Sermon for Jubilate
Text: John 16:16-22
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.
St. John the Evangelist records the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in layers, and yet the fullness of its meaning is not found in peeling away those layers, but in seeing our Lord Jesus Christ through each of them and through all of them. One way in which John layers the text of the Gospel is by using vocabulary that some might call ambiguous that can be taken in more than one way, but he uses this ambiguity not to confuse us as to which meaning is true but to amaze us with how each interpretation is correct. This is not to imply that the meaning of the text lies within us. Rather it is to say that text is carefully crafted under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in such a way that what some might call less precise language actually gives broader, more wonderful, even a more clear meaning than words or phrases without ambiguity.
The example I have often used in Bible studies is from Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus when He says that unless one is born anothen he cannot see the Kingdom of God. Some translations record this as “unless one is born again”; others translate it “unless one is born from above.” The Greek word anothen can carry either meaning. And the rest of the conversation reveals that both aspects are true. One needs both a second birth and a heavenly birth to see the Kingdom of God. But the Word “to see” is similar. Does this mean that we will not lay eyes on the Kingdom of Heaven without being born of water and the Spirit, or is this speaking of perception? On the one hand, apart from the regeneration worked by the Holy Spirit we will not enter paradise, but, on the other hand, without the Holy Spirit we will also never perceive the Kingdom of God in the flesh of Christ as He sits there speaking to Nicodemus.
These do not have to be either/or interpretations of Scripture. There is no reason to think that the intention of Jesus speaking to Nicodemus or of John recording this event cannot be an intentional use of ambiguous language to include not multiple meanings, but a more broad and inclusive meaning than we are accustomed to.
When we say something important, we strive for precision in language. Just consider how technically contracts and legislation are prepared in our day. For that matter, look at the license agreements for computer software or medical release forms. But why does God need to speak that way? Men want to be clear in their speech because they don’t want to be sued. That is not God’s concern in giving us His Word. He wants us to know the truth, not limit His own liability.
Let us then turn our attention to our text from John 16. The Word that we have before us is a joyful word. Indeed the traditional name for this Sunday is Jubilate, meaning rejoice. That name is derived from the antiphon of the introit: “Shout for joy to God, all the earth. Alleluia. Sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise! Alleluia.” However the theme of rejoicing runs through all the propers of this Sunday. In our Gospel reading the theme of rejoicing resounds like a church bell announcing the new day.
Again and again Jesus draws the disciples’ attention to the joy that will soon replace their sorrow.
A little while, and you will not see Me,
and again a little while, and you will see Me.
You will be sorrowful,
but your sorrow will turn to joy.
When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come,
but when she has delivered the baby she no longer remembers the anguish, for the joy that a human being has been born into the world.
You have sorrow now,
but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.
Here we are given layer upon layer of sorrow turning to joy. Since this is mother’s day, let us take up the third layer of Jesus’ discourse. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby she no longer remembers the anguish, for the joy that a human being has been born into the world. This is not to say that a woman is not capable of remembering the pain of child birth, but that her mind becomes set on the joy of holding her child and does not dwell on the suffering that comes first.
Jesus draws our attention not to the love of mother for her child, nor the effort that goes into raising a child after his birth, but to the abrupt change from sorrow to joy. This is all to answer the question the disciples are asking themselves: “What does he mean by ‘a little while’?”
We too do well to consider this question. For it is necessary for the disciples who are about to flee as their teacher is arrested, who will follow from afar the events of our Lord’s passion and witness His death and burial, to be told that their sorrow will soon turn to joy, but that is not where we find ourselves today. If by “a little while” Jesus means only the time from His arrest to the day of His resurrection, then this reading is misplaced in the church year. We should have heard these words in Lent, perhaps the week before Palm Sunday. They would have no place for us on the fourth Sunday of Easter.
But here John records our Lord’s promises in such a way that their importance for the disciples on the night of our Lord’s betrayal is not diminished by their importance for us two thousand years later. Nor does their applicability to us today deny that they were intended to comfort the disciples during their grief between Christ’ s death and resurrection. This is not an either/or but a both/and promise.
Just as Jesus, for the joy that was set before Him despised the shame of the cross confident that the joy that would result from man’s reconciliation to God would turn the suffering of the cross into a reason for Him to rejoice, so also does His death and resurrection create the joy that comes from sorrow for both the disciples and us.
