The Third Sunday after Easter – Jubilate (Make a Joyful Noise)
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today is the Sunday of rejoicing, and it could not come at a better time.
The glorious and exciting days of Holy Week are now fading from our memories, and as Christians we’re coming to that bleak realization, that it’s time to get back to real life. That we can’t yet stay on this mountain forever.
Mountaintop joys and experiences are usually always followed by valleys and ruts, and there is in this Easter season the great danger that we would despair as we come down this mountain, that as we find our sufferings to be the same, we would lose hope in what Christ has done.
And so to keep us from this despair, and to guard against the idea that Christians should at all times stay on the mountain and refuse to suffer in the valleys, so the Sunday of Jubilate comes to teach us.
And in this, in John chapter 16, Jesus fixes our eyes on a different kind of joy.
Jubilate Sunday is not a pep talk, it’s not an attempt to keep the Alleluias going strong despite our suffering, and nor does our Lord try to put a friendly face on the very things that hurt us.
Rather, this Sunday, our Lord does what we desperately need him to do, He calls a thing what it is.
He does not avoid, but rather proclaims the reality of our sufferings, He makes no excuses for them, and He does not comfort the disciples by simply revealing them some silver lining, or some way in which what they suffer might be counted as blessing by itself.
He calls our life what it is, that we will and we do suffer and mourn and weep, while at the same time, the world around us rejoices in our suffering and misfortune.
Our Lord prepares the apostles now for the coming days of His crucifixion, death, burial, and that ‘little while’ that they will have to wait, until they see him again.
It is not going to be easy, and neither is it going to be painless.
But it will not last forever, the Lord will rise, and they will see him again.
And this, from Good Friday to Easter Morning, will be the first of the ‘little while’s in which they will wait.
Ultimately, Christ will ascend to the Father, and they will be given to wait again, until the Lord should finally call them home to Himself where on that day, no one will take their joy from them.
In that ‘little while’, from Christ’s Ascension to His calling us home, you and I are also given to wait.
Our Lord of course, calls it ‘a little while’, but it never seems that way.
Nonetheless, today, on the Sunday of Jubilate, on the Sunday of rejoicing, Christ comes to fix our eyes on the true source of our joy, on the day in which we keep our eyes on the prize and are able to stand even now, even while we suffer, even while we wait.
In other words, the glory and comfort of Easter, is given so that we would not simply look back, at things that have happened, but truly that we might look forward, to the day which is now promised and certain to us because Christ has died and Christ now lives.
In all things, as St. Paul tells us, our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory which is to be revealed to us in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:18).
The Joy of Jubilate Sunday is not about a passing or temporary rejoicing, it is not even about finding the silver lining in what we now suffer.
The Joy of this Day, is that the Christian is given in Christ to fix his eyes on that final Joy, that final day in which we no longer suffer, no longer die, the day in which we will finally be at home.
Jubilate Sunday refines and refocuses, and brings precision to our Alleluias. We are not just joyful now, we are joyful for that Day, that peace, and that Christ who comes to call us home.
So this is our joy, and this is what Jesus comes to impress upon his disciples that they might be fit and equipped for the journey that is ahead of them.
For the way of every Christian is the way of the cross.
If we do not go the way of the cross, the way of suffering, hardship, struggle and death, then we are not rightly called Christians.
It is to the cross that we are going, it is into the cross that Baptism has now brought us, it is our end, and above all, it is why we have joy, and it is this joy that carries us through, no matter how difficult, painful or despairing the journey may look. In all things, we are carried through and borne by joy.
Our Lord compares this journey of suffering and joy to that of a mother in labor and the birth of a child.
First and foremost, the suffering and pain of labor is, in the grand scheme of things, brief, it is a passing thing.
It does not last for a lifetime, but rather for a moment, maybe for a day, possibly for a bit more than that.
In the moment, in the suffering, it may feel as though it will have no end, but in truth, and by the very nature of what labor brings and does, indeed it will have an end.
And the joy that comes with the birth of a child, though it certainly does not dismiss or eradicate the previous suffering, it does give meaning to it, it does give purpose and value, and even clarity in what was then painful and sorrowful.
Beyond what labor feels like, we see and hear in the Scriptures that this experience, the participation of mothers in the Lord’s Good Work to create of new life, is perhaps outside of Holy Baptism, the most profound and significant of all realities.
For here, mothers are joined as closely as can be to the profound joy of the Lord himself, the joy that He knows in the delivery and creation of new life.
It is one of the highest of all experiences and ways in which the Lord has given us to participate in His glory, and yet, it is also one of the most painful.
So it is in the road to the cross. To be joined to the Crucified One, and to participate in his sufferings, abiding in His joy and resting in His wounds, this is above all, even beyond labor itself, the most profound and significant of all human realities. And yet…for as meaningful and important as it is, it is also the most painful.
