The Fifth Sunday of Easter – Series C – John 16:12-22
In the Name of Jesus, Amen.
“A little while,” Jesus says, “And you will see Me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see Me.”
This is John chapter 16, it is the night before Jesus goes to cross to die.
The time that He has with his disciples is in fact, short, it really is only a ‘little while’.
He will die on Friday, rest in the tomb on Saturday, and so in only a little while, they will see Him again, bursting forth from the grave on Easter Sunday.
Three days, only a little while…and yet, how long that first Holy Saturday must have felt. It must have seemed like an eternity to the disciples, like a day that would never end. Like darkness that would never pass.
As we move forward in our church year and look ahead to the days of Ascension and Pentecost, we find that Christ’s words here in John chapter 16 are fulfilled again.
In a little while, in the 40 days that He will walk the earth after the resurrection, He will then ascend from his disciples on a mountain into the clouds and they will see him no longer.
But again, in only a little while, in fact, in 10 days, on the day of Pentecost, they will see him again, descending as He promised, now in tongues of fire, keeping the light of the church burning from that day to the end of time.
It will be only a little while, and yet how long it will feel.
Even as we sit here today, we find in our own gathering, our own worship, our own life as the church, that Christ’s words in John 16, are fulfilled now for us a third time.
For it was only a little while, some 30 odd years, that the Son of Man came into the flesh in Bethlehem, was baptized in the Jordan, walked among us, died for us, rose for us, and then ascended to the right hand of God the Father almighty.
And yet, truly, it is only in a little while, when we will see him again, coming on the clouds with shouts of victory, wiping away every tear from our eyes, destroying death forever, as the former things will pass away, and as we will dwell with God to all eternity.
It will be only a little while.
And yet, how painfully long and lonesome it does seem to be.
Perhaps as we hear Christ say, that, only a little while and you will see me again, these words sound less like a promise of peace, and more like the false words of hope that you hear, when your doctor says, “This will only hurt a little bit.”
We may indeed believe him that it will hurt, but whether that’s a little or a lot is still very much in question.
And as we struggle in the faith on this side of heaven, we may confess and believe that Christ is in fact coming again, but whether that’s now or never, whether Christ cares or not, whether we feel alone and abandoned, is, at least in our hearts, still very much in question.
We are not given to waiting.
We grow tired and restless in a lot less time than what we’d like to admit.
The habit of flipping channels during commercials or even the program itself is not a behavior that we practice only at home.
We grow impatient in every aspect of our lives.
We groan in complaint if the hymn has more than four stanzas.
We chant our own Psalms of lament when a stop light adds a minute to our commute, when the worship service runs too long, when the internet operates at only half-speed.
We are not given to waiting.
And yet not only does our impatience cause us to become frustrated and angry with how life slows us down, but it works to do something far more destructive and subtle than what we realize.
It causes us to become deaf to the Word and promise of faith.
For if we look closely at the first fulfillment of Christ’s words in John 16, if we look at that first little while, as the disciples waited for Holy Saturday to become Easter Sunday, we see impatience and frustration grow and develop into ears that are closed and faith that is deaf to the promise and Word of Christ.
It really was only a little while, only a few days, and yet how quickly did the disciples’ sorrow and grief turn into despair, fear and even unbelief. They locked themselves up in the upper room, they forgot Christ’s promise to return. They became impatient, and so they became unfaithful and even unbelieving.
You and I have been given to wait for a bit longer than that first little while in Holy Week, and how often have you shut the door in fear, have you plugged your ears with false grief, have you wallowed in your own doubt?
Maybe it’s the flickering light of the church, and the question of whether or not, she can really remain, really hold fast to the end of time.
Maybe it’s illness and suffering that isn’t going away, or getting any better.
Maybe it’s a broken relationship that’s not fixing itself and seems like it will never be mended again.
And maybe it’s death, death which still stings, still hurts, and still seems so surreal.
When it comes to the waiting a little while in this life, we usually handle the immediate onslaught fairly well.
For our faith is trained. Our prayers go up without needing to think about them. We are strong and hopeful. God’s Word is comfort to us. And that is good.
But then, as we know, the “while” of the “little while” begins to settle in, and when we realize that we have to live with this, with these consequences, with these limitation, with this broken trust, with this past and this sad future…we grow scared.
It seems too much, too unbearable, too long.
For we want things the way they were and know that they cannot be.
We quickly grow tired of the waiting.
Indeed, this world is broken and dying. It is not right. And it hurts. And our waiting is always riddled through with pain. Those who suffer as they wait know this, and so do you.
The disciples grew impatient that first Holy Saturday, they fell into despair, fear and unbelief, their sin made them deaf and they became confused. Their impatience led to unfaithfulness.
But our Lord is more patient still.
He came to them on the third day just as He had promised – despite their faithfulness, despite their fear, despite their doubts and worries, their betrayal and hiding. He came to them and they saw Him again – just as He had said.
But not only did they see Him – But He brought to them, gave them, bound to them, the fullness of His work that was finished while they waited; peace with God, forgiveness, life and salvation, the end of sorrow, death and decay, the beginning of joy, life and eternity.
As they waited 10 days for Him after His ascension, He returned as He promised, through His Spirit, in the flames, bringing to them, giving to them, and binding them to the Work of His Cross, lived out through His Church in body, blood, water and Word, indeed the flame that endures all the little whiles that come and ever will come.
The flames of Pentecost still burn. They burn where God has placed Himself in mercy into the presence of His people, into the ears and mouths and hearts of His Church, through the preaching and the reading of His Word, in your prayers, and in the giving of His Body and His Blood.
He did not abandon the disciples on Holy Saturday. He was faithful. He kept His promise.
And He has not abandoned you. He has not forgotten you.
You will see Him this very day as He has promised, as He does remain faithful, as He gives you nothing short of everything that He is, His Body, His Blood, His promise, Himself.
Through Christ, and through His peace and His promise you rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
And not only that – but in these little whiles, you also glory in all tribulations and suffering.
You glory in them because you know that tribulation produces patience; and patience, character; and character, hope.
And indeed, this Hope, does not disappoint.
For the love of God has been poured out into your heart by the Holy Spirit given to you in the waters of Holy Baptism.
You are the baptized. God loves you.
For when you were still without strength and without hope, Christ died for the weak, the sinners, the suffering, the hurting. He died for you, for your hope, for your character, for your patience.
And He is coming back. So wait on the Lord.
Be of good courage. He will strengthen your heart. He will bear you up and keep you in His hope.
Patience may not be your most obvious trait. But it is yours. It is a gift from God, in Christ, the fruit of His Spirit that abides in you.
And though it might hurt, though you may shed tears, yet you endure, and through His faith you have come to this day to see Jesus, to receive His gifts, His Word, the food of His table, to be strengthened and encouraged until the time when you are relieved of these burdens, when the tears are all wiped away, and when the good work that was begun in you is complete.
Wait on the Lord. You will not be disappointed. For indeed, in a little while, you will see Him.
In the Name of Jesus, Amen.