The Parish Church of Connersville, Indiana

The Third Sunday after Easter 2024

Sermon Date: April 21, 2024

Passage: St. John 16

And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you (St. John 16:22).

In this Third week of Easter, in this Third week of reveling in resurrection joy, we are provided with what may seem to be an odd set of readings given the season. The first, from St. Peter, precedes last week’s epistle and demands that all Christians offer every physical desire and political priority to an unashamedly painful and worldly-glory denying life whose sole focus rests in the proclamation of the Gospel—the joyful declaration of what God has done on the bloody cross and in the empty tomb. St. Peter can tell the persecuted members of the early church to honor the mad emperor who was murdering their brothers and sisters in the faith because a new reality had been laid over the day-to-day operations of our fallen, dying world.  The mission of the church, to do whatever it takes to aid the Spirit in saving the individual, immortal souls who make up our family and neighbors and enemies, supersedes every loyalty because it is an eternal loyalty with everlasting implications. We are to be the immovable rock of truth the foaming waters of strife thunder by—crashing against us, knocking off pieces of our selves we thought we could never lose, but never changing our position.  St. Peter reminds us that emperors and presidents will come and go, but the truth will remain, and so we continue to do our good works in the name of the God whose love binds us to the new earth to which we truly belong, revealed in the here and now by our Holy Spirit inspired faithfulness.

These commands from St. Peter are tough; they are the terrible and awful responsibility of any man or woman who dares call himself a Christian, and so it is very well that Peter’s commands are paired with the comfort we find on the lips of Jesus in today’s second lesson.  Chapter 16 of the Gospel According to St. John places us in the midst of our Lord’s “farewell discourse”—the holy last will and testimony of the apostle’s beloved master and friend given in the few hours before the world murdered its Creator with the wood and nails He daily handled in His earthly father’s workshop. The discourse is a series of intimate and wonderful moments in which we see the unbelievable love Christ has for these men who would so soon abandon Him to a death He didn’t deserve. How many of us would be able to respond in love and encouragement to a group of trusted disciples who we knew would leave us when we seemed to need them the most; whose cowardice in the face of earthly trials proved, that in the end, they loved themselves more than they loved us. As God the Son, Jesus would not have been shocked by this betrayal, but as the fully human man He truly is the pain of their rejection would have been terrible. How can He still love these men? How can He still love them, despite their great betrayal of everything they have been building for these last 3 years?

Blessedly, when Jesus sees these weak and scared men gathered around Him, He sees so much more than the worst sins of their life. He certainly sees what these men are in their worst moments, but He also sees what these men will become; He knows what great works the Holy Spirit will do through them; He knows the mountains they will climb and the riots they will start; He knows the empires they will tear down and the hearts they will break and remake for the love of the Lord whose name no torture will be able to tear from their lips. As Jesus prays to His heavenly Father in the next chapter, “[My disciples] are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word…” (St. John 17:16-20). When Jesus looks into the eyes of His apostles, He sees every generation of Christian who will rise from their witness even as the world tries to crush them in its malice and wickedness. 

And so, our Lord must leave them for a little while and become the means of their sanctification—the means by which they can become the holy heralds of the resurrection. Jesus must become the holy, set apart sacrifice for the sins of the world, so that the apostles can become the men the world desperately needs them to be. Again, a world in which the disciples in their fallenness belong; a world that rejoices at the death of Christ; a world that celebrates whenever the Christian witness to new life is stamped out or marginalized or polluted by the weakness of spiritual cowards. Make no mistake, the world we inhabit is not patiently waiting for us to bring them the Gospel. The world that nailed Christ to a tree is the same world we now inhabit, still filled with the same darkened hearts that just want to be left alone to die. We cannot expect to make a spiritual truce with a world which thinks like that, and if we have made some kind of a separate peace with evil, we have disconnected ourselves from the peace Christ was willing to die to establish. There is no peace but His peace, and any agreement our society would have us make which prevents us from proclaiming that true peace in every conversation and activity is a death sentence even if it is offered with a smile rather than a scowl. 

The world rejoices at the death of Christ; it rejoices at the sorrow of His disciples, but that sorrow is transformed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and this resurrection glory is applied to the recreated hearts of the disciples through the coming of the Holy Spirit. A few verses earlier, Jesus states, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” (St. John 16:7-11). Sorrow is turned to joy when we become the children of God by being united with the new ruler of the world, and we are united to the new king of the cosmos by God the Holy Spirit. We are not united to God through sentimentality or wishful thinking or worldly comfort; no, we are united to God through the world saving work of the Trinity to whom we owe constant praise and worship.

To describe this whole process, Jesus uses the simple but powerful analogy of a woman giving birth: a woman experiencing the terrible danger and pain which serves as a living link back to the fall of man. Built into this example is the inescapable fact of the human condition: all life is sorrow. After all, even our happiest moments on earth come to us tinged in the darkness of our future destruction. Jesus saves this world by embracing suffering along with us and conquering it with the love that perseveres through pain and abandonment. Just as a mother perseveres in the midst of toil to bring a new life into the world, Christ suffers the worst the world can throw at Him, and rises from His empty tomb as the new humanity all this suffering was pointing us towards. His new manhood—a humanity no longer plagued by pain and death and sorrow—ushers in a new era of joy into the world because, through the Holy Spirit, we too can embrace the life of real goodness humanity was created to embody. We too can begin to live our lives of resurrection glory because sorrow has been given a new meaning—we can gaze upon our bloodied Savior, our suffering savior, and know that His story has become our own. 

It is that joy made incarnate in the risen Christ, which no man can take from us. It is that incarnate joy which will return to embrace all those who suffered for the love of God and let us join in the eradication of suffering and the enjoyment of a recreated world. Knowing this joyful future is our reality makes every command of Peter and Paul, James, and John perfectly fall into place. We can embrace our destiny in the pain and suffering of this world and never again worry about the judgment of our sinful neighbors. We can be happy warriors in the fight for truth, beauty, and goodness. As we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).  This joy our lord carried to the cross is not the saccharine fakeness pumped out by Hollywood and smiling T.V. preachers; no, this joy is born of the resurrection of Christ and the recreation of man; it is a joy no man can take from us because God earned it on the cross and the Holy Spirit has engraved it on our hearts.

Let us then run our race with joy, emboldened by the example of Christ and our fellow saints, and let us carry our joy to our homes and to our jobs and to our death beds.