8 May 2022
The Gospel. St. John xvi. 16.
Jesus said to his disciples, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father. Then said some of his disciples among themselves, What is this that he saith unto us, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me: and, Because I go to the Father? They said therefore, What is this that he saith, A little while? we cannot tell what he saith. Now Jesus knew that they were desirous to ask him, and said unto them, Do ye enquire among yourselves of that I said, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me? Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. 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.
“…but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.”
With the apostles, let us sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to what He tells us. We all know how difficult it is to be separated from loved ones. Do you remember how hard it was to be separated from your Mother to go off to school for the first time? Some Mothers would wait around outside the school in case their children couldn’t quite handle the trauma. I remember a pair of twins in my first grade class who was overwhelmed by having to separate as the school had the policy of dividing twins up. How difficult it was for me to go off to visit my grandparents over the summer despite the wonderful adventure of riding on one of magnificent trains of the Pennsylvania Railroad.
It’s even worse if you know the separation will be a long one. Parting from parents once you are in college or in the workforce, you know is likely to be the beginning of a long separation until you can get time away. If you have a family of your own, then it’s even harder to fit a visit into your schedule. When the parents get older, you can’t help but wonder, will they be well or even alive for the next visit? You stay in touch by phone or e-mail or letter, but it isn’t the same.
If the separation seems permanent, it is a very dark time indeed. Sickness, tragedy, and death come into every life, but it isn’t something we are eager to see for ourselves, our loved ones, or our children.
In our Gospel today, Jesus was trying to warn his apostles of the separation to come. They were used to His speaking in parables; they certainly didn’t know what to do with this business of “in a little while ye shall not see me.” And, “in a little while ye shall see me.” Whatever could it mean? In a way it’s as though a loved one were trying to prepare you for their sickness and death—that the doctors had told them what was to come and they, knowing how much you loved them, wanted you to be prepared. It was important to Jesus to assure his followers that, when the terrible events around his execution and death would come, they would know it was a part of the plan. And so it is with separation and death in our lives today. It is a part of the plan no matter how unexpected or tragic the situation seems to us.
Jesus had tried to show His closest apostles this at the Transfiguration too. He had showed them some of His glory then and demonstrated how He is linked to Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets. In the version of the Transfiguration in St. Matthew, Jesus tells Peter, James, and John that He will suffer at the hands of the same men who put the returning Elijah John the Baptist to death. The Transfiguration occurred to assure the apostles of Jesus Christ’s great power and certain victory over evil and death. Jesus words in the Gospel today were trying to bring them comfort in anticipation of his Crucifixion and death.
But that death was not the end. Jesus says, “Because I go to the Father and you see me no more.” Christ is victorious in His death. Righteousness is victorious. The Son is with the Father in heaven. At the darkest hour of creation, on Calvary, light has broken in on the world. God’s light has found unnumbered souls waiting in the darkness. The barrier of death has been broken down too so that those in Hades have been freed along with our conquering Lord. Satan may have thought he had a great victory with Christ crushed and broken on the Cross, but not so! When the veil of the Temple was torn apart and the dead saints were seen to once again walk among the living, then all the powers of evil new their remaining time was short. Those who condemned Jesus are themselves condemned. Every insult heaped on Him only enhances His majesty. “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 to joy.”
And so it is that on Easter Day, they rejoiced indeed at their and our risen Lord as we do this Eastertide. After a period of sadness, their Master has returned—impossibly—from the dead. The sad and tragic parting was remembered, as the Mother remembers the birthing of her children, but the pain and suffering have transformed into an ecstatic joy at the miracle of life—like the miracle every Mother including His Mother understands so well.
“I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.” After Jesus Ascension, he sits on the right hand of God the Father, as we know from the Creed. And He will come again to judge the living and the dead. And so we too lie in an in-between time like His apostles. Their astonishment at Easter will be like ours when the Christ comes again into our lives whether we have passed beyond the vale or not. We are one with those who have gone before us. The Church is of one fabric. Those of us continuing in life must expect the sorrows of this world but ever with the expectation of the great joy of being in our Lord’s presence. And deep in our souls we share a joy no man can take from us. We know the truth—that the Lord Jesus Christ has died for our sins and for the sins of the whole world and that He has conquered death for us and reconciled us with our Father in heaven. There can be no greater joy, a joy we share with each other and all who come in contact with us on our life-journeys. He has gone ahead to prepare a place for us in the mansions of His Father.
Bishop Edwin Tompkins