A Little While

John 16:16-23

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

St. John 16:16  [Jesus said]  “A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while and you will see Me, because I go to the Father.”

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord…  Each and every day of our Christian lives, we are faced with the temptation – or worse, we give in to the temptation – of believing the “Big Lie.”  And due to our sinful nature and the fact that our sinful nature refuses to believe otherwise, we must hear again and again that it is false that the Christian life is one of no real suffering, no real hardship, participates in no real cross, is worry free, hassle free, and pain free, and that if you are tormented in mind and body, or despair of your life, or fear of God’s help, then you must not be a real Christian because God is no longer blessing you.  That is the lie.

The truth is that the Christian life is a mix of fear and love, a mix of weeping and laughter, a mix of heartache and gladness, a mix of sorrow and joy, a mix of insecurity and confidence.  With the Christian life comes – quite naturally and of necessity – the cross and suffering.  Ultimately we must wait for true and lasting peace, contentment, and happiness which will not be ours to the full until the life of the world to come.

This is what our Lord Jesus tells His disciples and us in today’s Gospel.  On the night of His betrayal – the night when Jesus would know and feel our cross, our suffering, our every hurt in a way that exceeds our understanding – on that night our Lord says to His disciples, “This is what the Office of the Ministry is all about, and this is what it means to live the Christian life.  ‘You will weep and lament, but the world [around you] will rejoice.’  You will be sorrowful not just this night, but sorrow and cross and anguish will be the very definition of your life.  But your sorrow will be turned to joy, your cross will be turned to resurrection, and your anguish will be turned to blessing.”

That is what Jesus said.  But I am sure you will agree that those are not the words we want to hear.  We want to hear that life in Christ is a life of ease.  We want to hear that being a Christian means that we will be treated fairly.  We want to hear that others will love us. We want to hear that life’s bumps and bruises will not be all that hard.  We want to hear that our Blessed Lord has not only taken on our sin and died our death – that’s all well and good – but what we really want to hear it that He has also taken away everything that annoys and frustrates and bothers us.  We really, really want to hear that He has taken away every bad thing that can happen to us, every evil word or deed that might come against us.

But instead of saying what we want to hear, our Lord says what is true; He says what is real.  He says what we need to hear.  And what is true and real and needful is this: “A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see me, because I go to the Father.”

Now, which little while should we focus on?  Which little while should we pin our hopes to?  The little while when we do not see our Lord, when life is fiercest, when we are blessed to participate in the suffering and trials of our Lord – is that where we focus our hearts and our minds?  Well, if we do that we are doing exactly what the devil wants us to do.  He cooperates with the world in which we live, and he plays with our mind so that we believe that our faith does us no good, and so we think that the preached Word and the delivered Sacraments give us little if any help at all.

The devil lies to us and wants us to believe that the only real things in this life are our sorrow and cross.  He lies us into believing that God is against us and that life can be no better.  The devil works mightily in order to have us focus on the evil, to consider running away from what is bad and depressing.  The devil wants us to concentrate on the little while of sorrow so that we turn that molehill into a mountain.  He wants us to concentrate on that little while until it is no longer a little while, but instead it becomes only everything we can see and feel and talk about.

But then, here comes our Jesus, our Savior, the One whose whole life and whole being were consumed with and immersed in our little while of doubt and anxiety and sorrow and misery.  Here comes our Jesus.  And three times He says to you patiently, gently, soothingly, “A little while, a little while, a little while…”  And He wants you to know that that is all the longer this cross lasts.  That is only how long it will be until your heartache passes.

That is the length of Christian sorrow and hurt – only a little while.  It will seem like an eternity, and you can be certain that the devil wants it to consume your whole life.  But Jesus says – and, dear friends, it is His Word to which we cling, and it is His Word that is the ultimate authority – Jesus says it is only a little while.  It will feel as if it is always raining, but after the rain there always come the sunshine.  Yet for now you get to endure and live through this little while.

And then, what happens after the little while?  Well, then comes the long while; then comes the never-ending moment; then comes the unending Day of our Lord.  For while sorrow and devilish despair last only a little while, then comes the joy which knows no end and the peace which passes all understanding, and the blessing that far outstrips any heartache.  Then comes the time when the sufferings of this present life can in no way measure up to the glory that our Lord Jesus has already planted within you, and lives through you, and has fully stored up for you.

But first… first the little while.  And when you, dear fellow redeemed, are in that little while of impatient and doubt-filled and despondent sorrow, then don’t be like the woman who is nine-months pregnant and who dreads the day of her delivery.  Instead, think of the joy of the woman who has just given birth, whose happiness cannot be contained.  For “as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish for joy that a human being has been born into the world.”

In the same way, though you now have sorrow, the Lord even now comes to you and gives you His life-giving and life-renewing flesh, and pours into you His life-saving blood in the Sacrament of the Altar.  Even now the Lord sees you again as He smiles on you with His forgiving Word of Gospel and of Holy Absolution.  Even now the Lord creates in you a clean heart, and renews His righteous spirit within you, and restores to you the joy of His salvation.

Even now our Lord gives you relief in this little while that you are gathered with all Christians and saints, with all the angels and arch-angels and with all the company of heaven which includes your blessed departed loved ones.  Even now our Lord gives you a long-lasting taste of His joy as you take His cross-enduring, death-defying devil-beating body and blood into your impatient and unsure and fearful body.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you are grieved by various trials and sorrows and crosses.  But even in this little while of grief and trouble, your heart not only can rejoice, but it does rejoice!  For you have been plunged into a joy that no one can take from you.  And you hear a blessed Word that no devil or enemy of God can undo.  And you feed on a Jesus whose life no one can snatch out of your hand.

So let the world have its little while of rejoicing while you live through your little while of weeping and lamenting.  For, as we prayed in the Hymn of the Day:

Why should cross and trial grieve me?

Christ is near with His cheer; never will He leave me.

Who can rob me of the heaven

That God’s Son for my own to my faith hath given?

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.