Third Sunday after Easter
April 22, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
There is a significant disconnect with Easter, that only becomes apparent after the luster of the holiday celebration wears off. After living a life of temptations and troubles that are common to the human experience, after enduring persecution for teaching about His Father, after suffering humiliation and insults and physical beatings, and after dying a criminal’s death, and after defeating them all in a victorious resurrection, Jesus rises to life again in the old, dying world, a world of troubles, persecutions, and sufferings.
Certainly Jesus was a singular presence in the world prior to His death and resurrection—an uncomprehended Light shining in the darkness—but after His resurrection, He is a strange visitor indeed. We know that Christ, risen from the dead, will not die again, writes St. Paul. Death has no hold on Him anymore. When He died, He died to sin once, never to die again, and the life He lives He lives for God (Rom 6:9-10). Yet here He stands among mortals, who will all die.
Of course, Jesus’ visit post-resurrection is short—He only lingers for a little over a month before being removed into heaven. But the glory of His resurrection could have been so much more. But the disconnect is only heightened by the fact that the greatest new the world has ever heard—the news that Christ is risen indeed—is everywhere met with resistance and persecution. The book of Acts records dozens of episodes of the preaching of the resurrection of Christ, and it is always, without exception, met with resistance—and often with persecution.
Shouldn’t the resurrection of Jesus change things? Shouldn’t the world now be rid of its enmity, of its cruelty, of its hate? Shouldn’t peace reign? But even in the Church, that’s not the case. Even among those who claim to be followers of the One who defeated death and now lives for God, even they live as if nothing’s changed at all. St. Peter even finds it necessary to remind Christians to act like Christians. Dear friends, I urge you, as guests and strangers in this world: Stay away from the desires of your body, because its appetites fight against the soul. Live a noble life among the people of the world, so that instead of accusing you of doing wrong, they may see the good you do and glorify God when He visits them (1 Pet 2:11-12). But how many people would never set foot inside Trinity Lutheran Church because you have not lived a noble life? How many of them accuse you of doing wrong? How many of them are right?
So it seems that the greatest news the world has ever heard wears off pretty fast. The glory fades and the light dims. Things go back to the way they were. And whenever the Gospel of the resurrection of Jesus sounds out, there hostility and persecution arise to meet it. This is most certainly true outside the Church, but tragically, also inside the Church. Jesus’ own followers tire of the Gospel, or distrust it to accomplish what it promises. And they seek another religion, a religion of the Law, a religion that persecutes the true religion, because the son of the Law always persecutes the son of the promise.
So, have we found some fatal flaw in God’s plan of salvation? Is the resurrection a marvel that effects nothing? Is the Gospel only a blip in human history, but everything really just stays the same? We answer an emphatic, “No!” Because Christ is risen, the more things stay the same, the more they change.
It was the night before He endured His most intense trials and suffering that Jesus spoke of the trials and sufferings that would meet His followers. First He explains that it was time for Him to leave the men who had followed Him every day for the better part of three years. First, for a short time in His passion, and then for an extended time after resurrection and ascension.
Jesus said, “A little while and you’ll not see Me anymore; and again a little while and you’ll see Me.” Then some of His disciples asked one another, “What does He mean when He tells us, ‘a little while and you’ll not see Me; and again a little while and you’ll see Me,’ and ‘I’m going to the Father’?” So they were asking, “What does He mean when He says, ‘A little while’? We don’t know what He means.”
As John the evangelist is writing these words, he is most likely writing late in the apostolic era, perhaps even the last book of the New Testament to be written. By that time, several decades have passed since Jesus was no longer present in a natural way. Many of the first believers had died (including many of the Apostles) and people were wondering if Jesus really would come back. This is John’s way of telling the story of Jesus so that we disciples who follow Jesus a long while after His departure for God’s right hand would be prepared for Him to return after a little while.
But it’s the interim that’s our concern. What about this little while, that feels so long? What about when it looks like the resurrection of Jesus made no difference, when things keep on as they always have, and when troubles and persecutions rise to meet the faithful? This is the concern of Jesus with the words that follow.
Jesus knew they wanted to ask Him something. “Are you trying to find out from one another,” He asked them, “what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you’ll not see Me; and again a little while and you’ll see Me?’ I tell you the truth, you will cry and mourn, but the world will be glad. You will have sorrow, but your sorrow will turn to joy. When a woman is going to have a child, she has pains because her time has come. But after the child is born, she’s so happy a child was brought into the world she doesn’t remember her pains any more. You, too, are sad now; but I’ll see you again, and then you’ll be filled with joy, and no one will take your joy away from you. Then you won’t ask Me any questions. I tell you the truth, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you.
The resurrection of Jesus doesn’t remove troubles from the world or our own lives. Because Christ is risen, the enemies of God don’t automatically lay down their arms. And furthermore, because Christ is risen doesn’t mean that His followers are any less sinners. You will cry and mourn. You will have sorrow. There will be troubles and persecutions and crosses and trials. But why should they grieve me? They are only a little while.
Your sorrow will turn to joy. You are sad now, but I will see you again, Jesus says. And no one will be able to take that joy away from you, because it will be eternal joy.
So the resurrection of Jesus doesn’t remove troubles from the world or our own lives. It doesn’t remove the sinful nature. It forgives sins and gives us hope to endure every trial and tribulation that is on the horizon. The Gospel of Jesus Christ drives us through suffering to find joy on the other end.
Until this little while is ended, though, and Jesus returns in a natural way, there is a weekly return to the resurrection of Jesus. That’s why we worship on Sunday—it’s the day that Jesus rose from the dead. And each and every week, Jesus punctuates this little while with a visit—though supernaturally, and sacramentally hidden. The Sacrament gives us the strength to endure this life of cross and trial because it is the Word of God, given and shed for that very reason. The forgiveness of sins propels us through every season of suffering to find joy in the resurrection of Jesus. And,
The Resurrection of Jesus Turns Sorrow into Joy
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard
Image by flickr user John Taylor.