Sermon for Cantate, preached on Thursday, April 19, 2018.
A little while. So Jesus says. A little while and you will see me no longer. But it is not a little while to us. It was an interminable three days of sorrow and pain as those who watched our Lord suffer and die awaited the third day. It was an interminable time of waiting that led some to sift through tea leaves and consult their crystal balls and then bring with them some of the faithful to hills certain that on this day they would see Him again. In our own age, Harold Camping, the founder of Family Radio, tried to predict Jesus’ return a couple of times. And before Him a long list of people who had enough of the little while Jesus spoke about.
A little while is too long for us. The disciples who walked with Jesus could not stand a little while of praying before they gave into the temptation of sleep. The children of Israel could not give the Lord a few days before complaining about their tortured time in the wilderness. We follow in their train. We come to church today less to be prepared for eternity than to be equipped to live in the moment better. We judge sermons that tell us how to be happy or successful today better than sermons that would prepare us for the eternal tomorrow.
Perhaps it is that we fear that Jesus will not come again anytime soon. But I think it is that we are not sure we want Him to come back at all. After all, the sinful part of us likes this world and enjoys the good lives we live. We fear that the coming of Jesus will deny us the good we have socked all that money away for or the good memories we cannot wait to make or time with our children or grandchildren that we have waited so long to enjoy. The sinful part of us is not sure we want Jesus to come again soon since we have so much we still want to do.
But when terrible things happen, then we complain. Where is God in a world filled with terrorists and terrorism? Where is God in a world filled with injustice and oppression? Where is God in a world filled with the gender of the day and the evolving definitions of marriage and family that send our minds into confusion? Where is God in a world where tweets are more important than facts and feelings more precious that truth? When we begin to think about this side of our world, then we want Jesus to come and do something about it all. To bring justice to an unjust world. To bring sense to a senseless world. To bring something real out of a world filled with made up things.
A little while, says Jesus. He is going to the Father and you will weep and lament and the world will rejoice. Both the world and Christians will conclude that because you cannot see Him, Jesus is not here. Both the world and Christians will decide that spiritual things will have to do because there is no physical presence of Christ to grasp onto anymore. And this is where it hits us so hard. We are not sad because Jesus has not yet come to finish His new creation.
No, indeed, we are sad because we fear we are all alone and have no one to accompany us in the great moments of life we want never to end and the terrible moments we cannot bear any more. We are sad because we cannot see Jesus with our eyes or touch Him with our hands. We feel alone and that is why we lament.
Jesus is blunt. You will be sorrowful. There will be tests and trials. There will be persecution. There will be pain. Faith is not panacea of remedies for all our presumed ills. Christian life is not about happy escapes from challenge and wound. It is a struggle to endure, a race against self, a marathon in which the long haul is victory and the sprinter only gets tired. But that is not all.
As a woman in labor feels her pain for a purpose, so do the troubles and trials of this mortal life have purpose. They are equipping you and purifying you for the life that has no end. They are cleansing and sanctifying you for the life in which there is no need of forgiveness because there is no sin and there is no need of hope because there is no despair. There is only joy.
Jesus says it is a little while. That is what parents say to children who have grown tired of waiting or children say to parents when told they have chores to finish. Nobody wants to hear it. But it is not abandonment. And we are not alone. And the days do not pass without purpose. They are marching toward Zion just as we are. We are being prepared for joy that has no end and for the life that does not die and for the tomorrow no one can take from you or diminish.
And in the meantime, we have Jesus. He is there in His Word and in His Sacraments. He is present in His mercy and grace, forgiving us still and restoring us when we fall and holding us up when we are sure we cannot stand anymore. He is present among us still and we shall not be overcome. The Lord is good to those who wait for Him. That is the lesson of faith. Wait for the Lord. And while you wait, consider again and again and again what He has done. For the source of our joy, both the joy of this moment and the joy of eternity, is Christ and what He has done. And focus upon the outcome. The salvation of your souls.
Time is not random and the days are not without purpose. God is at work. He has reclaimed the world through the death and resurrection of Jesus. He has reclaimed you in the waters of your baptism. You belong to Him. That should be enough for a people who live the freedom of this Gospel in service to their neighbors and enough for a people who finds they suffer unjustly. It is a little while. At least in comparison to the eternity that God has prepared for you. And so we pray at the same time, “Come Lord Jesus” and “May He who has begun this good work in you bring it to completion when He comes in His glory.”