Easter 3 – A little while?

A little while.

Easter 1 - Duccio di Buoninse - 1308

The Gospel reading that we have heard this morning is part of the conversation Jesus had with His disciples the final night He was with them before his arrest, his trial and crucifixion.

A little while, and you will see me no longer;
and again a little while, and you will see me.

Jesus has an immediate meaning in this saying for the disciples who heard it that night. Jesus was warning them of His coming death (their first time of great sadness) and of his return appearances to them after His Resurrection (their great joy).

And yet this phrase, this warning and promise is significant for every Christian.  To each one of us here this morning, Jesus speaks of a time of sorrow and of sorrow turned into joy.

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice.
You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.

Our Lord is risen from the dead! And we are joined mystically through our Baptism and faith not to a dead saviour but to our risen Lord. We have begun to live the resurrection life now.  So why is there sorrow? Why do we have sorrow?

During my ministry as a priest I have met people who have caught glimpses of the life to come. I met a man once who spoke of his experience of near death. He said he went through a kind of tunnel of light which opened up into a brilliant blue sky – he could see fields of flowers and people and children everywhere playing (not ruining the flowers) and he heard the voice of birds and the heavenly sound of angels. And all of a sudden he was brought back to his bed, to the experience of pain, to the lesser reality and imperfection of this life. And he said that for a couple of months afterwards he was trying to figure out how he could get back there – even contemplating suicide, but he knew that would not be the way.

Peter reminds us in the Epistle reading that, as followers of Christ, we are sojourners and exiles (or in the KJV strangers and pilgrims) in this life.

Even though there can be signs of the heavenly even now – a beautiful sunny day, warm breezes, the love of family and friends, the certainty of God’s forgiveness, the experience of His leading us – we can have great sorrow.  We can see the images of imperfection everywhere – war and poverty, environmental damage.  Closer to home we can have sorrow in our relationships with family and friends.  We know that often when we do the right thing we can receive not praise but scorn.  We know that we have sorrow for actions that we regret, for lost opportunities.  We know sorrow most deeply at the loss of ones who are so dear to us.

We are living the resurrection life but our joy is not full – sometimes we even forget what joy is.  And we don’t see our Saviour Christ.  Sometimes we don’t even have a sense of His presence.  We can find ourselves unable to pray; our faith way smaller than a mustard seed; we can forget our hope; our love can dry up and we feel in the worst of all worlds.  We can’t return to the life we left if we spent time outside the Church, but we are not experiencing the fullness of joy in the Kingdom of God.  We are strangers and pilgrims in this world.

Jesus says that in the risen life we are presently living, the sorrow we have is like a woman in labour. “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow, because her hour is come…

How do we respond to the sorrow? to being strangers and pilgrims?

One response to our sadness is to turn back to the flesh for comfort and we looked at this during Lent.  But Peter warns us in the letter we heard this morning: . “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh which wage war against the soul.” And when Peter speaks of passions of the flesh, he is speaking of desires or strong emotions which come upon us – greed, gluttony, lust, or anger, or most dangerous of all, pride – we are not to give in to every desire our soul or body cries out for.

There is sorrow in our lives when we hold off from an immediate sort of satisfaction. But it is a sorrow that, in time, leads to true joy… another way to true satisfaction for our souls opens up before us.

Austin Farrer (an Anglican theologian from the last century) says this:

“No birth, Jesus says, without the [labour pains], but the birth of the child is well worth the pains. Unless we agonize at some time over the birth of faith, faith is not ours, it is not a personal possession, it is not the child of our own soul. Christ leaves his disciples so far and so long as is required for the [labour pains]. It is not an act of desertion on his part, but a merciful providence. Darkness and uncertainty, loneliness and spiritual effort are necessary to us, and, taken right, they are the growth of faith. They are as much the gifts of God as certainty and comfort. A little while, he says, and I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, your joy no one will take from you.

In the light of Christ we also learn that there are limits to our sorrow, and that God does not intend that we stay in sorrow but He has come to transform it. Christ’s gracious acts of love towards us do not end with His death on the Cross but is followed by His Resurrection to new life.  His being raised from death assures us we too can be raised to new life – not just in the future but even now.

Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Mt 5)

And in this morning’s Gospel:

“You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.
You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy

and no one will take your joy from you.”

But how long will we have to wait?

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Think of Joseph in Genesis, we heard this morning the end of that story.   He was sold as a slave by his own brothers, then wrongly accused of attempted rape and thrown into prison and seemingly forgotten for years – yet remaining faithful through it – and in time is suddenly raised up to be second only to Pharaoh in Egypt.  He finally meets his brothers, and then, all at once he sees God’s providential hand in it all – he has come, through all his suffering, to be in a position to save his whole family from famine.  Weeping, he tells his brothers, “do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.”

How long will we have to wait in our present distress before we know the fullness of joy?  How long will it be before we can see how God’s hand has graciously led us through our trials to the making of something beautiful of our souls?  Can we wait?  Jesus says,

A little while, and you will see me no longer;
and again a little while, and you will see me.

Let’s look at our lives this morning in the light of our faith in Jesus Christ.

We, in fact, are being graced to overcome sin. We are, in fact, receiving… a more loving heart towards our neighbour, divine wisdom is dropping down on us from above.  We are, in fact, being made a more godly examples to others.  There are new ways we are glorifying God in the things we do; we have a greater ability to pray.  Christ is bringing to birth a deeper faith and trust in Him.  We are, in fact, being united in a holy bond of love with God Himself…

These are the best things. We are being led by Him from sorrow into true joy, and, “A joy that [Jesus promises us] no one will take from [us].

Let us even now, this morning, lay our present sorrows before Jesus – sorrow for sins not yet confessed and forgiven, our regrets for the past, our deep grief at the loss of loved ones, our sorrow at not seeing Christ, at not knowing more fully His presence.  And let us with faith approach the Holy Communion, and Jesus will continue the work of transforming our sorrow into joy.

Let us conclude with some words from Song of Solomon (2:10f).  The beloved is Christ and the one loved is you.

My beloved speaks to me and says,
“Arise my love, my fair one,
And come away;
For lo, the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs,
the vines are in blossom;
they give fragrance…”
…My beloved is mine and I am his,
he pastures his flock among the lilies.
Until the day breathes
and the shadows flee…

Amen.

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