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“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again in a little while, you will see me.”
How long is ‘a little while?’ When the child is told that he must wait “a little while” after finishing his lunch before he can go into the swimming pool, ‘a little while’ can seem like ‘a long time.’ When a man is told that it will be “a little while” before he recovers from his illness, ‘a little while’ can seem like ‘a long time.’ When a woman is told that in ‘a little while’ she will need surgery followed by chemotherapy, ‘a little while’ goes by very quickly.
The setting for our gospel reading is the Upper Room in Jerusalem. Jesus has humbled Himself and become the servant, washing His disciple’s feet. He says, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”
During the course of the Passover Meal, Jesus says, “one of you will betray me.” They don’t understand.
Repeated throughout the course of the evening, Jesus tells them that He is about to leave them. “Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Where I am going you cannot come… Where I am going you cannot follow me, but you will follow me afterward.” They don’t understand. “Lord, why can I not follow you? I will lay down my life for you.” (Jn.13:33,36)
Jesus says, “I go to prepare a place for you. You know the way to where I am going.” They don’t understand. “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way.” (Jn. 14:2,5).
Jesus says, “I am going away and I will come to you. I am going to the Father… And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe.” (Jn.14:28-29). But they don’t understand.
Once again, Jesus said to them, “A little while, and you will see me no longer and again a little while and you will see me.”
Once again, they don’t understand. “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while and you will not see me and again a little while and you will see me’ and ‘because I am going to the Father’? So they were saying, ‘what does He mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what He is talking about.”
And the Shepherd sees His confused and frightened little sheep. He knows that this is the question that is eating away at them. “What is the definition of ‘a little while?’” “How long is ‘a little while?’”
If they knew how long ‘a little while’ is, then they could deal with it; they could manage it; they would know for how long they must be patient and wait. But patience and waiting is hard to do if you don’t know how long ‘a little while’ lasts.
The Psalmist cries to the Lord, “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” (Psalm 13:1-2)
The martyrs who were killed because of their faithful testimony cry out with a loud voice, “O Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:10).
A woman in an assisted living center and another in an Alzheimer care unit sob with tears and want to know “How long before I can go home? How long before I can die?”
But Jesus doesn’t define “a little while” in terms of the amount of time that ‘a little while’ lasts. “A little while” is not something that you can set your watch to. “A little while” is not like a missile launch with a countdown, ‘10-9-8-7…’
The way that Jesus defines it, ‘a little while’ is the experience of weeping and lamentation, of sorrow and pain in COMPARISON to what comes after it. “Truly, truly I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.”
In other words, “a little while” may seem like ‘a long time’ or even ‘forever’ when you’re in the middle of it, but when that which follows this time of weeping and sorrow comes, it will be so good that it will make what we thought would never end seem like ‘a little while.’
This is what St. Paul points us to when he wrote to the Romans saying, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Rom.8:18).
Luther has this to say, “Here on earth, Christians experience an ever-recurring alternation of ‘a little while and again a little while.” Now it is dark night; soon it is day again. Therefore the lamenting does not have to last forever, even though it seems and feels that way when we are in it. But even though we cannot see or determine the end, Christ has already done so. He points out to us in advance that we must bear this suffering, no matter how bad and unpleasant the devil makes it. Even though we do not see the end, we must wait for Him who says, ‘I will put an end to it and will again comfort you and give you joy.” (LW 24:382)
Here is the way through this life that Jesus has opened up to His disciples. It is the way that leads to ‘joy’ through the cross and not apart from it.
For Jesus, the “little while” of weeping and sorrow and suffering was about to begin. He ‘sweat drops of blood’ in anticipation of the bitter agony that would be unleashed on Him in “A LITTLE WHILE.”
The treatment that the Lord and Creator of the world would receive at the hands of those whom He came to save, would make the treatment that the Boston bomber, who came to mame and kill is receiving, seem like ‘the royal treatment.’
