Sunday, May 11, 2014
Homily for Jubilate - The Fourth Sunday of Easter
John 16:16-22; 1 Peter 2:11-20; Isaiah 40:25-31
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“The waiting is the hardest part,” according to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and they’re right. Whether you’re waiting in fearful anxiety for the results of your biopsy to return, or you’re waiting in joyful anticipation for your son’s or daughter’s wedding day, the waiting is hard and fraught with impatience, anxiety, worry, fear, and worse.
Your enemy, Satan, knows this well, therefore he waits and he watches for the opportunity to take advantage of your conflicted state. Satan tempts you in your impatience to take matters into your own hands and to act rashly and foolishly and without faith, trusting in your reason, wisdom, and instincts above and before God. Then, if you are successful, he will pump you full of self-righteous pride, and if you fail, he will use that against you to bury you in guilt, despair, and hopelessness. Either way, he wins, for he has successfully taken your eyes, your faith, and your hope off of Jesus and has placed it upon something, anything else. Likewise, Satan lies to you and deceives you through your anxiety, worry, and fear so that you place your fear, your love, and your trust in other things and persons in place of God. Once again, he wins.
But, why is waiting so hard? As Jesus taught with wisdom and eloquence, you can’t add a single hour to your life by worrying. Has the Lord not promised you that He will return for you and that you will live with Him forever? Has the Lord not promised you that even now He is with you and will see you through all things, joys and pleasures, trials and tribulations, even death? Then, why do you worry? Why is the waiting so hard when you know that what you’re waiting for will come and that it will be ok in the end? Do you not trust in the Lord and His Word with all your heart, soul, and mind? Do you think that He has lied to you, deceived you, or didn’t really mean what He said? Do you not believe that He is risen from the dead just as He said?
“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will me.” Jesus spoke these words to His disciples before His Passion. In some respect, He was preparing them for His suffering, death, burial, and resurrection. When He was dead and buried, they would not see Him. But, in a little while, they would see Him again resurrected from the dead. But mostly, primarily, Jesus is looking beyond His death and resurrection to His Ascension and Parousia. This is to say, the “little while,” to which Jesus refers, in which His disciples will not see Him, is the time between His Ascension to the right hand of the Father in heaven and His Parousia, His coming again on the Last Day in power and great glory. Thus, that “little while” is right now.
So, if the disciples, who were with Jesus, had some trouble understanding what Jesus meant by “a little while,” what does that mean for you who are living nearly two thousand years later and have never seen Jesus at all? It means that you should take to heart the words of your Lord to St. Thomas that you heard two weeks ago, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” And yet still, whether you see or not, it is ultimately faith which apprehends the “little while” before Jesus’ appearing. Thomas and the other disciples needed faith to believe as much as you do, even though they were much closer to Jesus physically, visibly, and aurally than you are. For, though they could see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and touch with their hands, none of it made any sense to their reason. Faith took over where their reason failed, thus their faith was not unreasonable, but it was most reasonable indeed. And, so it is with you. Though you do not see, hear, and touch the Lord in the same way as the disciples before you, you have their testimony and the testimony of countless others, and you have the Apostolic teaching handed down over generations of faithful disciples, and you have the Holy Spirit whom Jesus poured out upon His Church on Pentecost as a counselor and guide, creating and sustaining your faith and pointing you always, always to Jesus.
In one sense, the “little while” for Jesus’ disciples was only ten days, for that was the time between Jesus’ bodily Ascension and His promised sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. For, by His Holy Spirit, through His Word and Sacraments, Jesus would be with His Church always, just as He said. Indeed, through these same means He is with you now, and He will continue to be present until He comes again in flesh and blood, body and soul on the Last Day. However, in another sense, Jesus was referring specifically to the much longer and unknowable time between His Ascension and His Parousia, the time in which you now live and wait. It is in this regard that Jesus describes for His disciples what that time will be like using the analogy of a mother giving birth. An immensely timely and appropriate analogy, I might add, being that today is Mother’s Day.