Finally, though it may offend our modern sensibilities, the labor of a mother teaches us quite bluntly, that when we suffer on the journey to the cross, so we are emptied of ourselves, and so we are given to see quite clearly, that it is the Lord and the Lord alone, who must and does come to deliver us.
In labor, we must confess, that without our Lord’s careful design of creation and the body, that without His constant blessing and sustenance, and without His gracious will, to keep creation intact and working as it should, then we would be lost, indeed it wouldn’t matter how many physicians surrounded our bedside, without His work and deliverance, our sufferings and strivings would come to nothing.
So it is with our suffering. It will be this way for the disciples in Holy Week.
They will be emptied. They will go into the garden with every intent to die with Christ and follow Him to the cross, and yet when trial and tribulation comes, they will despair and flee. Nothing that they brought with them will help them.
And in this, they will be left simply to wait in the upper room.
So it is with us. Suffering empties us of ourselves, our pride, our grand ideas about how faithful and devoted we are, and in a sense, it kills us, we die, we are buried in the tomb, and so we wait.
The Lord Himself must deliver, He Himself must to do the work, and be your strength, His Word of Promise alone must be your joy, nothing else will do, nothing else will deliver you.
And so He gives new life, He does come, you only have to wait a little while, the suffering will come to an end, and then you will be given to mount up with wings like eagles, for you will be given the Lord Himself, the One who is everything, you will run and not be weary, you will walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:31).
Luther teaches that when our trials and sufferings come, so we should not immediately search out for how the Lord will deliver us. Instead, in the cross, we are to be patient and hold on to that which He gives us, the sufficiency of His promise, that though we wait, He will come again, He will restore us, calm our anxieties, grant us His peace and bring us new life.
In this, this waiting for the Lord, so in this life, in the many ‘little while’s’ that you are given to wait, so the Lord strengthens you to live in His cross and in His Son, conquer even death itself.
Luther goes on to say, that it is purely God’s grace that works in our sufferings to bring good out of these many ‘little while’s’ in which we wait. For, as he says, if our only experience with waiting and suffering and being emptied of ourselves, were to come to us on our deathbed, then we would certainly despair and not be able to face death in the strength and peace that He has come to give.
In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, there is a doctrine called Theosis, which simply means the process of becoming like God, or being joined more and more closely to God.
According to that tradition, a Christian does this for himself through constant prayer, meditation, and works of mercy.
There’s a story about theosis, that comes out of the third century where a Christian goes seeking wisdom from a monk in the desert. When the disciple finds him, he explains that he has prayed without ceasing, fasted, memorized the scriptures and purified his thoughts, so therefore, what more is there to do? At which point, the monk raises up his hands to the sky, and the disciple sees his fingers become like burning candles, and the monk replies, “Why not become like fire?” (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Abba Joseph).
The idea here, is that you can become more than what you are, indeed, more than man, if only you commit yourself and try hard enough.
Needless to say, as Lutherans and Orthodox Christians, we reject the idea that by your works you can become God, but we don’t reject the doctrine of theosis, for we do in fact, confidently and absolutely confess that the Lord joins Himself to us and hands Himself completely over to us, in the passion of Christ the Lord.
For us, when talking about theosis, we simply call this what it is. Holy Baptism.
In Holy Baptism, the Lord joined Himself to you, He brought you into His body, so that you died in His death, you were buried in His tomb, you rested in His work, and now, you have been raised by His life, and you wait for the end.
In Baptism, you have been given everything of Christ, He has held nothing back from you, there is nothing more for you to be given, you have been redeemed, you have been delivered, you have forgiven of all your sins.
And so it is, that Lutheran theosis, or the life of Baptism, today, the journey to the cross, is a life of suffering, it is a life in which from font to grave, we are being emptied of ourselves. In other words, we live a life where things are slowly and eventually stripped away from us. And it is, in the moment, painful.
But the glory of theosis, of Baptism, is this, that at every turn, at every loss and pain and suffering, the Lord would speak to us the same promise given in full through the waters of Baptism.
That you have been given Christ, and where Christ is, there you have everything, and you need nothing more.
When cancer is diagnosed, when independence is taken away, when a loved one dies, when we meet the dead end of our career, when we stub our toe, or our marriage fails, the Lord comes in our waiting and in our suffering with the same truth.
You have been joined to me, you have all that I am, and I am enough, I am more than enough. If you have me, indeed you have everything.
There will come a day, when far more than our independence, our pride, our ability, our wants or our desires are taken away, there will come a day for everyone of us, where even our very breath is taken out of us.
And yet on that day, the life theosis, of the everything of God, the joy that carries us through, on that day, you will see things as they are, and you will hear from the Lord the same promise.
You have been given everything that I am and everything that I have. And if you have this, then you do not even need the air in your lungs, for I am enough, I am more than enough, and in this, no one will take it from you.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.