Jubilate – Fourth Sunday of Easter
“Your Sorrow Will Turn To Joy”
Paul Norris, Seminarian
St. John 16.16-22
08 May 2022
Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jesus gives his disciples a difficult teaching when he says to them, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” (John 16:19) This is difficult for them to reconcile because Jesus is going to leave them for a time, and then after some time, he is going to return to them. Their beloved teacher and Lord is leaving them, and this fills the disciples with anxiety and fear.
I’m sure the disciples were not too thrilled when Jesus follows up his words with, “…You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” (Jn 16:20) Not exactly the comforting words the disciples want to hear. Sure Jesus ends with joy, but what about all that hatred from the world that comes before the joy? To us who know of the resurrection of Jesus, this may not be alarming. But the disciples had every reason to be filled with anxiety and fear. Roman oppression surrounded them and the hatred of the Jewish leaders towards Jesus made them fearful. They had many reasons to be afraid.
Jesus is talking about how he will leave his disciples and be handed over to the Romans to be crucified. His return will be on the third day when he will rise from the dead. Whatever fears or terrors the disciples had during that time while Jesus lay in the grave, will be turned into joy at his resurrection. The disciples do not understand, they are confused and they face an uncertain future.
Think about what this means to the disciples who hear that at some time soon their teacher and Lord will be killed and they will suffer. At some point after his leaving, everything would be okay, and they would be filled with Joy. The disciples know that Jesus is not popular among the Roman or the Jewish leaders. Some of his teachings are controversial, and as we heard during Lent, some of Jesus’ teachings even provoked men to be filled with anger and murderous thoughts as they grabbed stones and were ready to kill him.
To be a disciple of Christ has come at a great personal cost. They have given up their homes and jobs. They left their families and friends behind to follow Jesus. They suffered as they journeyed with Jesus, as they often went without food or sleep. The disciples have come to depend upon Jesus, and for him to leave them now would be overwhelming. Perhaps in their minds, they feel they are about to be abandoned by Jesus and left to a world that hates them.
No doubt the disciples are asking themselves, “How can our beloved teacher leave us in such dire circumstances?” “How can he so matter-of-factly just say he’s not going to be around, while we are persecuted, but yet everything would be okay?” This is not a confidence-inspiring speech. When we look at life from the disciple’s perspective we can see how this would be so concerning to them. But just as much as this text speaks to the disciples’ anxiety and fears, it also speaks to us.
Jesus promises to be with His Church always. But sometimes, we don’t feel like Jesus is always with us. Sometimes perhaps we feel like we are like the disciples on the in-between days of Good Friday and Easter. We cannot see Jesus in his body walking around amongst us. To us, it may seem as if Jesus is not even here. That is what the devil wants us to see. But Jesus is present with us in Word and Sacrament.
Living as a Christian in the modern world can be a lonely experience. Just like the disciples, we are not loved by the world. As followers of Christ, we are known as being “old-fashioned people” who cling to myths and antiquated teachings that do not conform to the current “woke” ideology. Because we do not conform to the evil teaching of the world, we are shunned privately and more often now publicly. Christians are fired from jobs for not succumbing to an ideology that is contrary to God’s teaching and violates their conscience. We are labeled as homophobes and bigots because we will not acknowledge or subscribe to the false teaching that sexuality is determined by a person’s whims and lustful desires. We are castigated because we will not bow at the false altar of science which denies the existence of God and his creative Word. We are mocked as being weak-minded fools who believe in archaic commandments which go against the sinful desires of the world.
Perhaps you have not experienced these things yet, but the time is coming when you will be looked at as one who is hostile to the advancement of our society and the world. You will be looked at as a detriment to the progress of politics, science, and technology. There is a lot of pressure in our society to conform to the wicked desires of men, and this pressure was no different for the disciples who were constantly assailed by those who did not like Jesus. For the disciples, the pressure even comes from their own people. The Pharisees and the scribes accused them of breaking God’s Word and of being blasphemers.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it’s not going to be any different for us so long as we live according to the teachings of Jesus and God’s Word. We will be mocked, persecuted, and called fools by the world. But it is the world that reveals its foolishness as it falsely accuses us of breaking God’s Word. The world knows no more about the Word of God than the Pharisees did. They misappropriate the word “love” and make it mean acceptance of sin and lust instead of the true love of God the Father which was demonstrated on the cross. The world reveals its foolishness and incompetence of the Word of God when it proudly proclaims at the end of a prayer from the floor of the House of Representatives, “Amen, and Ah-woman.” They think they know the Word of God, yet reveal their foolishness as they try to politicize the very Word of God. The world does not look kindly upon the faithful who guard and hold fast to the Word of God.
