Tuesday, April 26, 2016
So now for a little while you sorrow. . .
It is Maundy Thursday in the Gospel reading. While John may omit the words of institution for the Lord’s Supper, He includes a fuller glimpse of the entire conversation. He is speaking to them of what is to come – of His betrayal, suffering, death, and resurrection. The disciples were confused by it all. He is preparing them by placing the cross soon to come in the context of the eternal salvation which is also soon to come.
The disciples do not see it. Or perhaps better, they do not want to see it. Like Peter’s rebuke of Jesus’ talk of suffering and death, they do not want to believe that the Kingdom of God must come through pain and suffering. We don’t want to admit it either. But according to Jesus, the Kingdom of God will only come through pain and suffering. God cannot simply erase the sinful past that began in Eden and led up to this present moment. That past must be paid for, atoned for, and satisfied not with silver or gold or good intent but with Jesus’ own flesh and blood in suffering and death upon the cross.
God cannot simply do away with sin with words. Only the Word made flesh can answer the mountain of sin and its terrible stepchild of death. He was born to die and it is only this death that will answer sin with forgiveness, grace, and mercy.
Redemption’s suffering happens in a moment of time but it effects an eternal outcome. Three hours in time on a cross buys an eternity for those who believe in Christ. A life of suffering on earth endured because you are in Christ will find the reward of eternal joy. Jesus knows this better than His disciples and better than we know it. The Kingdom of God is born through the suffering and death of Christ or it will not come at all and we will still be in our sins and subject to death.
The child in us wants to think that what Jesus did makes everything better in an instant. We want to believe what Jesus did ends suffering and pain for those who believe in Him. But the Kingdom of God comes in YOUR life in the same way. Your sufferings do not atone for your sins but because you are in Christ, the world has marked you for suffering and Christ Himself has called you to take up your cross and follow Him.
In other words, the weeping, lament, suffering, and sorrow of this life are not imagined. These are real. They hurt. Jesus knows this. He does not lie to you. He does not shield you from this. He is painfully honest with us. We live in the world but we are not of the world. We no longer fit in this world because we have been marked for the Kingdom of God in baptism. We are odds with values of the world and strangers to the ways of this world. The pain of this is not imaginary. It is real. Jesus Himself wept in the face of death and loss.
But the reality of this suffering and pain does not last. It is momentary. It lasts only for this brief mortal life. And it must give way to the great and eternal joy that God has prepared for those who love Him. You were redeemed not to have your best life now but for eternity. You are citizens of heaven in a world that resents this. You are called to endure, to be patient, to meet the sufferings of this mortal life in confidence of the holy joy that does not end, what God has prepared for you that for now you grasp by faith until the day when you see it face to face.
The life of a believer is no sprint to the finish but a race to the end. For this reason, our Lord sends His Spirit. Alone we will not endure. Tested and tried by sorrows and struggles, defeats and disappointments, and living with the daily regret over sin and its effects will kill us unless the Spirit is at work in that daily repentance and empowering us to fight against the world, the devil, and our own sinful flesh. So, you fight. But your fight is not for salvation – Christ fought that fight. Your fight is to endure in faith, to remain steadfast in confidence that your time is coming when your joy will be full, the birth pangs complete, and Christ is fully formed in you.
Like a woman in labor, this is the fruitful travail in which the eternal joy of the Kingdom is born in you. It is not that you forget the pain but that it no longer matters. So do not lose heart. Do not judge eternity by this moment of pain. Do not let this moment of pain determine eternity. Your time is coming. It is a little while. You have sorrow now. I know it; you know it.
There is no denial about this. But as sure as you have sorrow now, it will not last. Christ will see you again and your hearts will burst into rejoicing so full that the painful memory has no room to linger. And this joy is certain. It is not the what if of a dreamer but the because of Christ’s death and resurrection. And no one and nothing can take this joy from you. A little while... is nothing in comparison with eternity. This is what we come to hear when life grows hard, when we grow weary and tired, when the pain is great and we struggle to see the future outcome of our faith. . .
And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long, steals on the ear the distant triumph song, and hearts are brave again and arms strong... The golden evening brightens in the west, soon, soon, to faithful warriors cometh rest, and sweet is the calm of paradise the blest. For lo there breaks a yet more glorious day. The saints triumphant rise in bright array. The king of glory passes on His way. So sing the people of God who have learned to rejoice no matter how great their sufferings. We belong to Christ. We have the Spirit. God has given us new birth to the eternal life in which joy and only joy remain. Christ is risen! Alleluia. Alleluia!