Third Sunday after Easter
May 11, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s one of those happy coincidences of the lectionary that the day when the world is celebrating motherhood, the assigned Gospel is a comparison of the Christian faith to the pains of childbirth. Now, the last person who should be qualified to speak about the pains of childbirth is a man, and a man with no children of his own, at that. But Jesus does anyway. He’s the One by whom childbirth was created and the One who came into the world by childbirth.
When she is giving birth, a woman has sorrow because her hour has come. (v 21a). Where does this sorrow come from? It’s a result of sin, punishment for disobeying God’s holy Word. To the woman He said: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children” (Gen 3:16a NKJV).
What is here translated as sorrow and pain are the very same words and the same word that Jesus uses in today’s Gospel. It’s more than just the physical pains of labor, but also mental and emotional anguish. Mothers, have you ever worried for you children, for their safety, for their well-being? That’s because no child has ever been brought into this world who has not been brought into it in sin—from Eve’s first son on. That is the particular curse of sin that is laid upon the woman. What God had blessed her with in the beginning—the duty and privilege and high honor of bearing new life into this creation—has now become a cause of sorrow, of grief, of pain.
But when the child is born, she no longer remembers the tribulation because of the joy that a man has been borne into the world (v 21b). What a marvelous turn of events. In an instant, the tribulation ends. The mother’s cries give way to the wails of a newborn. What looks to be certain death ends in life. It’s not that the pain, the troubles, or the trials are forgotten, it’s that they are utterly overwhelmed by the joy of new life.
The joy of a child is the joy of something totally new, something never before seen, that is brought into the world. Each individual person is entirely like everyone else, yet entirely unique. Each smile is a new smile, each frown is a new frown, each laugh something that the world has never heard before. This new life will put sentences together in ways that have never been spoken before, will discover things anew that her parents have long since taken for granted.
The joy is on account of our Lord, who, despite His severe punishments, despite His curse on childbearing, still remains true to His Word. In the beginning He blessed the man and the woman and said, Be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28a NKJV), and He has not removed that blessing, that joy, from His beloved creation. Sorrow gives birth to joy when a mother gives birth to a child.
The increase of sorrow and pain in childbirth is not because our Lord is vindictive and out to get His pound of flesh from the woman, who sinned first. Rather, the particular curse He lays upon woman is to draw us all to the way in which He will set at right this world made crooked by sin. Because it’s by childbirth that Salvation is brought into the world.
The eternal Son of God, the Word who was from the beginning, is conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Some may argue whether the birth of Jesus caused Mary any pain, since He was the only Child born without sin, but the one indisputable fact is that Jesus was born to bear the curse for us. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, becoming a curse for us; for it is written, “Cursed is anyone who hangs upon a tree” (Gal 3:13).
This Seed of the woman, who is at enmity with the seed of Satan, was born of woman to crush Satan’s head and bring an end to death, though not without His own heel being struck. Christ bore the curse of mankind when He hung from the cross, enduring the pains of crucifixion for all who because of sin must endure the pains of childbirth. He became a Man of sorrows for all whose sorrow is multiplied.
It’s not that the sorrows, the labors, and the passion of Jesus are forgotten—even during the celebration of Easter, we still preach Christ crucified—but that they are utterly overwhelmed by the joy of the resurrection. “Therefore you also now have sorrow,” Jesus says. “But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice and the joy that is yours no one will take from you” (v 22).
The joy of the resurrection of Christ is a joy that nothing can take from you, not even death itself. You will have sorrow, Jesus says, because I’m about to be executed for crimes I did not commit. But your sorrow will turn to joy in an instant, when you will see me again on the other side of the grave. What looks to end in certain death unexpectedly ends in life.
In this way, the curse that the Lord puts upon woman becomes a picture of Christ. Our Lord gives birth to joy out of sorrow because out of His death He gives birth to resurrection. He trades the womb of the Virgin in for the womb of the earth. On the day of resurrection, something totally new, something never before seen, comes into the world. Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia! We know that Christ, who is risen from the dead, will no longer die; death no longer lords over Him (Rom 6:7).
The joy that was borne into the world is the joy that death is no longer lord of this creation; Jesus Christ is Lord. Sorrow gives birth to joy when Christ rises from the dead.
Yet, even during the overwhelming joy of Easter, sorrows and griefs and pains still afflict the people of God. And all this talk about joy can be like daggers in the heart when you’re sorrowful. How can you find joy when all you feel is sorrow? I remember very vividly one of my seminary professors told our class the story of the stillbirth of his son. I’d never seen a college professor cry in class before. Then he said something that I’ll never forget. He said that there’s a difference between happiness and joy. Joy can exist also under the cross. In other words, joy isn’t an emotion, it’s not euphoria, it’s not, “Hey don’t worry, everything’s going to be alright.” Joy is the confidence that God makes Himself known particularly through suffering and the cross.
And so the pains, the labors, the sorrows of this sinful will may not be forgotten, but they are utterly overwhelmed by the life that you have in Christ. Jesus knew that they wanted to ask Him, and He said to them, “Are you debating with each other concerning this, that I said, ‘A little while and you will not see Me, and, once again, a little while and you will see Me’? “Amen, amen, I am saying to you: you will weep and you will mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will be sad, but your sorrow will be borne into joy (vv 19-20).
Our Lord is not a Lord of platitudes. He doesn’t say, “There, there, it’ll be ok.” He promises that you will weep and mourn, even as the world rejoices. But He also promises that your sorrow will give birth to joy. Because that’s the way that our Lord works. You may not forget the pains, the labors, the sorrows that weigh down on your heart—on the contrary, they may even be multiplied—but they are overwhelmed by the joy of the new life that you have in Christ.
There is one little detail that Jesus includes for you this morning. The little while. “A little while and you will no longer see Me,” Jesus says, “and, once again, a little while and you will see Me.” Then some of His disciples said to each other, “What is this that He is saying to us: ‘a little while and you will not see Me, and, once again, a little while and you will see Me;’” (vv 16-17a).
The sorrows, the pains, the labors, are only a little while. Our Lord’s passion lasted less than 24 hours, but His resurrection endures to all eternity. So also you sorrows, your struggles, your pains, they last only a little while. But the joy, the joy that you have in Christ is joy that no one can take from you. What looks to end only in certain death is swallowed up in new life.
This is the joy of something totally new, something never before seen, being born in you. Christ is risen, and He gives you His Spirit, who is the Lord and giver of life. He creates a new you, born out of the womb of the font, renewed and refreshed by Holy Absolution. Sorrow gives birth to joy when the Spirit creates a new man in place of the old you.
So rejoice, because
Sorrow Gives Birth to Joy When a New Man Is Born of the Spirit
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard