by The Rev. Mark Buetow
St. John 16:16-22
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, pay close attention to Jesus' words! Over the next several weeks of this Easter Season, Jesus will be speaking to His disciples of the time of the church and the work of the Spirit. Jesus speaks to us who live also in this time when He does not come to us to be seen by our eyes, but comes to us by His Word and Sacraments. By His Word, Jesus prepares His disciples for the time when He will longer be with them in the way they can see Him, but when He goes with them in His Word as they carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth. So listen closely because Jesus' words today speak directly to us for our salvation and comfort.
"A little while and you will see Me no more. Then a little while and you will see Me." The disciples don't get it. Even on the night when He was betrayed they don't know what's going to happen. It wasn't much longer until Jesus was arrested and the disciples ran away. They didn't see Him. He was taken away and tried and mocked and whipped and crucified. Even those who saw Him die didn't see Him for a little while because He was in the tomb. In order to go into suffering and death for sinners, Jesus was taken away from His disciples. They were terrified and sad. They were miserable and broken. But after a little while, on the Third Day, they saw Him again! He was alive. Death and devil and hell were cast down, the stone was rolled away and Jesus is alive! His disciples don't believe it. No wonder! He told them they would not see them and then they would see Him. But they didn't get it. They didn't believe it. So when it happened, they didn't believe at first! But then they saw Him and He taught them about His resurrection and they believed. And the sorrow they had at His death was turned into the joy of seeing their Lord alive! And this sorrow turned to joy of the disciples is a small picture of our lives as Christians!
There is our life: We are full of sorrow because we suffer in this life. But joy will come when our Lord comes back. This we have a taste of each week as the Lord gathers us for His Divine Service. Out there is sorrow: sickness, suffering, death, trouble, brokenness, frustration, bills, family problems, struggles, crosses and heartache. A little while and you will not see Jesus. The Divine Service will be over and out you go into the world to suffer these things! But a little while and you will see Him. Here. At His font. At His altar. In His Word. Brothers and sisters, run to Christ's church to receive the comfort that comes from Jesus' words that your sorrow will be turned into joy. In this world you will suffer. You will weep. You will mourn. You will think that Jesus is gone from you for good. But He has not gone. It only seems like He is not there. So that all the more when you receive Him, when He comes to you, your rejoicing and gladness is all the more! Just about every day I get to see my wife and girls. But when I had to leave them behind to go to New Orleans for weeks at a time, I was even more glad to see them when I came back. So it is with our Lord. When it seems as if He is absent, He comes to us to give us that much more joy. Brothers and sisters, in Christ, here, in the church, where Jesus' word is, there is true and lasting joy. Here is the Good News that the Jesus who went away from his disciples did it to save them and us from our sins. Here is the promise that the Jesus who seemed to be taken away from them, was taken away to die for your sins and rise again. Here, in Christ's church, is the joy of the holy washing of water and the word, the Lord's promise that your sorrow will be turned to joy. Here, in Christ's church, is the word of absolution, declaring that the sorrow of your sins is turned into the joy of being forgiven and pardoned by your Father in heaven, for Jesus' sake. Here, in Christ's church, in the holy meal of His body and blood, Jesus turns your sorrow into joy. True, you will have much sorrow in this life. And while you do, the world will laugh and have its joy: but YOU have Christ and He is all the joy that you will ever need against all the sorrow that you will ever have.
And herein lies our repentance, dear Christians. For Jesus says, "You will weep and mourn and the world will rejoice." Brothers and sisters, the world has its joy now, but its sorrow will last forever. The great temptation that faces us is to trade our sorrow now for the joy now. To give up our sadness in this life and exchange it for the joy that the world offers. That's tempting! And many do it. Many say they cannot handle the sadness, the misery, the sorrow, and so they seek their joy in this life. And they find it! They comfort themselves with lots of money or the toys this world has. They give themselves to the ways of the world and it makes them happy. For now. For this life. But when they die, they will perish in sorrow, for their earthly and fleeting joy will turn out to be ashes and dust and death. Don't do it, dear Christian! Hear St. Peter's warning in our epistle today not to give in to our fleshly lusts and to use our freedom in Christ for bad things. Dear Christians, the world has its joy now. It is comforted. It laughs at the misery and sadness of Christians now. But while the Lord's people will have the rejoicing of eternal life, those who have given up Christ for pleasure in this life, will have an eternity of bitter sorrow and unquenchable misery. Therefore, hear Jesus' words and repent! Repent of anything that would lead you to joy now at the expense of casting away Christ and His eternal joy that has been given to you in His gifts. Back to your baptism! Back for absolution. Back to the Supper. So that by these you will be strengthened against all temptations to temporary happiness and be kept in Christ the only source of our lasting joy and gladness.
Finally, dear brothers and sisters, be comforted by the promise of Jesus that there will come a time when your weeping will be turned into rejoicing once and for all. When Jesus returns, He will see you and will turn your sadness into joy. And no one will take that joy away from you. The world will have its joy snatched away on the Last Day. But on the Last Day, you, the baptized children of God, will have your sorrow taken away and replaced with everlasting joy. As the Psalmist says, "You turned my mourning into dancing!" And elsewhere, "Weeping endures for a night, but joy comes in the morning." And yet again, "My gladness increased more than all their new wine and oil!" This is how we have to face our problems, brothers and sisters: whatever sorrow or suffering comes our way, we simply declare and confess: I know that now I have sorrow. It may even kill me. But all that I suffer in this life, all that brings me down, all that causes me to weep—all of this is going to turn into the most wonderful joy when my Lord comes back and raises me from the dead and gives me eternal life! There is nothing in this life that can overcome my Jesus and what He has done. Just a "little while" and it will be all joy and gladness in Christ! Just like when a woman has a baby: it's scary, it's dangerous, it's painful, it's hard work, it's misery. But then, when that little one is born the pain turns into joy and tears of happiness because the child is born. So it is with this life: for now, we suffer. Then we shall have joy. Have no doubt, dear Christian, that your suffering will soon be past and the Lord will appear and He will lay eyes upon you and you will have joy that NO ONE can take away!
In our Old Testament Lesson, Jeremiah the prophet writes after he watches the most horrible thing: the Babylonians came and destroyed Jerusalem. They burned the city and destroyed even the Lord's temple. If you thought 911 was bad, it's got nothing on what Jeremiah had to watch as Jerusalem was laid in ruins and he had to run for his life with a handful of Israelites. Yet even in the midst of this sorrow, he who was a prophet that pointed to the hope and comfort of the Savior can say: "The Lord will not cast off forever! Though He brings grief, yet He will show compassion according to the multitude of His mercies." For a little while, the disciples wept while Jesus was gone. Then they saw Him again and rejoiced! For a little while, the time between each Divine Service, we suffer sorrow, but after that little while, we once again hear God's Word and receive His gifts, turning sorrow into joy. For a little while, the length of our lives, we suffer and weep while the world laughs. But the time is coming in just a "little while" when Jesus will be back. And your sorrow will be turned into joy. And no one will take that joy from you forever. It will always be yours in Jesus. Amen.
The Rev. Mark Buetow is pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church in DuQuoin, IL, and the Internet Services Executive for Higher Things. He edits the Daily Reflections. He is married and father of three.
Created: April 16th, 2008