April 28, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy…. You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
Jesus is going to leave His disciples. That is the big news that He drops in the Upper Room. You heard a portion of the long address that Jesus gives to His disciples on the night when He is betrayed. Biblical scholars call this Jesus’ Farewell Discourse. Jesus says: “A little while, and you will see Me no longer, and again a little while, and you will see Me.” Then He goes on to discuss the pain and sorrow that this will cause His disciples: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.”
Goodbyes are hard. And when the taking leave is connected to dying, it is even more difficult. There is finality to it. That is what Jesus is speaking of to His disciples. He tells them that they will no longer see Him. And that time will be soon. In fact, it is just a matter of hours when He will leave them. That is the “little while” which Jesus mentions. The evening walk to Gethsemane is short. The appearance of the Temple Guards will take place quickly. And by the next sundown, Jesus will be lying in a grave as an executed condemned criminal.
This will cause grief for Jesus’ followers. The weeping and wailing of the women in Jerusalem was heard in the streets. Peter’s remorseful tears for denying Jesus freely flowed. The dazed and confused disciples would linger in that same room where they had heard Jesus speak of His departure, but they would lock the doors for fear that the same would happen to them. Other followers of Jesus would trudge home, wondering if their hope that Jesus was the Promised Messiah had been misplaced.
And while they were full of sorrow, the world rejoices. The opponents of Jesus walk away from the site of crucifixion convinced of the rightness of their cause. The great impostor, the blasphemer, the critic was dead, done away with. It happens just as Jesus says: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.” In fact, we even put those words into song. CFW Walther’s hymn for Easter includes the lines: “The foe was triumphant when on Calvary / The Lord of creation was nailed to the tree. / In Satan’s domain did the hosts shout and jeer, / For Jesus was slain, whom the evil ones fear.”
But Jesus’ statements include something that does not cause sorrow. He speaks words that bring just the opposite reaction. When Jesus discusses His sudden departure, He also mentions that it is not permanent: “A little while, and you will see Me no longer, and again a little while, and you will see Me.” That second part of His statement speaks not of departure, but of arrival. The same disciples who experience a time of not seeing Jesus after His death would see Him again. And that seeing Him again would be soon.
Jesus’ promise of a return arrival is the greater part of His Farewell Discourse. Taking leave of someone when they die is expected. Pain and sorrow are anticipated. But to have that person reappear is completely unexpected. When it occurs, it brings joy that is boundless. Such joy was found for Jairus, the Widow of Nain, and for Mary and Martha when Jesus brought their loved ones back to life. The same joy would be given to the Eleven who hear Jesus’ words: “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
What happens when this takes place? You heard the record of it on the Sunday after Easter Day. Jesus appears in the midst of His disciples. He shows them His hands and side, the same ones that were pierced during His crucifixion. But His death and burial was not the end. The “little while” of their not seeing Jesus had come to an end. We put that into our Easter hymns: “The three sad days have quickly sped, / He rises glorious from the dead. / All glory to our risen Head! Alleluia!” Now they experienced the “little while” of seeing Him again. And they were glad. Their grief and sadness had been removed, just as Jesus said: “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.”
Jesus’ promise of having His disciples brought from sadness to joy is rooted in His resurrection. He knows the purpose for His being in the world. He knows what He is meant to do. Death and resurrection are essential to it. This is why Jesus disclosed His betrayal, arrest, condemnation, and crucifixion to His disciples at various times in His ministry. Even at His transfiguration, the matter of Jesus’ exodus—His departure—was the main topic. Everything led up to those eight days in Jerusalem, the eight days of glory that were marked by Jesus’ suffering, death, burial, and then His resurrection. The creation of new life was being accomplished through those acts, a new life that is meant for Jesus’ people. The sorrow and anguish of Holy Week are the pains of bringing eternal life to birth. With the resurrection of Jesus, there is only gladness: “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
So how do these promises speak to us who have not seen Jesus before or after His death? We have not had Jesus depart from us. There hasn’t been the “little while” then His going away from us, so that we cannot see Him. And there hasn’t been the “little while” when we see Him again. We have not seen Jesus. We only have the testimony of those who saw, heard, and touched Him. So how do His words apply to us?
Though we have not seen Jesus, we do experience what He has come to remedy. We have plenty of experience with sorrow, with the hard goodbyes that death causes. We know well the grief and anguish that come from the world, including the joy that is found at tearing down the Lord’s ways and the people who attempt to follow them. Weeping and lamenting over our own sinful acts is not a foreign concept to us. But this is what Jesus’ work is meant to remedy. Jesus is our Redeemer, the One who has dealt with our sin. His death and resurrection were accomplished for our benefit. He has brought eternal life to birth for us. The promise is extended to you and me: “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.”
But what turns that sorrow into joy? Only the resurrection of Jesus can do that. Not just that Jesus has risen from death, but that His people are given a share in that same resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of a new age, the ushering in of an era that is governed only by the new life that He has brought to birth. You have been given entry into that new age. This is what your baptisms have given to you. You have died with Jesus and have been raised to life with Him. You have been born of water and the Spirit, so that you can enter into the kingdom of heaven. You have been made heirs of God the Father, granted a place in His household.
Through that act, a great promise has been extended to you. God the Father has made a covenant with you. He has given you a pledge of what He will do because of what His Son has accomplished by His death and resurrection. That pledge includes being brought to the full experience of the joy that Jesus’ disciples had when they saw the Risen Lord. Today, you heard a portion of that pledge: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” This is your future. This is what awaits you because of what Jesus has accomplished.
The joy that will be made yours is rooted in Jesus’ resurrection. It has brought eternal life to birth for you. The making of all things new that God the Father speaks of is taking place in you. And so you put that in your Easter song, as you sang this morning: “Easter triumph, Easter joy! / This alone can sin destroy; / From sin’s pow’r, Lord, set us free, / Newborn souls in You to be. Alleluia!” Being born to eternal life, you have an inheritance from God the Father, a place in the new heaven and new earth that He establishes: “The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be My son.” That is the promise made to you.
This promise of new birth is what brings joy in the midst of sorrow. It makes the hard goodbyes a little easier to bear. It forms endurance in the midst of the world’s rejoicing at unrighteousness. It gives comfort in the times of illness and the closing of earthly life. It establishes hope even in the midst of the frustration with your own fault-laden actions. For the world’s rejoicing, illness, pain, mourning, sin, and death are not eternal: these are all counted among the former things that are passing away.
But God the Father says: “Behold, I am making all things new.” He is making all things new for you. This is your heritage. What awaits you is the ending of these former things. What awaits you is the time when you will see Jesus. What awaits you is the joy that will be given for eternity that no one can take away. That is what Jesus’ resurrection has made possible for you. And so you can go through the pains that lead to the birth of eternal life for you, just as the Eleven and those who followed after them did. For what the Risen Jesus says to them is also true for you: “A little while, and you will see Me.”
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.