Publicly mocked and ridiculed. His flesh torn open with whip and nails and spear. Hunger and thirst; heartbreak over the betrayal of unfaithful friends; and worse of all, the desertion of God the Father. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” He doesn’t understand. And His ‘little while’ would not end until death itself had closed every last door of escape.
How long must it have seemed to Him that His “little while” lasted? How slowly the seconds and the minutes and the hours and the days go by when we are in distress. And the greater the distress the slower times seems to move. Even “A LITTLE WHILE” feels like an unbearable ‘forever.’
“We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who IN EVERY RESPECT has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:15).
Here in the Upper Room, Jesus is not concerned for Himself. He knows the outcome of His ‘LITTLE WHILE.’ He knows that the victory that He will win… for these disciples whom He loves… for His disciples of every age and every place whom He loves…
He knows that the victory that He will win for them will make all of the suffering and sorrow and pain and agony seem like ‘a little while’ compared to the surpassing greatness of opening the gates of paradise that had been closed, and leading His beloved flock back into the sheepfold where the cycle of ‘A LITTLE WHILE AND AGAIN A LITTLE WHILE’ is once and for all broken, and unending and eternal time of “joy” begins. “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice and no one will take your joy from you.”
Here in the Upper Room, Jesus is concerned for His disciples. They’re faith is weak. They are easily confused. They do not yet understand. They cannot see past their ‘LITTLE WHILES’ to the other side where the victory that He has won for them is waiting for them.
“A little while and you will not see me…” Jesus is going to be taken from them. They will be like little children separated from his parents in a crowded department store, panicked, afraid, confused.
And the world that they live in will confuse their confusion. “You will weep and lament and the world will rejoice.” The world will say, ‘a great thing has happened. A new way has been opened. There is no more need to go the way of the cross.
Are you lonely? Do you desire companionship and sexual intimacy? No need to sorrow and suffer for ‘A LITTLE WHILE.’ You can put an end to your “LITTLE WHILE” when you say it should end.
Are you pregnant but don’t want to be? No need to suffer and sacrifice your goals for “A LITTLE WHILE.” You can put an end to your “LITTLE WHILE” when you say it should end?
Are you tired of being sick and in pain and depressed? No need to weep and lament for “A LITTLE WHILE.’ You can put an end to your “LITTLE WHILE” when you say it should end?
Which of us hasn’t had our own “ever-recurring alternation of ‘a little while and again a little while”? Which of us is content to say, “My times are in your hands…” (Psalm 31:15).
Following both our Lord’s instruction and His example then, we must learn that when our “LITTLE WHILES” come, we are not to think about how we can get out of them or end them. Our loving Lord will help us in His own time. We need only be faithful and patient and wait for the Lord. We are to have patience based on the sure and certain hope that Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia! And the victory that He has won for us will make our time of tears and sorrow, seem like “A LITTLE WHILE” by comparison.
By His resurrection from the dead, Jesus has turned the wisdom of the world on its head. He directs us to go the way of the Cross, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” And to those who reject the way of the Cross, “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.” (Luke 6:21, 25).
St. Peter, who was so confused during those three days of Jesus’ absence, was “led by the Holy Spirit into all truth.” Listen carefully to what Peter says to the Church that lives in a world that has no patience for those “little whiles” of suffering and sorrow and that lives only for immediate gratification. In fact, take out your bible and turn with me to 1 Peter 1:3-6, page 1014 and read together with me.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? According to this great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now, FOR A LITTLE WHILE, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials…” (1Peter 1:3-6).
The setting for our gospel reading this morning is the Upper Room in Jerusalem. What difference do you think it would have made for the disciples if they knew what you and I know? That their “little while” of sorrow and suffering would last for three days only to be followed by the victory of all victories in which they are included? You see, we know more than they did. They did not understand… but we do. “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again in a little while, you will see me.” “Your sorrow will be turned to joy.” “And no one will take your joy from you.”