Fourth Sunday of Easter
The following is an excerpt from “A Year of Grace: Collected Sermons of Advent through Pentecost” written by Bo Giertz and translated by Bror Erickson (1517 Publishing, 2019).
Gustavus Cathedral 1982
“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? 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 into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:16–22).
“So you also have sorrow now.” So Jesus speaks about a time of sorrow for the disciples. Even they have their days of sorrow. Jesus speaks about it here in our Gospel. And it applies to us too, that we should have our days of sorrow.
“You will weep and lament.” You will be miserable, complaining and moaning. You have no promise to be freed from this. It is wrong to think that we will be free from distress. On the contrary, “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). We have our inner sufferings and distress over failure because we have been poor disciples and have not been successful at influencing those whom we wanted to help.
But even external events can distress us: severe blows, sorrows and persecutions, taunts and bullying.
They won’t always come and perhaps not now. If good and idyllic days come, then one has much to be thankful for them. But if days of sorrow come, one has no reason to complain. Yes, before God, a man pours out His heart. These days have a hidden blessing with them. But one should know that they come. And God has not forgotten us during these days. And these days are not a punishment.
They are sorrowful.
Many believe that a Christian should be able to ignore days of sorrow and be just as joyful as normal, that a Christian should have an inner joy that makes it so one does not feel suffering and hurt.
Believing this will only worsen it. People do indeed hit upon sorrow. Jesus says it is so. And then He gives an illustration: a woman giving birth. “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come.”
The application is simple: days of sorrow really do come, with true distress. Why? Jesus says it is because “you see me no longer.” He seems to have gone away. Maybe God hides Himself. Perhaps dangerous and inconceivable things happen. We seem to pray in vain. And so we ask, “Is the Lord’s hand shortened that he cannot save?” (Is. 59:1).
Or we experience the soul’s powerlessness: Prayers are without power. All feelings of comfort are gone. Only the temptations are strong and powerful. Where is Jesus? We no longer see Him.
And the world rejoices. The enemies cheer over Jesus at Golgotha. Look there! He was just making it all up! “As with a deadly wound in my bones, / my adversaries taunt me, / while they say to me all the day long, / ‘Where is your God?’” (Ps. 42:10).
The days of sorrow are difficult.
And yet short.
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Jesus says “a little while.” The disciples wondered, What does He mean? Jesus explains what He means. He is speaking of the resurrection and of His second coming: “You shall see me again.”
The Son of Man shall come in the heaven’s skies. When John wrote this, He knew then that they would be able to see Him coming in another manner. They would see Him with eyes of faith. He would come in His word, in communion, in His church. If He was gone, then it was only for a little while.
And the time is short. The Lord is near. It can sound strange when we have our days of sorrow—or maybe even nights. Job says, “When I lie down I say, ‘When shall I arise?’ But the night is long, and I am full of tossing till the dawn” (Job 7:4). A single sleepless night can be infinitely long. And what shall we say about a year of sickness, sorrow, and regret?
And still it is a short time! Not when one stands in the midst of it, but in reality, measured by God’s standard, the standard of truth. God has created us so that we can begin to use this standard already on earth. We learn to see how short time is when we reach old age and look back: “The years of our life are seventy, / or even by reason of strength eighty; / yet their span is but toil and trouble; / they are soon gone, and we fly away” (Ps. 90:10). “We bring our years to an end like a sigh” (Ps. 90:9). When we learn to measure by God’s standard, then we can say with Paul, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen” (2 Cor. 4:17–18).
They last but a moment, Paul says. Is it really so? It continued year after year: toil and trouble, persecution and blows, imprisonment and shipwreck. And still he says “a moment.” Like the blink of an eye, seen from eternity, from above, in the light of truth. It has nothing to compare with that which waits for us.
The times of sorrow are short and
They will turn into joy.
Jesus says, “Your sorrow will turn into joy,” as when a woman gives birth to a child: “When she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” The disciples are on the way to a joy that cannot be taken from them. Their joy, it started on Easter Day and then continued with the life with Him in the church and the expectation of the great day.
We share in this joy! We share in it now, amidst all this sorrow. Christ cannot be taken from me! I am His. He answers for me, and all is forgiven. Suffering itself binds us together. We suffer with Him in order that we will be glorified with Him. We win a glorious victory through Him who has loved us. The suffering, the tribulation, and the cross kill my old selfish Adam. It binds me together with my Savior. “So we do not lose heart,” Paul writes, “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). The outer self wastes away, and the inner self is being renewed when we take up the duties we would shirk or bear with viciousness and chagrin, and when we suffer sickness, aches, and ailments though they continue year after year, and when we continue in faith—with Christ, by Him, keeping ourselves near Him in His word and communion.
The apostle writes, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame” (Rom. 5:3–5). We have this hope in Christ. And we can say, “I know in whom I believe.” Amen.
An excerpt from “A Year of Grace: Collected Sermons of Advent through Pentecost” written by Bo Giertz and translated by Bror Erickson (1517 Publishing, 2019), pgs 195-198. Used by Permission.