THE THIRD SUNDAY AFTER EASTER
A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father (John 16:16).
A happy blessed Eastertide to you! You do know that the awaited celebration of Easter we longed for during the forty long days of Lent didn’t end at midnight on the Monday after Easter Sunday? Just think… how utterly disappointing would celebration of Easter be if after forty days of prayer, fasting and self-denial- embracing the rigor and emotion of Holy week- how disappointed we be if the feast of feasts only lasted one day? But it doesn’t. The Paschal celebration of our risen Lord goes on... not ten days, not thirty, not forty... the highest feast of the Christian year, the party of all parties, goes on for fifty days! Now that’s a party!
These Eastertide festivities commence with the glorious rising of the Lord, and are further illuminated by the reality of Easter; day by day unveiling and manifesting to us a deeper understanding of the meaning and implications of Christ’s resurrection. "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” (Rom 8:33). What a great salvation we have received in Christ Jesus! “Christ our passover has been sacrificed for us; therefore, let us keep the feast” (1 Cor 5:8). And which of you, in a single day, can search its depths, or contemplate the wonder of it all? Take ten days… take the fifty days of Eastertide… in fact, take fifty thousand years and still, you will never fully apprehend how great is the love of God in Christ towards us sinners.
And so the church in her wisdom, doesn’t cut the party short, but carries it forward for fifty days until the feast of Pentecost; the giving of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church. Fifty days to reorient ourselves to Jesus as the resurrected savior of the world, the One "whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it” (Acts 2:24). Is this not the glorious euangelion? The Good News resounding from the empty tomb? Christ the Lord is risen, Alleluia! Alleluia! God in Christ has brought salvation to his people, all peoples, from every tribe, tongue and nation, and with the Psalmist we rejoice, "O be joyful in God, all ye lands; sing praises unto the honour of his Name, make his praise to be glorious” (Ps 66:1). Jubilate Deo! Rejoice in God! Enjoin a celebration of gladness and exult in the the Lord! Joy has come into the hearts of the redeemed; those who by grace have put their trust in the God of salvation. Today, on Jubilate Sunday, or Rejoicing Sunday, the Lord who is the bringer of peace and the Good Shepherd, is revealed to us as the God of Joy.
One might think the Gospel appointed for this third Sunday after Easter misplaced… it seems like it would fit much better during Holy Week rather than Eastertide. “Ye shall weep and lament” says Jesus. “You now therefore have sorrow.” Certainly, sorrow and suffering adorned Good Friday, but what sorrow can there possibly be in Easter? Jesus tells his disciples, much to their confusion, “A little while, and ye shall not see me; and again a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father.” Jesus is leaving them. There is to be a painful separation between the Apostles and their Master. Weeping, lamentation, sorrow, separation… themes which- without a doubt- color this Jubilate Sunday: the Sunday of Joy! An Eastertide Sunday where we are confronted with a paradox. How can the Joy-bearer also bring sorrow?
In Jesus is both joy and sorrow: a seeming contradiction, and yet, both are as real for us as they were for Peter, James, John and the Apostles. You see, the resurrected Christian life is as a cup filled with jubilation and yet mixed with tears of lament. This seeming paradox remains but not for the reality of the historic, bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus. For in the risen Christ paradox and seeming contradictions are resolved… perhaps not yet fully understood… but what appear as paradox and contradiction do find harmony and unification in him: sorrow and joy in the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us then contemplate the words of our Lord in today’s Gospel, that by grace, we may gain understanding and draw ever nearer to Joy, who is the living Son of the Father.
A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father. Then said some of his disciples among themselves, What is this that he saith unto us, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me: and, Because I go to the Father? (John 16:16-17)
Jesus has just told his disciples that he is leaving. He is speaking to them on the night in which they have partaken of the Passover, the night in which is to be betrayed, arrested and handed over to the religious authorities. “A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, in a little while, an ye shall see me, because I go to the Father.” This perplexed his Apostles, they didn’t understand, they had no idea of what he was speaking. But to us is given the gift of history and recollection which we bring to the Holy Scriptures and thereby gain understanding. They would not see him for a “little while” because he was going to be crucified and taste death. But he said, in a little while they would see him because he goes to the Father. What was he talking about? Well, the ‘seeing him again’ began to be fulfilled at his resurrection and would receive its main fulfillment on the day of Pentecost in the coming of the Holy Spirit. And this is why the painful separation of the Lord’s departing was so very necessary: that the Holy Spirit might be sent. Just a few verses earlier in this same Chapter, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you” (16:5-7). And here we find our answer to when and how the Apostles would see him again: by the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is clearly distinguishing his presence with them from the future presence of the Holy Ghost, that by Him, Christ would be present and near to them. And not only to them, but to each and every disciple of the Lord through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, thus fulfilling his promise to “be with them always even until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).
The sorrow of parting comes with promise. Though he would be gone in body he would somehow still remain with them because, as he said, “I go to the Father” because the Lord ascended into the realm of life he can mysteriously manifest himself again. We catch a glimpse of this resurrected reality in the Gospel appointed for the first Sunday after Easter… when Jesus miraculously appears standing in the midst of his frightened disciples and says, “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:26). The resurrection promise of Christ, though ascended to the right hand of the Father, is that he is not gone… or to give voice to what we really fear… has actually abandoned us. What he promised was that in a little while you shall continually be seeing me, again, and again, and again. In fact, more thoroughly than when he walked the earth, for now he is seen with the eyes of the Spirit of truth and with a living knowledge of the risen Christ who has gone to his father in the kingdom of life.
