How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are.
(1 John 3:1)
Did you get everything you wanted from Easter this year? Easter isn’t really known as one of the main gift-giving holidays we celebrate, but maybe that should change. Did you get everything you wanted from Easter this year? Well it’s not too late. That’s right. It’s still going. The paraments on the altar (and the pastor) are still white. The church calendar hasn’t flipped to the months-long season of Pentecost yet. By and large, people still know what to do with a greeting like, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” The Church is kind of blessedly backwards in this way – we celebrate the season after the holiday – the exact opposite of the way the world thinks about these things. You know how it goes, and you’ve probably lamented it when you walked into Walmart in the middle of October and what do you see? Christmas trees, north poles, reindeer, wrapping paper, red and green everywhere - all while Thanksgiving is over a month away and you’re still using the air conditioning in your car. But this is the season! Then once Christmas comes…it’s all over. On December 26th, they will practically pay you to take all of this Christmas stuff out of the store. Not the church, though. We celebrate the season after the holiday. Our Easter celebration didn’t end on April 21. Instead, the church gets to continue basking in the glow of the empty tomb. So, think back over the past five weeks. Did you get everything you wanted from Easter this year? The Easter gifts I’m talking about aren’t found in a basket filled with green plastic grass or even around a dinner table with your family. The Easter gifts I’m talking about come only through the good news of the gospel.
Has that struck you over the course of these weeks? How Jesus keeps giving and giving and giving? I mean, it shouldn’t surprise us, because this is always his way, but my goodness! Just think back over the gospel lessons we’ve heard for this past month since Easter Sunday. For starters, the women came to the tomb and expected to find a body, but instead found the only place for unshouldering their burden of sin. Or what about those disciples behind locked doors, prisoners of their fear and worry, until Jesus shows up – three times he says it because he means it, Peace be with you! And then he put on their lips a message of perfect peace with God – If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven. Then, the next week we heard about the disciples out in their boat, and they’d been skunked, until Jesus came and gave them not only a net-full of fish, but a purpose to go and cast his net of the gospel into the world. And who could forget the promise your Good Shepherd makes you – no one can snatch them out of my hand. Finally, Jesus gave his new command, Love one another. As I have loved you…he sends you out into a hateful world to be a beacon of his love, not running on empty, but filled to overflowing with his love for you. Do you see the point? Why we celebrate the season of Easter after the holiday itself? Christ is still risen and even today, he lives to pile on all his Easter gifts. Today, we’re not surprised to see Jesus giving another one of his great Easter gifts – joy.
The Gospel lessons during this season have been a mix of post-resurrection appearances and flashbacks of Jesus preparing his disciples for his departure. Today, we have a flashback to Maundy Thursday, and listen to what Jesus promised his disciples, because on the surface it doesn’t sound too promising: I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve… This shouldn’t have been news for those first disciples, should it? Right from the word “Go,” or “come (follow me),” as it were, Jesus was unbelievably clear about what it meant to follow him. If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. With a job description like that, who needs work?! But follow him they did; and as promised, weep, mourn, and grieve they would. What would happen to this Jesus who spoke to them in the glow of candlelight in the upper room on the eve of his crucifixion? He would go out to be betrayed, arrested, beaten, mocked, crucified, and buried. Weep, mourn, and grieve – if anyone had a reason to do it, it was those disciples. On the Saturday after Jesus died, those men woke up in a Christ-less world, a thought too horrible to dwell on. They’d lost everything. And Jesus knew they would be there then, so that’s why he says this here now, the night before he died. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.
This Easter season, the gospel lessons have us pondering some things that seem quite ethereal, intangible – peace and forgiveness and hope, and now joy. There are plenty of days when it seems like joy is the most elusive thing – it’s a non-existence. We get the first part of what Jesus says about weeping, mourning, and grieving, don’t we? If ever there was a something to link us with the experience of those first disciples of Jesus, it would have to be these. While we weren’t there in the upper room, and while Jesus was preparing the disciples for his immediate departure and resurrection, can’t we grab onto this, too? Weeping, mourning, grieving. We get that, don’t we? Sometimes, we’re tempted to buy into the popular thinking that Christians are just happier, because things in life are just supposed to go better for Christians, aren’t they? After all, we’re on the right team, so things should just go better for us! But is that where I find my joy? In a robust retirement portfolio in spite of a down economy? Do I find my joy in a clean medical report? In a stable family life? In short, do I find my joy when I think I can perceive what God is doing in my life, and boy he’s being really good to me, so he must know what he’s doing?! Maybe, we think, the popular notion is right – things just go better for Christians because they’re Christians. But what happens when they don’t? If you think that, I’d ask you to open your Bible to see what Jesus says and open your eyes to the world around you, and you’ll quickly be disabused of that notion.
Christians hurt sometimes. We weep because of loss. We mourn over sadness. We grieve over guilt from sin. So, is that the common experience we share with those first followers of Jesus? Weeping, mourning, and grieving or is there more? It’s not really the question of whether I have pain or what’s causing me grief; those are a given. The real question is what do I do with it? Jesus had the answer for his disciples. “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.” Some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father?’” They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.” Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’?”
If you didn’t catch what Jesus was saying here, it’ll become clear in a little while. Seven times in four verses, we hear those words, “a little while.” And Jesus said it as he was preparing his disciples for what? Days of weeping, mourning, and grieving. You’ve heard that before, haven’t you? “Hang in there! Things’ll get better! Nothing lasts forever! Just tough it out!” But the problem with that way of thinking is that it’s built on the notion that things must get better as time progresses, which experience tells us, isn’t necessarily true. Sometimes the sickness stays. Sometimes the relationship remains broken. Sometimes the tears don’t go away so soon. Those words are well-meant, but are unfortunately empty. Nobody knows what’s coming “in a little while,” but Jesus does. So when he says it, this is so much more than a pat on the back and a “hang in there, pal.” Jesus is all knowing. Jesus is eternal. He knows precisely how long “a little while is” for the hardships you face just as he did for those disciples. Jesus knew that his disciples would weep and mourn and grieve, but then three days after his death, they would see him again and rejoice. Jesus knows what troubles you. He sees your burdens and he counts your tears and into your ear he whispers, “a little while.” Not to appease you with an empty thought about an uncertain future, but to remind you of the quintessential Easter truth: that he lives. He lives to fulfill his every promise just for you. He lives to bring you all the good gifts of Easter – peace, forgiveness, hope, life, and joy.
Do you see how deep these waters run? When your life seems devoid of all happiness, remember that Jesus promises you joy. And he does you one better, Jesus said to his disciples, Now is the time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. No one will take that joy away from you? Really? How could that possibly be true? Those disciples would face rejection. They would experience pain. If church history is to be trusted, most of them would die horrific and gruesome deaths, all for the sake of the gospel. But Jesus said it, no one will take away your joy. Because their joy wasn’t found in their circumstances, which constantly change. Their joy, and ours, is anchored in the One who is the same yesterday and today and forever. Our joy is anchored not in our circumstances, but in our Savior. Jesus died to pay for our sins of seeking joy in all the wrong places, but he didn’t stay dead. He came back to life, proving that your sins are forgiven, your eternity is guaranteed, and he is the only one in the universe with the perspective and the prerogative to say something like, in a little while…your grief will turn to joy…and no one will take away your joy. Jesus lives to bring you all the gifts of Easter – right now and lasting to eternity. But sometimes, we just want to skip to the end!
Isn’t it true that we usually want to fast forward through hard times in life? As though once the “bad thing” is behind us, then we’ll be happy? Look closely at what Jesus says and what he doesn’t say. Jesus said, Your grief will turn to joy, not, your grief will be replaced with joy, or your grief will coexist with joy. He says, Your grief will turn to joy. This is what Easter and the Easter Season are all about. The resurrection of Jesus takes what seems like a hopeless and helpless situation and turns it into joy. Think about that for a second – Easter mans that what once seemed hopeless and helpless is transformed into something completely joyful. Easter means that sin, which separated you from a holy God, has been removed from you as far as the east is from the west. Easter means that the guilt which shackled you to your past has dissolved into the freedom that Christ lives to give you in the gospel. Easter means that the last and greatest enemy, death itself, is nothing but a doorway to eternal life with Jesus. The human instinct is to fast forward through hard times in life, but maybe we should hit pause. See what God is doing in those times. Is he making it better, bright, and shiny here and now? Maybe. But without question, because of the resurrection of Jesus, we realize how true it is that he lives to keep his promises, even through times of weeping, mourning, and grieving. He lives to show us that our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us.
Your grief will turn to joy. Jesus made his disciples a big promise here. It took them a little while to get it. Because of Easter, Jesus makes you a big promise, too. Your grief will turn to joy – not through the power of positive thinking. Your grief will turn to joy – not because of your circumstances, but because of your Savior. Your grief will turn to joy – not because you’re so good at manufacturing an artificial feeling of “togethernesss” in your life. Your grief will turn to joy because of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and what he lives every day to do for you now. He lives to keep his promises to you. Your grief will turn to joy. Think about that for a little while and rejoice in that forever. He’s telling the truth: Easter turns grief into joy.
To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.