Readings: Isaiah 40:25–31 | 1 Peter 2:11–20 | John 16:16-22
Text: John 16:16-22
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
There is a caricature of Christianity that says because Christ is risen, we should always be happy, always be looking up, and seeing the bright side of everything. It’s backed up by dreadful platitudes like, “God has a plan.” And “He never gives you more than you can handle.” This is a deadly lie, because it is dishonest both to our Lord and His suffering, and because it is woefully out of touch with reality.
Yes, Jesus has won salvation for us and forgives our sins, but He has not yet moved us to paradise. St. Paul teaches us to rejoice always, but also to endure suffering. We know that Jesus lives. But the cross we bear is unavoidably real.
This is the lesson our forefathers in the faith have taught us. Adam and Eve had sorrows even after they were spared death and nakedness by God’s intervention and promise; they had to bury their son, Abel. King David had sorrows and horrible consequences for his sins, even after he received the absolution from the prophet, Nathan. His first son by Bathsheba still dies. Even after the events of Easter, the personal appearances of Jesus, the sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the apostles still had many sorrows. Despite that comment Jesus made to Peter, ““If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” John had to carry on the apostolic ministry after all the others had died.
We have sorrows even after Baptism—and the more we bear the Name of Christ and strive to live by His Word, the more we will be attacked and hated by this world’s prince. Jesus predicted this He said: “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.” He told us this ahead of time, so it would not be a shock.
The salvation which our Lord Jesus won for us is real. We are not saying a platitude to affirm that Christ is risen. I know that my Redeemer lives, what comfort that sweet sentence gives. This truth gives us joy now. It changes us and puts all the world into perspective. It’s far from being the once-and-done solution we wish it would be, but it’s what St. Paul describes to us in Romans 5:
“Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but 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. 5:1-5)
But this salvation is not fully realized before the Christ’s return. Until that Day, we have sorrows and our faith waits for the fullness to come.
These sorrows come upon us simply from living in this broken and unjust world. Misfortune and tragedy happen to us and to our loved ones. We are often victims of injustice at the hands of the powerful and sometimes even at the hands of our friends and families. We cry out to God and ask why this happens, but He does not give us that answer. Rather, we all go the way of the cross—“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) The disciple is not above his teacher [Matt. 10:24-25]. Yet, unlike our Teacher, we are not completely innocent. We complicate these sorrows by our sinful choices and our reactions to what God allows or sends. The old man in us is not yet fully crushed. We act in anger, pride, short-sightedness, and selfishness that is not from our heavenly Father, but is as James says, “is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” (James 1:15) None of us is a completely innocent victim.
Our Lord compares all of this to a woman in labor.
21 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.
His primary point is that our suffering is temporary. The reward of eternal life with Him which follows our suffering will be so great and joyous that we will forget, in a sense, the suffering which we endured. St. Paul makes the same point when he says “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18) He goes on there to explain how the creation is subject to futility, groaning the day when Christ returns.
There is also a hint in our Lord’s illustration of childbirth that our suffering is a consequence of our sins. It is a holy chastisement from our Father. The pain and danger of labor is the explicit a punishment and consequence for Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the garden:
“And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.” To the woman He said: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children” (Genesis 3:15-16)
The pain and danger of childbirth are a curse upon us. Yet human birth under the Law is the means by which God became a Man for us and saved us—“Yet she will be saved through childbearing,” the Apostle says to all of Eve’s daughters (1 Tim. 2:15). Our Lord Jesus Christ is that Seed of Eve, born of Mary under the Law, with sorrow and pain. His heel was bruised by Satan on the cross until all of the Father’s wrath was appeased and every last accusation of Satan against us disappeared from his mouth and death itself lost its sting.
Only when all of the Law had been completed, did our Lord say, “It is finished” (John 19:30) and so it was. There was no more ransom left to pay, no more that needed to be done to Satan to pry us loose from the strong man’s house. Jesus then submitted to death in obedience to His Father. His Body and His Soul were rent apart. Then, on the third day, He rose again. Even what men in this evil and unjust world had done, God worked for good. The curse of the Law in labor led to the Gospel of peace in resurrection.
Mary, the blessed Virgin and mother of our Lord, is the prime example to us of faith. The angel Gabriel foretells her honor by God, an honor that will bring pain and shame among men. “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” In response she says, “Let it be to me according to your Word.” (Luke 1:27-38). She accepts the honor and willingly bears the burden. She is the most blessed of women, and even still, as Simeon said after the Nunc Dimittis, “a sword will pierce through your own soul also.” (Luke 2:35) Mary must watch her innocent Son be brutalized and slandered and killed in the most horrific way imaginable. She has sorrow. Then she sees Him again. He rises. But again, His visible presence is removed from her and He ascends to the Father. Until she is transferred to glory, Mary gets her Son no differently than we do. She has Him by His promise in His Word and in the breaking of the bread. Until God delivers her from every evil of body and soul, she must wait, she must live in this evil place, in the midst of sorrow, by faith, learning to rejoice in all things.
And so it goes for us as well. We are truly children of God, born from above in the Baptismal waters, and forgiven of all our sins. In this, and all of God’s promises, we rejoice always. Yet we also have sorrows now. Our sins deserve punishment, and our flesh will fight against the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. In all this, Christ’s grace is sufficient. We endure all this in faith, hopeful and expectant. We look to His Word for comfort and we look for His return in glory when we will be complete, when our hearts will rejoice and our joy no one will take from us.
Because of this, Christians have a much better reason to celebrate Mother’s Day. It’s far more than a celebration of human achievement. After all, we know the frailty of that—the broken ties, wombs that cannot bear, and children who have been taken by death. No, far greater than a celebration of motherhood under the Law and death, we rejoice in the fruit of Mary’s womb. For by Him, all of you have the gift of eternal life. You have the joy which no one can take from you. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.