The Spirit has covered the earth as the waters over the sea and therefore Christ is seen and beheld by millions and millions of believers in every corner of the world. It is by the Holy Spirit that Christ comes to us in the Word, for "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14). By the Spirit we discover and behold the face of Christ in the Holy Scriptures. Regeneration and entrance into Christ’s family comes through the power of the Holy Spirit in the waters of baptism and by the Spirit we enjoy intimate communion with the Lord in partaking of the Eucharist. It is in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that we realize the closest relational proximity to Christ in this imperfect world.
By the Holy Spirit we have been brought back from the death of sin, as St. Paul says,
if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” You see, the parting of Christ- his bodily ascension from this world- is directly tied to our salvation. By death he propitiated sin and by the Holy Spirit we receive new life. Hear St. Paul again, "God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Rom 5:5).
The great work of salvation wrought by the passion of the Lord is made effectual, becomes our reality through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit: and by this we possess joy. True joy comes only from God, from the God who left heaven to invade our sorrow, who has conquered our sinful wills and liberated us from eternal death and sadness. And by no means am I speaking of our having obtained happiness. Joy far surpasses happiness because it is a quality and not simply an emotion, its very basis and grounding upon the Triune God himself and wholly derived from him and is found in him. The Psalmists witness to this in proclaiming, "Thou wilt shew me the path of life: In thy presence is fullness of joy; At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps 16:11), and again,"my soul shall be joyful in the Lord: It shall rejoice in his salvation” (Ps 35:9). Hear the prophets, "The meek shall increase their joy in the Lord, And the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel” (Isa 29:19) and again, "I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Hab 3:18). St. Paul says "Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice” (Phil 4:4) ,and for the Church at Rome he prays, "Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost” (Rom 15:13).
The joy of knowing the Love of God in the sacrifice of his son is that which is to characterize and thoroughly mark our lives to the extent that words fail to describe our joy! St. Peter writes, Jesus "Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, hough now ye see him not, yet believing, we rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Pet 1:8). Your life should scream out to the world the unspeakable joy we have received by the Spirit in Christ Jesus. Happiness falls short of Joy because it is fleeting and temporal. It is fleeting because it emanates from within. Joy remains because it comes from without and from that which is eternal. Christ is our source of Joy which comes to us by the ministry of the Holy Spirit and given to every believer; it is a real and tangible possession.
“Because I go to the Father” is so very important to understanding the difference between joy and happiness. “Because I go to the Father” means that the our source of joy is divine not human; incorruptible not corruptible; eternal not temporal. A joy that never ceases nor fades away; there is no variance but true and unchanging joy: always and forever because Christ is our Joy! With the words “Because I go to the Father” comes consolation because by this Jesus declares that death was not his end but a translation into eternal life: the Lord, though absent from us now, still lives. In him joy is secure; it is stable; it is abiding. And therefore we who have been incorporated into Christ have hope in this life, for Jesus who is our very life, has gone ahead to secure the joy awaiting all who sorrow in this topsy-turvy life. And here the seeming paradox begins to make sense: the parting of the Lord is such sweet sorrow... for though presently he is not fully with us, we have this great confidence and hope knowing that one day he will return and take us where he now is; back into the garden whose fruit thereof... on the tree of life… feeds eternally. Beloved, presently we sorrow in hope, for the Spirit has given us eyes to see beyond this world, to discern and believe the Scriptures which promises that just on the other side of death beautiful mansions await all those who die in the faith and fear of the Lord. Yes, one day, the bride will rejoice in the bridegroom. St. John was given this revelation writing,
And a voice came out of the throne, saying, Praise our God, all ye his servants, and ye that fear him, both small and great. And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready (Rev 19:7).
The Lord promises, “Ye shall weep and lament, but your sorrow shall be turned to joy” (Jn 16:20). In a real sense the church is as a widow, lamenting the loss of her husband. He has gone (and yes the Spirit is with us) but oh how we long to be with Jesus: to see him; to behold him in perfect union. Now we are as the woman in travail groaning as it were under the pangs of childbirth until the glorious day of his re-appearing; awaiting the bodily resurrection and new birth unto immortality. For as St. Paul says, "... we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” (Rom 8:22-23).
We travail now but then shall cast off the grave clothes and forever be glorified in Christ! Friends, our sorrow shall be turned to joy. Sorrow is but for a season. And, in light of eternity, a short season at that: “Behold a little while.” These words are so very true "weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Ps 30:5). As strangers and pilgrims, "a little while" is written on the whole of our earthly life. The whole history of the world, human life at its longest, human effort at its strongest, is all for a little while. May we have grace to never fall into the error of thinking that to be permanent which is truly transient. Therefore, let us- with the Apostle- "reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom 8:18).
Friends, the joy of Easter is the joy of faith, a faith which sees beyond circumstances; beyond the natural and inevitable. It sees beyond the grave and rejoices in hope and in love making all things new. And this joy, "no man taketh from you” (Jn 16:22). Our joy no man taketh away because our joy is Jesus himself. In Christ alone sorrow and suffering find mercy. In the risen Christ sadness, disappointments, betrayals, and the wickedness of men can be redeemed and become occasions for joy. This is true because our deepest sorrow has indeed been turned into joy by the crucified and risen King of the world. So then, let us now prepare our hearts to come to his most holy altar, to approach with joy and gladness into his loving presence. Amen.