“A little while.” Nobody likes to wait. The children are getting anxious for the end of school; the teachers too. They get anxious for birthdays and presents and cake, for vacation and fun and games. We get anxious for baseball season, a promotion, or to get out of the hospital. “A little while?” That’s no fun!
So now you know what was bothering the disciples. They didn’t like this idea of a little while wait until they’d see Jesus again. They were seeing Him now. They’d been with Him 3 years. Why’d that have to change? Why’d He have to go away at all? Remember, they hadn’t understood anything He’d told them about His impending Death and Resurrection.
He told them it was only going to be for a little while. He would die the next day, but on the third day He would rise again. Yes, in 3 days from this very moment of His Maundy Thursday sermon, He would appear to them again, perhaps in that very room! Yes, He would die and be buried – they might even see it happen – but that same Body would stand before them in glory not long later. Then their waiting would be all over and their grief over their Friend and Lord and Teacher’s Death would be turned into great joy over His Resurrection.
Why do we hear this Gospel today? We’ve already celebrated our Lord’s Death and Resurrection. Isn’t it a little late to think about the disciples’ grief? Today The Church begins to turn our focus away from Easter. Now that doesn’t sound right. We want to focus on Easter all the time! But the Easter season is only 7 weeks long, and we’re already 3 weeks in! So it’s time to prepare for our Lord’s Ascension and Pentecost! So on these Sundays from now through Pentecost we’ll hear parts of our Lord’s Maundy Thursday sermon to His disciples to prepare us for those feasts.
So when you hear Jesus’ “little while and you won’t see Me, and again a little while and you will see Me” today, don’t just think about His Death and Resurrection. Since we’re between Easter and Ascension, think about how the disciples didn’t see Jesus once He ascended into heaven but did see Him, by faith, when He sent His Spirit on Pentecost. We don’t see Him on heaven’s throne, but we believe He comes with His Spirit to the waters of Baptism and to The Altar to bring us His forgiveness and eternal life. We believe we will see Him and be in His nearer presence when we die. We confess these our own eyes shall see Him when He comes again to judge the quick and the dead and raise us unto everlasting life.
Meanwhile, we are in that “little while” in which we don’t see Him physically. He has ascended into heaven and fills all things, but I don’t know that on my own. I can’t scientifically test it. I can’t test this Altar and find Jesus’ DNA on it. We believe He is here, not because we feel His presence, because we don’t, certainly not all the time, but because He tells us so in His Word. St. Paul tells us in Colossians He ascended above all heavens to fill all things, so we believe it. Jesus tells us He is with us always to the end of the age, so we believe it.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Faith is not an easy thing. Life isn’t easy. So many people today want everything to come easy, to be easy, to be free. They just want comforts and fun and games and what makes them happy for a time, and no interference. They don’t want to be bothered with the facts of life: life is not always easy, you can’t always have what you want, sickness and death are parts of life you can’t escape. Life isn’t easy. Christian faith knows it. Many of you know what it’s like to spend time in the hospital. We see trouble in our families and in our nation. We even know the pressure of wishing we could be just like everybody else in how we live and think, in our morals and our possessions. We sometimes feel like our sufferings are far too great, if Jesus really loved us He wouldn’t make us suffer, if we were truly strong enough Christians everything would go just right for us and nothing would go wrong.
“For where The Head is, there full well I know His members are to dwell When Christ shall come and call them” (TLH 216:1). We’ll sing those words before the Sermon on Ascension Day. When we sing them, we might think they merely mean we’ll join Christ in heaven someday. But there’s more to it. It’s not just talking about the future. It’s talking about now. If we are following our Head to where He is now, we will follow Him on the path He trod. Those 33 years between His Birth and Death weren’t easy. They were full of sorrow and trouble, the sorrows of His own people rejecting Him, the sorrows of the sins of the world. They continued right up through His Crucifixion. He was humble unto Death, even the death of The Cross.
Only then came His Exaltation. He is exalted with His Resurrection. First came the cross. Only then came the glory. So we too follow that path. In this life we have sadness. But in the life to come is nothing but eternal joys forevermore. This life is only a little while. His 33 years of humiliation have been followed already by almost 2000 years of exaltation, years that flow into all eternity. Your years, be they 50 or 80 or 100 or however long God gives you are only a little while compared to the eternity that awaits you.
For He suffered on His Cross for you. You may think your sufferings are bad. His were far worse. He did it for you. He bore your illnesses and diseases in His Body on The Cross. He knows exactly what you’re going through and He took all that to His Cross. He nailed it there and sealed it in His Tomb to proclaim you will be rescued from it all. For the Christian, death is freedom from this world’s wickedness and sorrow and entrance into eternal joy. For the Christian death is rest and preparation for the eternal life of the world to come.
So “Make a joyful noise unto God all ye lands! Sing forth the honor of His Name; make His praise glorious!” For “The Lord hath sent redemption unto His people.” How did He do that? “It behooved Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead and thus to enter into His glory.” Israel was in bondage to Pharaoh in Egypt, so God sent 10 Plagues and drowned his army in the Red Sea. You were in bondage to sin, death, sorrow, and Satan, so God sent His Son to die for you and rise again. With His Blood He has redeemed you, has purchased you, from all those wicked things, and now you belong to Him.
Now He has glory. He sits at His Father’s right hand judging all things, ruling all things, providing all things, for the sake of His Church, for the sake of you, His faithful people. Now you praise and glorify Him, proclaiming in word and song everything He has done for you and what it means for your life on this earth. You proclaim He shed His Blood for you and died and rose again. You do this as you avoid those things that are contrary to what you profess and by following those things that agree with it. In both word and deed you proclaim that even though life is full of sorrow, Christ has filled it with eternal joys, joys that will be fully realized when His enemies submit themselves to Him due to the greatness of His power. “A little while” will soon end, and it shall be forgotten.