Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sermon: Jubilate (Easter 4)

29 April 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: John 16:16-22

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

While the world has moved on, we Christians are still celebrating Easter. In fact, this is the fourth week of Easter, and whether or not the secular punchers of the cultural time-clock agree, we plan on keeping the party going for another three weeks.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

We celebrate with our blessed Lord as He takes the spiritual equivalent of a “victory lap” in the aftermath of His defeat of sin, death, and the devil. Only this “spiritual” victory lap is as much bodily as it is in spirit, as much in space and time as it is eternal and transcendent.

For in spite of His resurrection, our Lord Jesus Christ has not surrendered His humanity. He didn’t suddenly become a spirit or an angel – any more than we will when we have been resurrected. In fact, the risen Jesus shows us what we are meant to be. And so, even as He has one foot in eternity, He still remains in time. And time becomes a major topic in the words of our Lord to His disciples shortly before His time was to come – words He speaks anew to us even as we look back on His crucifixion with the hindsight of the resurrection.

For we live in time. Our feeble minds can’t conceive of not being limited by space and time. We have no rational way to comprehend eternity. And the problem is compounded by our fallen nature. For to a sinner, time takes on a new meaning. While 15 minutes of recess seems like the blink of an eye, waiting 15 minutes for the principal to arrive after you’ve been sent to his office seems like a year or two. While parents watch their children go from infant to adult in the apparent span of a few days, eighteen years in the life of a prisoner in captivity can seem like a dozen lifetimes.

And who hasn’t heard a child on a dreadfully long trip ask that profound theological and philosophical question: “Are we there yet?”

And while Jesus is God, is eternal, is not only the Master of time, but indeed its Maker – yet He willingly lives in time, even as He knows our conception of time is quite different than God’s. Time is often not our friend. Every day that goes by, we are a step closer to death. Our bodies wear out. Time seems to slip away quicker and quicker the older we get. To the elderly, the lonely, and the ailing, time can be a prison, a dull existence of isolation and pain with no apparent hope of improvement.

Our Lord speaks of such isolation, pain, doubt, and fear when He gently warns the disciples of what is going to happen to Him – and to them. “A little while, and you will not see Me.” He has just told them of His impending departure, and that He would send them the Holy Spirit. And yet the part that is most baffling to the disciples is this “little while” business. “We do not know what He is saying,” they cry out in frustration.

Our Lord, in His mercy, explains: “You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice, and you will be sorrowful. But your sorrow will be turned into joy.” He then compares this “little while” of lamentation, of separation from the Lord to a mother giving birth. For when all is said and done, the most memorable thing about the act of nativity is not the hours and hours of pain and anguish, but rather the “joy that a human being has been born into the world.” What seemed to have been an eternity during the suffering and travail is remembered, in light of the miracle of life, as only a “little while.”

Even as the joy of our Lord’s birth followed millennia of anguish, the Church of the New Testament was birthed in such a circumstance. For though the tiny band of fickle followers of our Lord had fled, and even as their Master was brutally assassinated and publicly humiliated – this “birth pang” was only to be a “little while.” That long night of doubt, pain, guilt, anger, confusion, and depression that raged on Good Friday was only to last a “little while” – even as the once-baby Jesus quickened to life inside the virginal tomb wrapped in the swaddling cloths of mortality. The “little while” of lamentation was to yield to the Church’s centuries of Easter joy, even as our “little while” in this fallen world, in this mortal flesh, in this vale of tears will give way to eternal paradise and triumph beyond measure.

For what seems to be a long time to us – this waiting for the Lord to restore paradise lost, to finally destroy the foe that He defeated two millennia ago, to transfigure our lowly, death-ridden bodies into what they were always meant to be – it is in fact a “little while.” We can take great comfort in these two little words from our Lord. We can trust in the sure Word of God when He promises that what seems like ages to us is indeed but a “little while.” For the consummation of the great heavenly feast, the victory celebration of all the universe, the reunion of the Lord’s beloved people with their departed brothers and sisters from every time and place is as inevitable as was our Lord’s victorious resurrection. The darkness of Good Friday, though darker than that of any day in creation, did not remain. It was but a “little while” to the great Pascal victory. Once more, dear Christians, it is but a “little while” before we are plucked from the prison of time and set free from the cell of sin and the captivity of the grave.

Even as we struggle with sin, sickness, loneliness, disease, and death. Even as our families are in tatters, our dreams up in smoke, our finances shaky, our futures uncertain, our bodies racked with pain, our souls tormented by temptations and assaults of the evil one, our days filled with lamentation and our nights tormented with frightful dreams – we have a divine promise to cling to.

“Therefore you now have sorrow,” says our Lord. “But I will see you again,” he declares, “and your heart will rejoice,” He says. Notice He doesn’t say “might” or “may” – but “will.” Dear baptized children of the heavenly Father, listen to the promise of Jesus, for He is speaking it to you now – right now, in time and in space. It’s not a promise for someone else – it is a promise for everyone within earshot of this pulpit. It is a promise made directly to you. It is not an idle speculation or a prediction of a forecaster – it is a declaration, a done-deal, an iron-clad oath uttered by the lips of the living God. Hear Him! Hear Him, believe, and rejoice! For he says unequivocally: “your joy no one will take from you.”

And though our Gospel text ends at this point, our Blessed Lord’s comfort does not. For He continues: “In that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” So ask, dear children, ask in His holy name that became your name through water and the Word.

Our Lord is offering you more than “pie in the sky,” an ethereal existence in a white robe on a cartoonish cloud with a harp. He is offering you unbridled joy, a removal of all evil, of all pain, of all disease, and of all death. He is promising you everything you truly need so as to be filled with joy. He has already given you new life that cannot be contained by a grave or held captive by time. And so, dear friends, ask Him for that which will make you whole. Ask in the name of Jesus. Ask that your joy may be complete.

For even as we live in this “little while” before eternity, stuck in time and wrestling with sin, we cling to the Lord’s promise. By the words of the introit we sang from Psalm 66, the Lord Himself says it best:

“Make a joyful shout to God all the earth. Sing out the honor of His name, make His praise glorious…. Through the greatness of Your power Your enemies shall submit themselves to You. Come and see the works of God, He is awesome in His doing toward the sons of men. Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth. Alleluia.”

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

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