Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. In our text for today, we hear words of Jesus from John chapter 16. In fact, over the next several weeks as we finish out the Easter season, we will be hearing all of John chapter 16 and will reflect on these important words of our Lord. These words of Jesus were spoken to his disciples on Holy Thursday as he sat down and ate his last supper with the disciples prior to his arrest later that evening. In the verses that we read today, Jesus prepares his disciples for the events that must happen so that they might endure the coming sorrows with hope, patience, and faith.
2. The key phrase in this text is: “a little while.” This phrase occurs 7 times in our short 7 verse text. But it’s not just the number of times this phrase occurs which shows it to be the key phrase, it’s also the fact that it is this phrase which drives the conversation forward. It is this phrase which begins the text as Jesus speaks it. It is this phrase which causes the disciples’ confusion. And it is the disciples’ confusion over this phrase which prompts Jesus’ response and subsequent elaboration. The phrase “a little while” is central to our text. And it’s a funny phrase when you look at it in context. In Greek, this phrase is a single word: μικρόν (mikron). This word is the root of our English words beginning with the prefix “micro”, such as microwave, microscope, microscopic, etc. The word “micro” doesn’t just mean “small”, it means “tiny”. And this is important when you look at it in context. In essence, Jesus is saying not just, “a little while”, but “a tiny amount of time.” Clearly, when Jesus speaks these words, “a little while”, on Holy Thursday, what he primarily means to say is, “on the third day.” He’s primarily talking about his death and resurrection: “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me” (John 16:16). In very short order, the disciples will not see Jesus because he will be dead, but in “a little while” (i.e. “on the third day”), they will see him again when he rises from the grave. He makes this even clearer when he says: “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” (John 16:20). When Jesus speaks of “a little while” here, he is primarily referring to his death and resurrection. It’s easy for Jesus to say that it will only be “a little while”, but for the disciples, those three days would feel like an eternity.
3. But as we consider this text further both in the wider context of John chapter 16, which we will do in the coming weeks, and in the context of our liturgical year, we see that this text is mean to be much more than an encouragement for the disciples leading up to our Lord’s death on Good Friday. These words of Jesus are also meant to be an encouragement for the followers of our Lord in the time between Pentecost and the last day. Liturgically, this day in the church year is a turning point in the Easter season. In the first three weeks of the Easter season, we focus on our Lord’s resurrection and the implications of it. On this Sunday and the Sundays to come, we begin preparing for our Lord’s ascension, when his disciples would once again “see [him] no longer.” These words of our Lord are also about preparing his disciples for how to live life after the resurrection. But this time, the “little while” would be even longer. “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me” (John 16:16). They would see Jesus for forty days after his resurrection when he appeared to them and taught them all the things concerning himself in the Scriptures (Luke 24:27). Then he would ascend into heaven and they would see him no longer. But then, “a little while” later, they will see him again when he returns on the last day.
4. The trouble is, it’s been nearly 2,000 years since Jesus spoke these words and he still hasn’t returned a second time. So much for “a little while!” Like the disciples, we eagerly await the day when our hearts will rejoice and no one will take our joy from us. But in the meantime while Jesus takes his sweet-old-time coming back, we’re left to deal with the sorrows of life. We’re left to deal with financial challenges. We’re left to deal with relational struggles. We’re left to deal with sickness and death and so much more. As we live life on this side of eternity, we are helpless against the sorrows of life and our sorrows rarely feel like “a little while.” But yet, somehow, someway, Jesus’ words in our text are meant to be an encouragement not only for the disciples, but for you and me as well. Somehow, with these words, our Lord prepares us for the things that must happen in this life so that we might endure the coming sorrows with hope, patience, and faith as well.
5. In our Epistle Reading for today, Saint Peter encourages the church to think of themselves as sojourners and exiles. Sojourners and exiles are people who live in a land that is not their own. Often times their lives are more difficult than they would be if they were living in their homeland. But because they are not living in their homeland, their life is necessarily more difficult. The same is true for us. Ever since the fall into sin in Genesis 3, mankind has been exiled from our home in the presence of God. We are sojourners journeying through this world until we at last reach our eternal home in the new creation. We look forward to that day with eager expectation. But until that day, we live in this world with hope. Hope is all about expectations. To hope means to expect good things. As Christians, we live in hope and expect good things, even in the midst of sorrows, for one simple reason: because Jesus is on the throne. This is the source of the unending joy of which Jesus speaks in our text. No one can take this joy away from us because our Lord is risen from the dead. He has defeated the power of death and the grave and it can no longer claim power over him. No one can take our joy away from us because our risen Lord is also reigning over all things. He has ascended to the right hand of God the Father, and from that place of authority he oversees everything that happens in this world. Sorrow may come upon us now, but our Lord is in control and he will ensure that the sorrow will only prevail for a short time. In “a little while” all wrongs will be made right and the sorrows of this life will give way to eternal, unending joys. That is why we live in hope.
6. But until that day, we’re left to live in the mess that is this world. Financial challenges, relational struggles, sickness and death are very real problems that we all face. But as Christians we live in hope, patience, and faith. To live in hope necessitates patience and faith. We live in a world that doesn’t teach us the virtues of true hope, patience, and faith. In our world, we’re taught to give up hope far too quickly. We’re taught that patience leads to stagnation and missed opportunities. We’re taught that faith in anyone or anything other than ourselves will lead to disappointment. But as Christians we know that this couldn’t be further from the truth. We know that there is more to life than the short 70-80 years we humans live on average. There is eternity in the presence of Jesus to look forward to. As our Lord says in the final verse of our text, joy is found in seeing Jesus. When we see his face in the new creation, the only thing that will matter about the past is that he brought us through it to himself. As we eagerly await that day, our hope is that he will bring us through the sorrows of this life. This hope gives way to patience as we realize that no matter how awful our sorrows may seem in the moment, they are only a fleeting moment in the greater picture of eternity. And as we live in hope and patience, our faith sustains us. We look forward to the full joy of eternal life in the presence of Jesus, but even now, he sustains our faith and allows us joyful glimpses of his presence with us on this side of eternity through his Word and Sacraments. That’s why we keep coming back here. Through the Word, through the Sacraments, we see Jesus and our faith is strengthened so that we might endure the sorrows of this life in hope, patience, and faith for “a little while” until we reach our eternal home. May our Lord keep us all in this hope, patience, and faith until that day for Jesus’ sake.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.