.  Sometimes it may seem that suffering and sorrow is all there is to our existence, and we may be tempted to give in to despair.

But Christ reminds us that in God’s timetable, in God’s scheme of things, all of this sorrow is only going to last “for a little while.”  It will not become more than we can bear, provided we rely on His means of grace, His Word and Sacrament, for the strength to get through it.  But more importantly, once this “little while” is over, once Christ comes again and heaven and earth are restored to their original created perfection, we will not even be able to imagine or believe that we had any sorrow at all, because the joy of our new birth in Christ will overwhelm our sorrow and drown it in the joy of eternal life with Christ Jesus.  Nobody will be able to take our joy away from us then, because we will be eternally with Christ.

Now, all of what I have said is wonderful.  But what about right now?  Right now we are still experiencing the sorrows of this world.  Right now we still have the guilt of our sins and the suffering caused by the sin of others, and the temptations and struggles of this world.  And right now it may seem like things are never going to be better for us.  Even a short amount of time can seem very long if it involves suffering and sorrow.  This is why Christ comes to us right now with His Word and His body and blood to bring us a small taste of His heavenly wedding feast.  In a little while, in just a few moments, right here in this room, you will see Jesus and even taste Him, not with your physical eyes or your physical taste buds, but with the eyes and the taste buds of your faith, which have been created and sustained through hearing His Word.  He already now gives you to drink of the wine of gladness, His own blood, which was shed on the cross so that your sins need trouble you no more.  He already now gives you to eat of the bread which sustains and nourishes you so that you can have joy even in the midst of the sorrows of this world.  Christ says that He will see us again.  He comes to us now to give us His eternal joy in His Holy Supper.  And this joy no one will ever be able to take from us.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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