In such times a kind of desire-driven by fear can set in. We don’t necessarily desire to be loved by the world, but we desire to be relieved of its persecution. We long for the truth to be revealed to the world in the second coming of Christ so that we would be vindicated. We want to be vindicated so that we would be spared from the hate and wrath of the world towards the faithful.
As the centuries go by between the first advent of our Lord and the second advent on the Last Day, the suffering of his Church on earth will increase. We might wonder, “Where is Jesus?”, “When is he coming back?” It is in these moments we feel a lot like the disciples did as they waited between Good Friday and Easter morning. It was confusing and uncertain and we also feel that in our lives. Like the disciples, have heard the Word of Jesus who was honest enough to tell us that there would be suffering in our lives, and sometimes it will feel like Jesus is not here.
But Jesus has told us to not be afraid, nor do we have to wonder if Jesus is here, or if everything is going to be okay. That is why in today’s Gospel reading Jesus tells his disciples that he will see them again and that they will once again have joy. And the world will not be able to take this everlasting joy in the resurrection from you. Bad days will come, but they are not days without joy because Jesus has triumphed over hell and the grave. This is where we find our joy amid this veil of tears. There is no suffering too great, nor sorrow too deep that the joy of Christ’s resurrection cannot defeat. It doesn’t always feel that way, but the joy that Jesus brings conquers everything. There is the ultimate joy in the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to rise from death and the grave on the third day!
The world does not think the promise of the resurrection is that significant. They either pass it off as some myth or pretend it is just not that important. But the world could not be more wrong on both accounts. Jesus did rise from the dead on the third day! He showed himself in his resurrected body to the disciples and many others. The resurrected body of Christ the crucified One still bears the marks of the nails, and the wound in his side. In his resurrection, Christ not only proclaims his victory over sin, death, and the devil, but he also gives it to us.
Each day the world draws closer and closer to a life that ends with sin and death. This fact is inescapable for all people at all times as our bodies wind down in their present state of mortal decrepitude. The world cannot escape this truth. Unless our Lord returns before we die, we will all die. But no matter how much hate the world has for us, or the sufferings we experience in life, they will not be our end. For even though sin entered the world through one man, so also redemption and life came to us in Christ Jesus. (Rom 5) And though the wages of sin is death, the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus. (Rom 3) The gift of eternal life has been assured for you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He set the pattern for us to follow from death to eternal life.
What evil and suffering of this world that we endure can keep us from the promise of the resurrection? How can any hostility towards Jesus’ teaching of God’s truth in the world deny us Jesus’ promise of forgiveness, reconciliation, and resurrection? None! The mocking and persecution we face for confessing the one true faith can never take away God’s forgiveness. Death itself cannot overcome the gift of eternal life that Jesus won for us on the cross by his death and resurrection. There is nothing in this world, not even its prince, the devil, which can nullify the love of God the Father for the world in the holy sacrifice and resurrection of his only beloved son Jesus Christ! This is the ultimate vindication!
No matter what troubles us, what fears and anxieties we have, whatever loneliness we might have, they are nothing in comparison to the victory of Christ’s resurrection. Our lives will not be easy and we will suffer, but we will always be joyful. Not joyful in the sense of happiness, contentment, or care-free living, but joyful knowing that our lives are not lived in vain because Jesus Christ’s life was not lived in vain. We are a people who are destined for great things here in time. In eternity we are destined to a life that is shaped and formed by the crucifixion of our sinful flesh and its raising to the newness of life in our Savior Jesus Christ. By Him, we are assured of the forgiveness of sins and the sure and certain hope of his resurrection to life eternal. Because Jesus lives, nothing in the world or the devil himself can ever undo the promise of eternal life and joy in Christ Jesus.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.