[Isaiah 40:25-31; 1 John 3:1-3; John 16:16-22]
I usually don’t talk about my family in sermons - much to your and their relief, I’m sure - but today’s Gospel always vividly brings a memory to mind that I have come to treasure. My wife, when she makes up her mind to do something, is quite adamant. Child number one, Lauren, was delivered by emergency c-section - an occult prolapsed umbilical cord was the problem. And child number two, David, was also delivered by c-section. Now, Lauren was 9.5 and David 9.15. And after David, Cindi and her sister began studying and researching and she became convinced, absolutely convinced, that she had not needed the c-sections. She determined to have number 3 - that would be Bekah - naturally no matter what. Instead of the regular doctor, she saw a midwife nurse and had a coach. She did it too. She naturally delivered all 11 lbs 10 oz of that child. Told you she was adamant - which is the nice word for stubborn.
But before she delivered, I’ll never forget her telling the midwife with tears that she didn’t think she could take it anymore - the pain was so great. The midwife told her: “But you’re already taking it. Hang on, it won’t be long now.” And she did. She hung on and made it through and proudly delivered our little elephant.
And so the great word of comfort from today’s Gospel. Jesus tells the disciples flat out that pain is ahead of them - pain like a woman in childbirth. That’s BAD pain. But it doesn’t go on interminably. It has an end. It lasts for “a little while” and on the other side of the pain is joy! “Your sorrow will be turned to joy!” He told them “I will see you again and your heart will rejoice and your joy no one will take from you.”
He meant, of course, that He’d see them on Easter - on the other side of the agony of the cross and death and burial. And you remember how John carefully records of that encounter on Easter Eve: “and they were glad when they saw the Lord.”
But the Church has found in our Lord’s words a different application - for we also live in the time of the little while of not seeing the Lord. We’re people who walk by faith, not sight. John could remind us of this in today’s Epistle: The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we ARE God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.”
Baptism has already given you the gift of being a child of God - even if you don’t look much like one - just hang on. The full unveiling of who YOU are doesn’t happen until the full unveiling of who HE is! That is, His glorious appearing when we will be transfigured and made like Him!
And so we live in the “little while” between His ascension and His glorious appearing; between our Baptism and our being changed and raised from the dead. And in the middle of this while, the pains can be big.
Israel certainly knew that kind of pain as they waited for the promises of God to come to fulfillment. Isaiah records the people’s complaint: “My way is hidden from the Lord; and my right is disregarded by my God.” So in the little while God’s people often feel abandoned, helpless, crying in pain. And sometimes they say: “I just can’t take it anymore.”
Isaiah pointed to a wondrous “aha” about our God. He does not faint or grow weary and His understanding - His plan for working out all things to bring blessing to His people - is unsearchable. That means, you’ll not wrap your mind around it, no matter how hard you try.
But this you can count on: “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might He increases strength.” Get that? He uses the little while, when you think you’ve had it and are done and can’t possibly go on, to fill you with HIS power and HIS strength. This is exactly what St. Paul experienced when God told Him: “My grace is sufficient for you; for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
It’s at the moment of greatest weakness, right in the midst of the little while, when you think: I can’t do this, I can’t go on, I can’t possibly endure this; that you discover this wondrous secret: “They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
You see, because you’re waiting for the Lord, you know that there’s an end to the pain of the little while. You know that on the other side of the suffering, there WILL be the unspeakable joy of seeing Him and Him seeing you as He pulls you from death to life. And when He does, oh, the laughter! The laughter, the joy, and the mirth. It will fill your heart and set you singing for an eternity.
A little while. And to get you through, He gives you what’s already gotten through. He gives you His body and blood. He gives you the body and blood that knew the sorrow of the cross, the anguish of abandonment, the full weight of your sin and mine, the terrors of wrath. But even more the body and blood that came out ALIVE - never to die again. The Risen Body and Blood of Him who is the Forgiveness of sins and the Destruction of death. And as He feeds that precious food into you, He whispers: Hang on, child. It’s just a little while. And then I will see you and you will see me and your sorrows will be turned into joy.
O people loved by God, there is no one to whom we can compare the Holy One who loves us so and who has prepared for us such a rich salvation!
St. John tells us that everyone who has this hope purifies himself as He, the Lord, is pure. That is, since you know the future outcome - since you know that the Crucified and Risen Lord will stand again on this earth and when He does He will call you from the grave to His side as a beloved and forgiven sister or brother, a coheir of all that is His, and you know that His nail-scared hand will reach out to touch you and wipe away all the tears, that hope give you the freedom from fixating overmuch on this life of pilgrimage, this journey toward that future of God, so that when the sorrows come - as come they will - you will be able to face them each confident though in tears, as we say one to another: “Hang on, now. It won’t be long. It has an end. Come, Lord Jesus!” Amen.