5th Sunday in Easter
5th Sunday Easter 5.22 “Sorrow and Joy” John 16:12-22
Is the Christian life joyful or sorrowful? Yes!, says Jesus in good, Lutheran fashion. You’ve got it! It is both joy and sorrow. More one than the other? Yes, again! Much joy and sorrow, very much more than you can even imagine or hope for. This is confusing me, Jesus; I don’t think I understand it. Yes, again! You certainly do not and cannot understand it. But you can believe it, and believing, have life in His Name…
Last week, we talked about faith, how faith is simply voice recognition, hearing and realizing at the deepest level that the Voice of Jesus is the Voice of God Himself, our Maker, Redeemer, and Sustainer. A Voice we would follow literally to the ends of the earth, a game of hide and go seek we’d play even if the merry chase leads us down into death and hell. Wherever we find Him is Heaven for us…
This joy (and sorrow) Jesus promises us is the direct result of faith, the voice recognition we spoke of last week. But, before we say more about the joy and sorrow Jesus promises us, the first verses of our Gospel tell us exactly how the voice recognition of faith happens to us:
In the Garden of Gethsemane, in the early morning predawn hours of Good Friday, Jesus is speaking with His disciples just before He is betrayed, tried, whipped, condemned and crucified. His Last Words before His death. He’s just told the 11 (Judas has cut out already to bring the soldiers to arrest him) that He’s going away for a while and yet none of them asks “Where are You going?” but their hearts are filled with sorrow at the news.
But it’s to our advantage, Jesus says, that He’s going away, because if He does not depart, the Helper will not come, but Jesus will send Him, the Spirit of truth who will guide us into all truth; for He will not speak on His own, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell us things to come. He will glorify Jesus, for He will take of what is His and declare it to us.
The Third Person of the Holy Trinity has been a fleeting sunbeam of a presence throughout the Old Testament, like catching lightning in a bottle, very difficult. He lights up our eyes for an instant, fills us with joy at what He shows us of Christ, and then: He’s gone before we know what hit us! This is why very little has been said of Him until this point.
But, when Jesus goes away, the Spirit comes into His own. But He does not speak on His own, nor of Himself, but His joy and glory is to point to Jesus, to declare to us the glad tidings of the Gospel of forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus’ Name.
The promise here is to the 11 Apostles (and Matthias and Paul and the holy evangelists Luke and Mark who fill out their ranks). They will receive the Holy Spirit directly, without measure, to faithfully pass on the Word He speaks in their ears. This living voice of the Gospel they wrote down in the canonical Scriptures of the New Testament. This is the once-for-all revelation of Jesus Christ that fulfills the Old Testament promises. There is no more, there is no other.
Those who are Christ’s sheep (as we said last week) unfailingly recognize His Voice by His Spirit—if you just listen and don’t overthink it. Just let art flow over you. This is the trick.
But, seriously pastor, how do we know the books of the Holy Scripture? What are the dogmatic and theological and historical and scientific rules? Well, there are none. The infant at the font (who couldn’t apply any such rules even if they existed) recognizes the Voice of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit the same way she recognizes her mother’s voice. She’s been hearing it since conception and she latches onto momma from birth as the one who gives her life and love and cares for her.
It’s the same with recognizing Jesus’ Voice in the Spirit’s speaking. Like a newborn infant, we know momma’s voice and we will cling to her, everywhere. We cannot be fooled because we are His children. We know our momma and our papa, and the Spirit they share. On our own, we can be fooled and tricked. The Holy Spirit is the Paraclete, the Helper, the Counselor, the Comforter because He guides us into truly recognize the Voice of God (which is His own Voice as God Himself!). He speaks of Jesus, of love and grace, sin and forgiveness, joy and sorrow, death and life, heaven and hell. He speaks of the food that sustains us, the Body and Blood of Jesus, the Feast that has no end to its joys. He speaks of a bare wooden cross, standing just outside Jerusalem’s old walls in an abandoned limestone quarry, of an empty tomb about 30 paces away, of a death that is the death of death itself, of a resurrection to life eternal that is ours, for Christ’s sake! 😉
I think God gives us all a little test to see how well we’re listening. There were 15 or 16 books the Jews batted around between the Testaments. We call them the Apocrypha: Maccabees, Tobit, Bel and the Dragon, etc. Rome and others call them Scripture, but Eusebius, a bishop who was at the Nicene council, surveyed the couple hundred other bishops—reporting that those were not received as canonical scriptures by all. And if you read them, you can detect a different voice, a different message other than life in Christ’s Name by grace through faith alone…
And God did the same, I think, with the New Testament. There are 20 books Eusebius says and Luther agreed, that are universally recognized as the Voice of Christ: the 4 Gospels, Acts, Paul’s 13 Epistles, 1 Peter, and 1 John. And there are 7 that were spoken against as apocryphal just like the OT Apocrypha that only Rome canonizes. James, Revelation, Hebrews, 2 Peter, 2 and 3rd John, and Jude.
I read this books every year in my daily lectionary (because they’re there) and I marvel that anyone cannot tell the different voice that sounds in them. They harp on the law and good works, on bizarre visions, and generally say very little about Jesus. The Nicene era Christians were not fooled, nor the evangelical catholics of the 16th century. But many are fooled today because I think they really don’t read or study any of the Scriptures, much…
But those of us that do know that the Scriptures speak of joy and sorrow on the Way in equal measure. Jesus was crucified, rose from the dead, and 40 days later ascended into heaven. The world rejoices that He’s gone. But we have sorrow. We long to see Him face to face, to have our bones unstrung by His cross and spit out reborn, completely remade in Jesus’ likeness and image.
And we are often mocked and derided for such love and hope and longing. The world finds it a childish fairy tale unsuited for grown-ups. But, in our sorrows and sufferings for the sake of Jesus and His love, there is joy in equal measure, the flip side of the sorrow coin. Absence does make the heart grow fonder, makes love more deep and bold.
To be treated and scorned like Jesus is to be recognized as being one with Him. No greater joy than that! So even in the midst of sorrow, suffering, scorn, our yearning for Jesus grows strong; turns a dark, empty tomb into the Gate of Heaven.
The door cracks open, now. At His Table, the Feast transports you and brings Jesus to you now. Caught up in Him, by Word and Spirit, the joy that has no end begins. For Christ is Risen…