“Now you see me; then you won’t; then you will again.” You have to wonder what was going through the disciples’ heads as they sat at table with Jesus in the upper room on the night He was betrayed. Jesus told them that he had even more to say, more than they could bear. You can only take so much. Jesus is but 12 hours from His crucifixion and now it’s a bit like sipping a drink from a fire hydrant. But no worries about their recalling and understanding. Jesus promises them the Holy Spirit who will lead and guide them into all truth, thereby putting Jesus’ stamp of guarantee on the New Testament.
What Jesus has from the Father, He gives by the way of the Spirit. From Father to Son to you gathered here this morning.
Jesus prepares them for His soon to come death and resurrection. “In a little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” In a little while, by the close of that day, Jesus would be dead and buried. And then, in a little while, three short days, He would rise, and they would see Him again, and their sorrow would turn to joy.
Would that all our sorrows lasted but three days! Wouldn’t that be nice? Wouldn’t it be great if all the pain and suffering and loss of this life could be packed into a Friday and over by Sunday? Well, in a very real and profound sense, it has! It is all there in the death of Jesus – your death, mine, the death of the world. And it is all there in the resurrection of Jesus – your death, mine, the life of the world. “Behold, I make all things new,” Jesus says. And He does it by His dying and rising. “It is finished.” If only we believed those last words from the cross – “it is finished.”
Jesus compares to a pregnant woman about to give birth. That’s always a hazardous analogy for a man to propose because the usual response from women is “You have no idea what it’s like.” But He’s the Lord, and He knows, so we’ll have to take Him at His Word here and run with it. “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” Suffering and sorrow give way to joy, a joy so great that it literally blots out the memory of the suffering, which is good, otherwise we first-borns would all be only children.
It tends to be true — we have a poor memory for pain, at least the intensity of it. St. Paul says that our present sufferings, the sufferings we endure in this life in a fallen creation, do not compare with the glory that will be revealed in us on the day of resurrection. The pain of dying and death with all its attendant tears and grief will be wiped away by the joy of the resurrection, the new creation, the abundant life that is ours in Jesus even now. It will be as St. John saw and described it in the Revelation, like a wedding day, a day of joy overflowing like Cana wine, when the Church appears as a bride for her husband, a day when God and Man dwell together in a blood-reconciled peace, when God will wipe away every salty tear of grief from our eyes, when mourning and weeping and sorrow and pain will finally be ended. The day that Death is swallowed up in the victory of Jesus who makes all things new.
And the glorious news of the day is that it is already done. It is finished. The hard work is done and Jesus did it. The old is gone – crucified, dead, buried. The old you with all your sins, your shortcomings, your failings, your weaknesses, your death. This world with its terrors and disasters and doom. The old Adam with his rebellion and selfishness and lust and pride, wanting to be god, killing everyone who gets in the way. It’s all dead and buried in the death of Jesus. It is done. It is finished. The old has gone, the new has come to all who are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. The grave is open, empty, impotent, powerless to hold. The new has come and left His resurrection footprints in this old creation, blessing and breathing life into His frightened disciples, proclaiming His victory at Death’s very beachhead, at the cemetery.
Do you think the disciples understood all this from Jesus that night? For that matter, do we here today? Now we see dimly, in part, a shadow, a glimpse of the glory that is. What we see is a world falling apart – wars, earthquakes, volcanos, oil spills. And that’s just this past month! But Jesus would have us see in every earthquake, every tidal wave, every eco-disaster a painful birth pang, a labor contraction of the new creation being born.
Our problem is that we would like to skip over the labor pains and get right to the birthday. We’d like to leave out the world’s last chapters, the painful part about the collapse of this world’s order and go straight for the resurrection. We’d like to skip over Good Friday with all its terror and blood and gore and head straight to Easter Sunday. We look for a detour from this upper room on a Thursday night to the upper room on Sunday evening that somehow goes by the old rugged cross outside of Jerusalem. And sadly today there are many counterfeit forms of Christianity that do just that. Oh, they don’t deny the cross of Jesus; you couldn’t get away with that. They just marginalize it and push it off to the side in favor of something a bit more uplifiting than Jesus being lifted up.
Jesus sees through the sorrow. For Him, it is like a lens through which this world is view. “You will have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice and no one will take your joy from you.” Weeping remains for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning. Remember Jeremiah in his lamentation as he grieves the death of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple.
“Remember my affliction and my bitterness, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone in silence when he has laid it on him; let him put his mouth in the dust — there may yet be hope; let him give his cheek to the smiter, and be filled with insults. For the Lord will not cast off for ever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the sons of men.” (Lamentation 3:19-34)
Life under the cross is real life. There is genuine suffering, heartache, brokenness, death. There are tears and disappointments and grief. Luther called it the “theology of the cross” and rightly so. Look at the book of Acts and our first reading this morning. Right on the glorious heels of Pentecost comes controversy in the church. The Gospel was reaching Gentile ears and gasp! the Gentiles were believing and being baptized. The Holy Spirit was at work delivering the gifts of Jesus to pagans and what happens? Peter is criticized for eating with Gentiles! Can you believe it? Sure you can! It happens all the time when God acts in a way that doesn’t square with our notions of consistency. It took three swift divine kicks to get Peter into Cornelius’ living dining room.
Can you imagine telling someone about childbirth and leaving out the birth pains? Of course not! It would be downright dishonest. With pregnancy, as with life itself, it’s the whole thing or nothing at all. You have to embrace all of it. If you are going to embrace life, you must also embrace death. If you are to know the joy of the resurrection you must endure the cross. The Christian has one foot in Good Friday and the other in Easter Sunday – now and not yet. That’s the clear message of the Revelation. Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. And that glory is already present in a hidden, sublime way in, with, and under our present sufferings.
John had the privilege of seeing it with his own eyes. A glimpse of the glory. And like a tourist to a far away place who sends a postcard saying “wish you were here,” John sends this glorious picture postcard of things as they are from the heavenly perspective. A new heaven and a new earth. Jerusalem as she has never been seen in this life – adorned like a bride on her wedding day. This is what we long for, hope for. This is what faith waits for – resurrection and life. There will be sorrow now, but there is joy to come. There will be times of trial and testing now, but there is joy to come. There will be tears and grief now, but there is joy to come. Wait on the Lord. Wait patiently, hopefully, expectantly, faithfully. You won’t be disappointed.
Jesus says to His disciples and to us, “You will have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
In the name of Jesus,