[Lamentations 3:22-33; 1 John 3:1-2; John 16:16-22]
Their hearts were breaking. They had left their homes behind. They had given up everything just to be with Jesus. He was their home now. Wherever he went, they followed. And being with him was enough. Hearing that voice, sometimes so gentle and sometimes so stern. Looking into those eyes, sometimes filled with laughter and sometimes sparking in anger. He was their Jesus. He was their home. But now he says that he is going away and that they cannot come with him. Their hearts were breaking. He tries to help them understand.
“I am not leaving forever. I am going away. Going to the Father. You will not see me. But then you will see me. Truly you will have sorrow. You will cry and weep and the world will go on oblivious to your pain, in its own happiness. But look, though you will be sorrowful, your sorrow will be turned into joy.”
The look on their faces must have told him that they did not understand, they were not following what he was trying to say to them. So he explained further.
“Look, it’s like this. A woman, when she is in labor has sorrow because her hour has come. She’s in pain. It hurts. It hurts badly. But it doesn’t hurt forever. No. There comes the moment when the little baby is laid beside her and she looks into his face. She touches her little hands. She clasps him to her bosom and her joy is total and complete. The sorrow is forgotten. The pain is remembered no more. The anguish is gone. Her heart swells with joy that a human being has been born. Her little baby.”
He looks around at their faces. “Do you understand now?” There is the dawning of understanding written on their faces. They understood what he had just said, but they are not sure of its application to them. So he goes on:
“That’s how it is with you and me. Now you will have sorrow. Your gut will feel as though its being ripped in two. Your heart will feel like its being pulled out. You will cry out in your pain. Because of what’s about to happen to me. You are going to lose your home for a little while. You are going to lose your companion for a little while. You are going to be alone for a little while. A little while. Do you hear that? Cling to that. Through the hours and days to come, keep saying to yourself: “a little while, a little while.” Because I will see you again.
Though death bars the way, though the grave closes its gates upon me, I will see you again. Me. The one speaking to you now. Not a phantom. Not a ghost. But me, the flesh and blood me that you have known lo these three years. You will see me again when the time of sorrow is through and when you do... And when you do... Such joy will fill your heart. Such rapture will seize you. Such happiness will flood your very being that you will be forever changed. You will have planted in you a joy that no one and nothing has the power to take away. Because you see me again. And then you will understand. Joy abounding, joy forever.
Their heads were nodding now. Pain was ahead. Bad pain. The pain of their own weakness, their own betrayals of him, their own denials and running away. The pain of watching their beloved hanging on the tree, in agony. Knowing that it was their sin and the world’s that put him there. Knowing that there was nothing they could do to help the one they loved. Having to stand by and watch him die, utterly helpless and alone. Pain indeed. But it wasn’t forever. Not for him, and not for them and not for you. It was only for a while. And when it was over, there was the promise of joy that never ended, the joy of Jesus alive, seeing them again.
That joy was theirs when he came and stood among them and said to them: “Peace!” and their hearts burst with joy as they saw it was indeed the Lord, risen and alive with a life that never ends. And the promise he brought them was that he was only the first-fruits, the beginning. There were many to follow: yes, them too. He would raise them from the dead as he had been raised. He who conquered death, would set all his children free from its power. Joy abounding and overflowing.
It was indeed a joy that no one could take away from them, no circumstance could rob them of. They went out into the world a laughing, joy-filled, celebrating people. They marched out into the world where death and the sadness of sin held sway and by the news they brought they set free the people who dwelt in darkness and the shadow of death. Those who all their lives long were held in bondage by fear of death, they set free. Everywhere they went they announced “Your sins have been answered for completely. Your guilt has been taken away. Your death has been destroyed. You are loved by God in His Son. Repent and believe! Taste and see! Your Lord is good to you!”
And they did not forget to tell the rest of the message. What Jesus had said to the Apostles in the Upper Room illumined for them the way that Jesus’ people were to walk through all the sorrows of this world. The Apostles tell us flat out: “In this world you will have trouble. All kinds of troubles. In this world your heart will break. You will reach out in love and your love will be rejected. Your body will grow old and begin to fall apart. You will have disappointment and heart-ache and trial upon trial. But do not despair. Learn to say to yourself: ‘A little while.’ A little while and it will be over. For it is true that Jesus will see you again. He will see you again in his kingdom, on the day when he wipes the tears from all eyes and comforts and heals all hurts and gives eternal joy to his people.
In the meantime, we know that we are God’s children now, and what we will be hasn’t been revealed yet, but that when He appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And when our hearts are overwhelmed and the joy of Jesus Christ seems far away, we learn to say inside: “a little while, it’s just for a little while.” We lift our eyes to the heavenly City and see the joy and feasting that awaits us up ahead and so we go on. We journey towards the goal. That’s what our first reading meant when it talked about those who wait for the Lord renew their strength!
And for the moments when we are so weary that we do not know if we can go on, when we are bone tired and the thought of our own failures to win the battles against the flesh and our betrayals of the new life in Christ and our sins weigh heavy and we feel discouraged and down, Jesus reaches out to us the food of the pilgrims, the waybread of his people, His Supper. He says to us: “Eat and drink. My body and my blood for you. To get you through. I will strengthen you as you walk the road until the day arrives when you need this food no more, when you will sit down with me at the Table of the Father’s household. Your place is waiting, child. Think of it, and rejoice. It’s only for a little while that the sorrow lasts. The joy goes on forever.”
That’s the motto, then, people loved by God. The motto of us pilgrims. Carry it in your hearts. It is the word Jesus gave his friends to get them through the hour of sorrow. Words from the lips of Jesus to carry in your hearts always. Say: “A little while.” “A little while of sorrow, then eternal joy.” Amen.