How many of you have heard the little phrase “In a little while…” before? How many of you have said it? I have said it more times than I can count and it’s often my wife and kids who hear it. “Daddy may we go to the park?” In a little while. “Honey will you take out the garbage?” In a little while.
Hearing that something will happen in a little while is not always such a bad thing. Unless of course if the need is urgent. I’m sure not a few college students we know had wished they hadn’t said “In a little while…” to writing papers and studying for exams now that finals week arrived. If you call 911 you don’t want to hear the first responders say, “We’ll be there in a little while.” When stress, pressure, or great expectations are added we are likely to ask when a while will be. This is especially true if the person we’re asking has a habit of procrastinating or getting the job done at all.
The disciples hadn’t asked Jesus for anything in our gospel lesson this morning. The early church selected this reading as kind of a flashback to before the resurrection. We find them in the upper room on Maundy Thursday when Christ instituted the Holy Communion. Jesus says to them, “In a little while you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.” This confused the disciples something awful. John twice repeats their thoughts and conversations among themselves for emphasis. They’re asking that oh so Lutheran question, “What does this mean?” St. John emphasizes how lost they were a third time when Jesus asks, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I mean saying, “A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me?”
Notice how Jesus acts as though they should understand what he means. By now they’d had numerous conversations with Jesus. He had told them at least on three separate occasions that he was going to Jerusalem to die and rise again. Even before all of that they had the Scriptures. The prophets and Moses had all attested that it was necessary for the Christ to die that he may enter his glory. Yet, St. John emphasizes here how dull and slow minded they were. It wouldn’t be until after Christ’s death and resurrection that what he meant by “a little while” would be self-evident.
When Christ was dead in the tomb did they recall these words “in a little while…” to comfort themselves? Did they remember that he promised them that he would return to them and they would see him again? No, they did not. They wept, despaired, and hid behind locked doors as the world rejoiced around them that the disturber of the peace of Israel, Jesus of Nazareth, was dead and buried.
Is it any different for us? We have sorrow too. The world still rejoices and mocks the followers of Jesus. There are people in the world who tell you that Jesus is still dead. Others say he’s a myth with hardly giving a glance at the historical evidence that says otherwise. Still others come to you as wolves in sheep’s clothing trying to tell you that Jesus is savior, but not God or that it is not enough to trust Christ’s death and resurrection for the assurance of your salvation. We have many voices in the world trying to call into question the completed work of the risen savior. The airwaves and television screens are inundated with them. Your neighborhood and workplaces have them too.
All this causes us to mourn and have sorrow, but not for ourselves. Our sorrow is not like the sorrow that Jesus speaks of for his disciples. He was speaking of their sorrow between Good Friday and Easter, between his death and resurrection. We have sorrow, but not for ourselves, but for those who reject Christ. Our Good Friday sorrow has ended and turned to joy. For Jesus is risen from the dead. He has brought with him the keys to death and Hades and has conquered all that afflicts us. Our sin is forgiven. Death has no sting. The evil foe—the devil cannot accuse us. Christ has won victory over them all in death and resurrection and he’s offering the spoils to all.
That Christ is risen from the dead means that our sorrow and our mourning are different. Certainly we have things that bring us sadness now. We see how our sin has harmed others. We know that like the disciples we have more moments where we forget Christ’s words of promise then we would like to admit. Likewise, we see how our neighbors and the world are trapped in sins that only end in disappointment and misery. We see how we time and again turn things into a god that could never bear the weight of our eternal souls. Our jobs can be lost. Our bodies can get ill and die. Our friends and family too can pass away before us or even abandon us.
Yet, since Christ is risen from the dead our sorrow is changed. As St. Paul says, we mourn, but not as those who do not have hope. We know what is to come when in the resurrection of the all the dead Christ will restore this world in righteousness and blessedness. We will not mourn any longer for there will be no more sin, no more death, and no more evil. We do not have to mourn like the disciples did before Easter for they brought the joyful message to the world that Christ is risen and because he lives before God the Father we will live also. And in a little while Jesus will return to us just as he promised at his ascension.
The early church appointed these readings to invite you to consider how all the words and promises of Christ came true. These words assure us of the resurrection, the promise of joy, and everlasting life.
We have all had times when someone’s, “a little while” never came to be. Yet, “a little while” is bearable when we know that the promise behind it will come true. This Easter lesson shows you that God’s “a little while” is bearable, even more it’s like that of a mother with child. The labor pains come and there is sorrow for the moment, but not long after there is only joy for new life has come into the world.
Christ suffered here on earth “a little while” so you could be born anew at the waters of baptism. He gives you life and immortality. That means anything that brings you sorrow now is but “a little while” and “a little while” is nothing compared to the forever that awaits you in Christ Jesus. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Please pray with me:
Lord, You know how a long time seems for us especially when we are distressed. You let Your devout followers speak about this and allowed their complaints to become a part of Your Word. You know, Lord, how long a lonely sleepless night can be. Therefore, we thank You that You have given us eyes to see the light of eternity now. You let us understand that suffering is but a moment in comparison to what lasts forever. You let us experience how the past becomes a blur, like a surreal dream, as our years fly by as we fly away. We thank You because everything that happens in this temporal life has an end. Yet You remain the same and Your years have no end. Amen.
SDG-Rev. Eric M. Estes