Mark well, that Jesus does not say that joy will replace sorrow, but that sorrow itself will turn to joy. I have never heard an expectant mother look forward to the difficulty of childbirth. I have heard plenty of mothers yearn for pregnancy to be over with, but never have I heard someone say, I hope labor is long and difficult. Yet, however long and difficult it is ,the birth of a child turns it into joy. To illustrate Jesus’ point, consider how we celebrate birthdays not as a remembrance of the pain, but with hearts set on the joy and thankfulness that a person has entered the world. It is life and not pain that is celebrated.
Likewise, it is Christ’s death that brings such great sorrow to the disciples. Mary weeps at the tomb; on the road to Emmaus the forlorn disciples are in despair; Thomas is so despondent he cannot even believe the reports of resurrection without seeing Christ in the flesh Himself. Yet in the rest of the New Testament the crucifixion is remembered with joy. Paul resolved to know nothing among the Corinthians but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Paul was not a gloomy preacher, but was filled with the confidence that Jesus’ death is an occasion for joy because it cannot be separated from His resurrection. Paul is glad to be baptized into Christ’s death because in dying with Christ we die to sin and have the newness of life of His resurrection. In heaven the Lamb that was slain takes the scroll to the acclamation of the heavenly hosts. It is Christ’s impending death that will plunge the disciples into a sorrow they had never before known. After the resurrection, the cross which caused such sorrow becomes their joy and their glory.
For us today this promise still holds. On Good Friday we still sing: “We adore You, O Lord, and we praise and glorify Your holy resurrection. For behold, by the wood of Your cross joy has come into all the world.” And also,
Faithful cross, true sign of triumph,
Be for all the noblest tree;
None in foliage, none in blossom,
None in fruit thine equal be;
Symbol of the world’s redemption,
For the weight that hung on thee!”
And so we prepare ourselves to receive the fruit of the cross, the body and blood of our Savior.
But the joy of the cross has not yet removed all sorrow. The stone hid Jesus from the eyes of the disciples for three days. But the cloud hid Him at His ascension even unto today. We yearn to see Him. Jesus’ words are as true today as they were for the apostles. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.”
The foe was triumphant when on Calvary
The Lord of creation was nailed to the tree.
In Satan’s domain did the hosts shout and jeer,
For Jesus was slain whom the evil ones fear. (LSB 480:2)
To be clear, the foe was triumphant in attitude, but not in fact. The death of Jesus was never anything but the defeat of Satan, though Satan entered Judas in order to accomplish it.
Likewise, those who behead Christians in the Middle East and rob churches in Asia and sue Christians in the west may have moments when they feel victorious. But the real victory remains with Jesus. The Christian truly has moments of sorrow. The apostles did not enjoy being arrested and beaten for preaching in Jesus’ Name, yet they rejoiced to be counted worthy of suffering dishonor for Jesus’ Name (Acts 5:41).
There will be days when you have sorrow. There are times when the pain caused by a wayward child is greater than that of their birth. There will be days when you are given a thorn in the flesh to keep you from looking to yourself. There will be days when your own sin causes you to weep; when the sin of the world tears it apart; when brother turns against brother; when trials and persecutions take goods, fame, child and wife. Yet we have the same promise that the disciples had. A little while, and you will not see Me, and again a little while, and you will see Me…. You will have sorrow, now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.
On the Day of Christ’s resurrection the cross of His suffering and the disciples’ sorrow was turned to joy. Jesus now calls you to take up your cross and follow Him. And on the day of your resurrection, your sorrow will not just be replaced with joy, but will turn to joy itself.
The Holy Spirit given to You in Baptism to join to Chrsit’s own death and resurrection keeps you in the one true faith so that on the last day you will rejoice that you have suffered with Christ. Your cross will be your joy and your glory as it connects you to the glory of Christ’s cross.
A woman’s hour comes with sorrow, but turns to joy at the birth of a child. Christ is grieved by His approaching suffering to the point of sweating blood as He prays for the cup to pass from Him. Yet the cross is His appointed hour, His glory, and source of all joy in heaven and earth. Your sorrow will likewise be turned to joy as you suffer with Christ and wait for His appearing.
Yet this is not either present or future, but both present and future. In our sorrow we already have joy. Not because our suffering is finished, but because Jesus’ suffering has given an end, a telos to all suffering.
Alleluia, Christ is risen!
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria