What Does this Mean?
5th Sunday in Easter
Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and His only Son, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.
What does this mean? Many of you will remember this from your catechism classes. As Lutherans, we use this phrase quite often. We use it when we read the scriptures or writings of our doctrine, and even when we come upon a situation or message we don’t understand.
In the military, police force, fire department and every job or trade has its own language. In fact, most dramatic movies and television shows emphasize, and maybe even exaggerate, the vernacular of the profession in which they are portraying in order to get the right ‘feel’.
For instance, people love dramas about doctors and the medical field. The fast and furious technical words bandied between the characters makes the whole situation drama more ‘real’. And even if we don’t understand everything that is being said, we still remained fixed to the scene, waiting anxiously for what will happen next, because, although we don’t understand fully, we do get some meaning from what we are witnessing.
When I was in the U.S. Navy, we sailors were advised to be especially conscious of the words and phrases we used around our spouses and family members. Not so much because of secret or sensitive information could be inadvertently leaked, although that was a concern, but because the acronyms, nautical terms and military phrases would be confusing and even tiresome if used too often.
We can all relate, for after all, we all have our own special family language don’t we? When a child asks for a new toy, the parent may respond, ‘Well, if you are good, you may get one for your birthday or Christmas.’ The child asks themselves, ‘What does this mean?’ Or when a child whishes more freedom in the household and the parent responds, ‘We’ll see.’ the child wonders, ‘What does that mean?’
For instance, ‘Soon’ in parent language is much longer in time then in kid language. A ‘Wonderful surprise’ in adult speak, such as a new baby brother or sister, may certainly be a surprise to all but not necessary ‘wonderful’ to the youngster.
As we mature, we learn to interpret the adult speak as well as incorporate it into our language. When the boss asks for our reports A.S.A.P., we know that means ‘soon’. The young man may say, ‘We’ll see.’ to his girlfriend of three years when she asks if this year will be the year they will marry. And the ‘Wonderful surprises’? They continue to be wonderful to those who give and surprises to those who receive.
In St. John chapter 16, beginning at the 10th verse, we see a little confusion between what Christ is telling his disciples and what the disciples themselves understand. Jesus tells them, in verse 16, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.” and in verse 10, “…because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer…” [John 16:10b, 16]
In verses 17 and following, the disciples begin to speak to one another about what Jesus really means.
They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.” [John 16:17-18]
They were in a quandary about how they should interpret their Savior’s words. The devoted disciples had spent the past three years learning at the foot of their great teacher, their Messiah and their God; titles each more difficult than the first to accept and comprehend.
The disciples were having trouble wrapping their brains around the fact that Jesus was indeed God. Even with three years to absorb his teaching, the miraculous healing and raising people from the dead, and the forgiveness of sins, (which only God can do), they still could not interpret his words.
Jesus explains what he means by his words. “I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” [John 16:20] And later he continues, “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” [John 16:22]
Through the revelation of the Scriptures, we know that ‘little while’ was mere hours away. In that ‘little while’ Jesus was arrested, put on trial in Pilate’s court, and crucified on a cross unto death.
Who mourned his death? The disciples and all believers. Who rejoiced? The rest of the world. For the world, it was the end of a threatening and embarrassing situation. This man Jesus was a revolutionary seeking to overthrow the power of those in authority of both church and state. Within three days, the disciples went from hope – to devastation and fear.
In that ‘little while’, their master was dead, the ruling class of the Jews were out to get them and the Romans? Well, the Romans were never their friends in the first place. The disciples could not flee without the permission of the Roman magistrate. They could not hide with their fellow Jews for fear of retaliation. The disciples were at the end of their rope and about to hang.
You yourself may have, at some point in your lives, been at the end of your rope, as it were. At some time, you too may have exhausted all your resources only to sit alone in a room locked away from all those who sought a pound of your flesh.
You may have been cut off from your friends and family while grieving the death of a loved one, looking for solace and finding none. You may have felt abandoned without hope… If you have, you may well imagine the beloved disciples cowering in fear in the upper room behind locked doors.
Three days later, the disciples experienced a ‘Wonderful Surprise’. This ‘surprise’ was certainly welcomed by the grieving disciples and most definitely ‘wonderful’ for the entire world. The resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ, was the culmination thousands of years in the making. In those three short days in the history of creation, Jesus Christ overcame all sin, he defeated the great Adversary, Satan, and he conquered death.
Do you think the disciple’s grief was turned to joy? Of course! Not only was the very word and promise of God fulfilled, but also the joy of every human being then, now and forever. Most people would have been happy with Jesus Christ destroying the devil and stopping all sin, but conquering death as well? That is indeed a wonderful surprise.
It was then that the disciples understood the words of their Lord, ‘In a little while…’ I am sure they understood what was meant by the promise of the Holy Spirit coming to them as Counselor imparting the knowledge of Christ and bringing glory to God. And with the Holy Spirit, they no longer would need to ask, “What does he mean?”
Therefore fellow disciples in Christ Jesus, I ask you; what does Jesus mean when he says, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’? [John 16:17]
We do not see Jesus physically, because he has been taken up where he rules over all in heaven and on earth. Yet we do not mourn as those without hope. We are not locked away in a dark room without knowledge of our risen Savior. We have not seen, yet we still believe and because of this, we are more blessed than those who have seen. [John 20:29]
So if Jesus is ruling in heaven, how do we ‘see’ Christ? By the Word and by Sacrament, we see Jesus Christ in our midst. By the gathering together in the Holy Spirit, we see Jesus Christ in our midst. In the forgiveness of sins by God and through each other, we see Jesus Christ.
By his victory over death, our grief has turned to joy. By his victory over death, we live in him. Will we die in this life, in this world? Yes, this mortal body will die completely as we have been dying day by day all of our lives. Yet in a ‘little while’, we are raised again into life eternal with our Lord.
We live all too briefly in this world. Soon we will be together with Christ Jesus in a new heaven and a new earth. We finally will see God. All things will be new as we dwell with the Lamb forever.
‘In a little while’ we will see Christ face to face. Our grief will be turned to joy because there will be no more death, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying nor pain. [Rev. 21:4] For when God says, ‘In a little while’ he does not mean ‘Later’ or ‘We’ll see’, His words mean, ‘It is done!’
This is wonderful news, but it is certainly no surprise. God the Father made His promise to His people the day Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden. Jesus Christ fulfilled that promise through his bodily sacrifice in payment for our sins. The Holy Spirit now guides us in all truth and tells us what is to come.
Our grief has been turned to joy and ‘In a little while’ our joy will be complete.