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Jubilate – Fourth Sunday in Easter
“A Little While”
Seminarian Brendan Harris, Vicar
St. John 16.16-22
25 April 2021
+ In the Name of Jesus +
“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” These words of Jesus are spoken to His disciples in the upper room, the night when He was betrayed. He tells them that in a little while, in a mere number of hours, He was going to be betrayed and taken away from them, taken and killed, seemingly never to see them again in their mortal lives. He went away to ascend the cross as the Son of Man, that there He might go to the Father and intercede on our behalf before Him. And then again a little while, on the third day, He will rise and return from death in power and glory and literally see His disciples again in His flesh and blood, beyond all earthly possibility. Truly, these words must have been absolutely confounding and perplexing, even the apostles must admit that they had no idea what they meant; yes, Jesus had told them before, but now it was imminent, the hour was at hand. It was, by just about any metric, only a little while.
And yet, these words, “a little while,” also double as a concise description of the times we live in today. This is not meant as just some critique of society, but this is a description of the age we live in by definition: these are the End Times, because we do not literally see Jesus, and we wait to see Him return on the last day. We live and spend our entire lives in this “little while.” While we walk here below, we can know nothing with any certainty, but must grasp these words by faith, that this is only a little while.
Now these last days have gone on for two thousand years—and who knows how much longer—yet in the eyes of the eternal God they are but a few hours. And in the endless age of joy to come, we who run the race will also feel in our flesh and souls, in truth, that this has just been a little while, and we won’t have cause to remember these days anymore, for they will be outnumbered like drops into the sea. Our tears we presently shed will be lost in an ocean of joy.
“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” Yes, Lord, I believe your precious words, but how long? How long is a little while? The first little while He is talking about is fulfilled in a mere number of days, but the second is yet to come. It’s easy to talk about the Last Day and the age to come until our eyes water, but then we all just wind down again and get right back into the slog of daily life. Lord, how long must I live like this? Lord I believe, help my unbelief! Where are you while your people whittle away down below in your little while. I confess with my mouth that this suffering is temporary, but it sure doesn’t feel like a little while to me. Lord, are you not my advocate? Why am I so discontent? Why has my daily bread become tears? Why do I feel alone, why am I so afraid of what’s to come? O God, where are you now?
Perhaps this cry of questions is sometimes, or oftentimes, your cry. You would be scarcely human if you didn’t want to say it or something like it. And whether you say it or not with your words, the Lord hears your every sigh, and his answer echoes out from the deep. We have an example of this in the Book of Job, where poor Job has lost everything you can lose in this life and still live, and so he complains to God, who promptly comes in a whirlwind to answer his challenge, demanding, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.” And He says very much the same thing today in Isaiah: “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? Who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name?” Are you God? Are you the Creator who culled forth the whole host of all beings great and small from the void of nothingness? Who is it that gives you breath? Who is it that really puts bread on your table, who ministers to your every need of body and soul? Who is it that died for whom? Get up, and tell me, if you have understanding.
“Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God’?” Then comes the biting rhetorical question, like a parent pointing out the obvious to a child: “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God.” And yet, although this can come off as a scolding reminder, it is so much more. The Lord doesn’t just shut us up for our grumbling, but He provides comfort, a balm to treat our exact problem.
It is as if He says, “I, the Lord your God, tell you that I am everlasting, that I am the creator and minister of all things, that I am almighty, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent—and I serve you. To me, dear child, this is a little while, and although for a time you must take up your cross and die, I tell you that it is but a moment and you will live again. Trust in me, you who labor and heavy laden, I am rest and I give you myself. For like a woman in labor is in the greatest pain of her life, in the morning she remembers none of it, but only cries out for joy at the gift of life. Do not be afraid, I will turn your sorrow into joy, for I have called you by name and you are mine. Trust in my Word, cling to me, for you who wait for the Lord shall have your strength renewed; you who cling to my promises and receive my Body and Blood, you shall mount up with wings like eagles; you shall run and not be weary; you shall walk and not faint, and no one will take your joy from you.”
To this great comfort, we give the reply of Job: “Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth. I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” With Job before us, we have heard of the Lord and of His wondrous deeds, He have heard what He foretold in the upper room and fulfilled on the cross, we have heard that He has been raised and that He is with us. We have been given the gift of faith in Baptism, and in this new birth we can see by faith the Lord before us. And so, I will repent in dust and ashes, and wait for the Lord in joy, for it is but a little while; and the Lord, my joy, is with me. I will receive His Body and Blood in order that I may be renewed with strength, with wings like eagles, that I may run this race to the end.
Rejoice, brothers, and be comforted. Endure, O Jacob, be patient, O Israel; walk in the faith, gather with the brotherhood, receive your Lord’s Word and receive the daily bread of His Body and you will be renewed. Only blink and this little while will melt into joy. “Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” In Jesus’ ✠ Name; Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus; Amen.