Jesus used the analogy of a mother giving birth because such an event is fraught with joyful and expectant anticipation mixed, often, with anxiety and fear because labor is an arduous and painful experience in which the life and welfare of both mother and child are at some risk. Jesus teaches point blankly that you will experience sorrow in your life, you will weep and lament while the world rejoices in spite of, and often because of, your sorrow and suffering. But, He also teaches that your sorrow will turn into joy. In this regard, the “little while” in which you live before Christ’s return is like unto a mother giving birth. “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.”
Now as both a pastor, and as a husband and father, I have had the experience of ministering to numerous women shortly before and after giving birth, and I can attest that Jesus does indeed speak the truth, with the possible exception of that “no longer remembering the anguish” part, at least shortly after giving birth. Truly, the mother who cries out “Never, never again!” during labor and delivery, soon thereafter smiles, laughs, and weeps with joy for the gift of life in a new son or daughter lying at her breast. Indeed, many will willingly and joyfully go through it all again without thought of the pain and sorrow of childbirth because of the joy of new life.
“So also,” Jesus teaches, “you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” Your Lord is frank and honest with you; you will experience sorrow, pain, and suffering personally and in the lives of those you love. But, just as a mother giving birth experiences pain and sorrow, and then joy after the birth, so too is your pain, suffering, and sorrow for a “little while,” and you too will receive joy, joy that no one will ever take from you. Not only will you receive joy, however, but Jesus teaches that your sorrow will turn to joy. And, this is the heart of the Gospel this day, that the Lord Jesus is Lord of all. Jesus is the Lord of life and death and everything in between and thereafter. Whatever you suffer, you suffer because He permits you to suffer. Your suffering is not caused by Him, but He allows it to come upon you and He uses it for good in accordance with His holy divine love, will, and providence. Jesus gives you the very real analogy of the joy a mother experiences after giving birth, though while in the course of labor things might appear hopeless and endless, so that you might view the experiences of your life in a similar way. For, while the child that is born is born into a life intermixed with sorrow and joy, the life to come in Jesus’ kingdom is only joy.
This is a life lesson meant to change your perspective from a perspective limited to only what occurs between birth and death to an eternal perspective that is unlimited, looking far beyond physical death to the resurrection of the body and into all eternity. What is a moment of sorrow from the perspective of eternity? What is a fleeting pleasure from the perspective of endless joy, joy that no one can take from you? Such a perspective must surely have an impact on your day-to-day life. How can you not forgive one who has sinned against you, when all your sins have been forgiven and washed away? How can you not love your neighbor, even a stranger, when immeasurable, eternal love has been poured out upon you? How can you not freely give to one who has need, when all your needs of body and soul are provided you by your heavenly Father because He knows you need them and He loves you.
Perhaps here is another motherly analogy. For, does a mother not willingly sacrifice her own comfort, pleasure, welfare, body, and life for the child she carries within her? And then, after birth, does she not continue to sacrifice her own comfort, pleasure, welfare, body, and life for the new life the Lord has blessed her with? Each of you have been born of a mother for a purpose beyond that of self. You were blessed with birth and life to be a blessing to others. Your birth was the beginning of your life, but your death will not be the end. Therefore, in the words of St. Peter, “I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God.” Honor those in authority over you. “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.”
You are sojourners and exiles. This world in which you live is not your life. Yet still, you are given to live it mindful of God. Therefore, live your life without fear and anxiety over future or present sorrow, but for the joy laid up before you, just as Jesus, “for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” And, to help you and aid you on your way that you may persevere, our Lord and Good Shepherd Jesus goes with you. He calls you and teaches you, feeds you and protects you through Word and Water, Body and Blood. As His disciple you take up your cross, the cross He has chosen for you, and you follow Him in the way He leads – the way through, not around, the valley of the shadow of death, and through death into life with Him and His Father and the Holy Spirit forevermore.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.