Sermon on St. John 16:16-24
[A Little While]
Easter III (Jubilate)
25 April 2010
+ Jesu Juva +
The Weight of Glory
Today is the first of three Sunday texts in a row based on Jesus’ Farewell Discourse in St. John 13–17, i.e., His final words to His disciples on Maundy Thursday, just before His betrayal and arrest. Today, we hear about how He turns their sorrow into joy. Next Sunday, He will teach us about the work of the Holy Spirit, and the following Sunday, He will invite all believers to pray to the Father. This Gospel lesson, combined with some insights from C. S. Lewis’s essay, “The Weight of Glory,” will teach us what it means to suffer now as we anticipate the glory of making a joyful noise unto God in heaven.
Jesus says, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me” (16). Speaking to them just before His arrest and betrayal, the disciples would discover that Jesus would be hidden from them during His Passion. Then, after a little while, He would be hidden from their eyes during His three-day rest in the tomb. Then, after a little while, He would be hidden from them as His resurrection appearances were sporadic during the forty days after Easter. Then, after a little while, His body would be hidden from their eyes between His ascension (His return to the Father) and His second coming, which is the very “little while” that we are living in right now. The disciples would only understand the full import of Jesus’ words after His resurrection and especially after His ascension. They were initially confused, asking among themselves, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about” (18).
And how did Jesus respond? Having read their hearts and minds on the night when He was betrayed, He echoed their question back to them, saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy” (20). Indeed, the disciples will weep and lament at the foot of the cross. One betrayed Him. Another denied Him. Most of them fled in Jesus’ hour of deepest need. Meanwhile, the unbelieving world rejoiced that it had supposedly killed a criminal and allegedly crushed a Jewish rebellion. And their sorrow would continue throughout their lives every time they suffered with Christ to the last and to the fullest. But their sorrow would be turned into joy. Think, Jesus says, of a woman giving birth. She has sorrow during the delivery, but the joy of bringing a human being into the world infinitely transcends and far outweighs the pain of childbirth (21). Consider, for instance, Jesus’ own death and resurrection. The bloodshed and agony of Good Friday without the joy of Easter Sunday, is unthinkable. But Jesus endured the ‘little while’ of Good Friday while looking forward to the glory of Easter Sunday. Jesus said, in effect, “You, the disciples have sorrow now. You will be hated by all for My name’s sake. You will be whipped and scourged, martyred and crucified. However, I will come again to take you where I am that you may be with Me in Paradise. Your hearts can rejoice even now based on My promise. And in heaven, in ‘that day’, you will make a joyful noise in the very chambers of heaven.”
Jesus then summarized the glory of “that day” based on the promises of the Father. “In that day you will ask nothing of me” (23). For now, during the little while of suffering, the disciples asked Jesus for information about the meaning of the words “a little while” and “that day.” However, in the wake of Jesus’ resurrection, they would be able to ask the Father for all his gifts, with the sure and certain confidence that every petition was written in Jesus’ shed blood. So ask the Father in Jesus’ name and He will give you all good gifts within His Divine will. At first glance, the commands to ask nothing (23) and to ask the Father (24) may seem contradictory. However, there is an interesting change of words here in the original language of the New Testament that is not evident in English. Two different words translate as “ask” in English. One means to ask for information. The other means to ask for a gift. So the disciples will no longer ask Jesus for information out of ignorance, saying, “What does He mean by ‘a little while’?” They would know and believe in the fullness of Jesus’ death and resurrection. All that remains is to ask God the Father for His gifts – forgiveness and eternal salvation, strength and sustenance, and all the joys that the heavenly Father promises in Christ.
What does this mean for us? C. S. Lewis’s essay entitled “The Weight of Glory” discusses the tension between the ‘now’ and the ‘not yet’ aspects of our lives during these grey and latter days between Jesus’ ascension and His second coming. Like the disciples, we have our ‘little while’ of suffering here and now: sin and death; doubt and despair; temptation and other great shame and vice. In what I assume is a self-parody, Lewis says that we are like a schoolboy learning Greek grammar with the hope of reading the Greek classics. The boy may not enjoy declining nouns and conjugating verbs, but the hope of reading the classics in their original language gives him strength to do the grammatical legwork that he may come to the full joy of reading the Greek masters. So it is for us! The pattern of the Christian life is suffering now, glory later. However, the good news in this Gospel Lesson is that the promise of heavenly glory far outweighs our suffering here and now. Lewis summarizes the Scriptural promise of the life everlasting under the following heads: (1) we shall be with Christ; (2) we shall be like Him; (3) we shall have glory; (4) we shall be fed; (5) we shall be pillars in God’s heavenly temple. Of these five, Lewis especially highlights the first, being with Christ, and asks, “Why any one of them except the first?” Heaven is all about the full joy and Sabbath rest of being in the very presence of Christ as He lavishes not mere things but chiefly Himself on the creatures He created and re-created in His own image.
As for the joys of heaven, Lewis says that heavenly glory includes fame or good report with God. Here, of course, we must take the idea of glory in the heavenly, not worldly, sense of the word. For the world, glory means my fame, my reputation, and my works. However, the heavenly idea of glory is simply to stand before God in the final judgment – cleansed, forgiven, and restored in Christ – and to hear the words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21). It is the pleasure of a child before its father, a pupil before his teacher, a creature before its Creator. It is the goal of baptism, the reason for existence of the forgiveness of sins, and the result of the sustenance of the Lord’s Supper: to hear the final benediction from the heavenly Father, spoken over those whose reason for living is to worship God and enjoy Him forever. Again, from Lewis: “The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us ... shall please God.” Here we must pause and say that the life and faith of the believer are pleasing to God, not in the Roman Catholic sense of earning your salvation, but in the sense that God looks at His faithful people and only sees the person and work of Christ. Lewis continues: “To please God ... to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness ... to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son–it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.”
Moreover, where there is fame or good report, there is also luminosity. As with glory, we must distinguish the world’s idea of luminosity (brightness, splendor) from the Biblical teaching. Lewis, who is said to have had a pretty good sense of humor for an Oxford scholar, says that if we secularize luminosity then, well, who would want to be a light bulb? But the scriptural promise is that “We are to shine as the sun, we are to be given the Morning Star.” That is to say, we shall have the entire Christ and all His gifts. To be sure, we already have those gifts here and now. Christ is fully and physically here for us in baptism, absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. But here and now, His gifts are set before us in the midst of suffering and death. We have the ‘little while’ of suffering and the promise of heavenly glory at the same time. But in the final resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, we shall have the bright and Morning Star with no more pain or suffering. Dearly Beloved, think on these things and your joy will be full! No more darkness or death, only the brightness and splendor of those who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. No more pain or sighing, only the heavenly Sanctus and the “Worthy is the Lamb,” sung with the choir of angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven.
So do we make a joyful noise (Jubilate) unto God, even in the midst of suffering for a little while? Yes! The weight of heavenly glory transcends our “little while” of suffering here and now. Christ has borne our suffering on the cross. He proclaims the victory of the cross during this Easter season. He shares that victory with us in the means of grace. And He will come again to give us heavenly glory. So rejoice, Dearly Beloved, even amidst the “little while” of your suffering. And in the blessed Sacrament, “taste and see how gracious the Lord is, blessed is the man that trusteth in Him” (Ps 34:8). In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Note: Citations from C. S. Lewis are taken from the Touchstone/Simon & Schuster edition of The Weight of Glory and Other Essays.
Rev. Brian J. Hamer