Text: John 16:12-22
Date: Easter V + 4/28/13
Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! The whole world is blessed because He came to us in our own flesh so that we might be “sanctified through the offering of [His body] once for all.” “When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Heb 10:10, 12). “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new’” (Rev 21:5). But in a world and a life seemingly filled with nothing but the “same old, same old,” when will God make all things new? And what things?
There were even more questions among the disciples on that Passover night, that
night when our Lord was betrayed, lots of questions! And Jesus knew it. “I still have many things to say to you,” He told them, “but you cannot bear them now,” that is, they will not really hear because they cannot yet understand what is about to take place. Yet Jesus gave them a promise. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” And once again we wonder with the first disciples, “what things? To come, when?”
Those of us who “know the rest of the story,” namely, those things that came that very night and the suffering and death of the next day, the rest in the deadly tomb and the surprising resurrection from the dead on the first day of the next week, we are tempted, nevertheless, to hear these words a little differently. We tend to think “the things that are to come,” as some unfortunately have, refer to the “last things,” concerning the Lord’s final return in the last days of God’s judgment of the world, which is, from our perspective, still “to come.” But that is not what’s being spoken of here. “The things that are to come” are those things that came the very next day. And these things, our Lord’s passion, death and resurrection, are the things that the Holy Spirit declares to this day through the Church.
The question at hand is not, “will I be saved?” or “how will I fare in the judgment of the last day?” That’s not what concerned either Jesus or the disciples in our text. What concerned Jesus was, first, how the disciples would endure the next few days in the shadow of His cross, but, secondly and for each of us, how we may endure in a sinful, unrighteous, deadly world by a firm faith nourished constantly by a clear and pure understanding of God’s Word. The Holy Spirit will not speak anything new, anything that has not already been revealed. “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” In other words, the Holy Spirit leads all believers “into all truth.” The Spirit calls to mind and gives understanding to the words of Jesus. And the words of Jesus are and always will be the word and will of God the Father, one clear word for one overarching purpose.
Our text continues in a rather comical way, reminiscent of Abbott and Costello’s famous “Who’s on First” routine. John records the disciples’ confusion at Jesus’ word, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” The disciples don’t ask Jesus what He meant but turn and talk among themselves, “What is this that he says to us,” and then they repeat exactly what Jesus just said, “’A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’?” “So they were saying, ‘What does he mean by “a little while”? We do not know what he is talking about.’”
Abbot, you will recall, says to Costello, “Well, let’s see, we have on the [bases], Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know is on third.” Costello says, “That’s what I want to find out.” Abbott repeats, “I say Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know’s on third.” So Costello wonders, “Are you the manager?” Abbott says, “Yes.” “And you don’t know the fellows’ names?” Abbott retorts, “Well I should.” So here we go again, “Well then who’s on first?” Abbott answers, “Yes.” And so on.
So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” “Is this what you are asking yourselves,” Jesus asks, and then repeats the words again, “what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’?” “Yes!”
Sometimes the life of faith is like that, confusing if not a bit humorous at times. For instance, the first question that comes to the mind of many when suffering comes there way is, “Why me?” The only true answer to that question is, “Why not?” For the truth is that we all are sinners, suffering the effects of sin in various ways: illness, disease, accident, or even suffering at the hand of others with evil intent—Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Benito Mussolini, the terrorists of 9/11 or the streets of Boston, jihadists, radicals and anarchists. “Why me?” Indeed, why not you? Evil and suffering seem so random, one gets cancer another does not, one is afflicted with Parkinson’s, another with dementia, another with any one of a list of threatening, deadly diseases or conditions.
But God’s grace is not random. “All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that [the Spirit] will take what is mine and declare it to you.” The Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, have the infield covered, so to speak, with one will and purpose: salvation, the justification of the sinner, any and all sinners, by God’s grace through faith. That salvation, that justification, that defeat of random death came in but only one way, by the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the life of the world.
That’s what the disciples could not yet know, understand or endure, the event of just the next few days. In answer to the question what Jesus meant by this talk of a little while He explained with the metaphor of a woman’s experience of childbirth. “When a woman is giving birth,” He says, “she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” As Jesus was speaking He knew that His “hour” had come. The events of the next days would be not only sorrowful but also terrifying for His disciples. For now they couldn’t know or imagine what we have been celebrating now for the past twenty-nine days, the great joy over Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. That’s what He meant, “a little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me”!
St. John in our second reading says that Jesus, seated on the throne in heaven said, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev 21:5). And we ask, “when?” and “what things?” Certainly we can think of the words that immediately precede telling of our deliverance in the Last Day when “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:4). But when Jesus said to His confused disciples, “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy,” He meant the joy of His resurrection.
So we have times of confusion, times of suffering and times of sorrow. But the joy He promised, the joy of His resurrection, is not something we must wait for to be experienced only at the Last Day. It is given to us now even in the midst of our sorrow. It is the baptismal reality of new life through “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5-6). It is the joy of the confidence of faith in the ultimate victory that is already ours because of our faith and fellowship with the risen Lord Jesus Christ. In Him we are already being made new.