Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
John 16:12-22 12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 16 “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” 17 So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” 18 So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” 19 Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? 20 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. 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. 22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.
What occurs once every minute, twice in every moment, yet never in a thousand years? The answer is the letter m.
Riddles can be fun, but they are also confounding. Let’s try another. Who makes it has no need of it. Who buys it does not use it. Who uses it can neither see it nor feel it. What is it?
Likewise, the disciples reacted with puzzlement to the words of Jesus in our Gospel reading today. “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” Now that’s a real riddle. The disciples puzzled over this one for a long time. For them this was hard to figure out. For us, looking back, it’s not much of a riddle, because we know that
In a little while the Lord will bring redemption, life and salvation into the world.
But even we might ask what he meant by a little while? How long is a little while? When will a little while come? When will it be over? And in fact, looking back we see several little whiles that Jesus was talking about.
Is a little while just a day, or perhaps three days? Jesus spoke these word on what we call Maundy Thursday. The very next morning he would be crucified, dead and buried. “A little while and you will see me no longer.” Just a day and he would be sealed up in a tomb out of sight, out of reach. They would gaze upon him in horror as he is beaten, lashed, ridiculed, mocked, hung on a cross, hands and feet punctured by nails, side pierced, and dead. Then they would see him no longer.
Jesus had told them earlier that his departure would be for their benefit, but now seeing this horrible spectacle they are completely unable to grasp that idea. Standing there seeing him dead, the one in whom they had put their hope, their faith, their trust was more than they could comprehend. The one who had done miracles, changed water into wine, healed lepers, opened the eyes of the blind, raised people from the dead, now himself was hanging dead on a cross seemed like an impossible thing. This one who was called teacher, leader and maybe even their ticket to fortune and fame now seemed so powerless, so weak, so defeated.
How could this be for their benefit? They don’t realize they so desperately need a redeemer. One who would redeem them from sin and reconcile them to God. One who would transform the anger of God into loving compassion. One who would release them from the power of sin and the clutches of death. And they mourned deeply.
But, again a little while turned out to be three days. On the third day it was Easter. During this time of his absence he would descend into hell and declare himself the victor over Satan, the redeemer from sin, the conqueror of death.
And then the disciples will see him again; standing in their midst as they hide behind locked doors out of fear. He was there to bring new life into their dead, despairing lives. He was there turning their sorrow into joy. He was there transforming their lives, giving them hope, transforming death into resurrection and eternal life.
In a little while, at his death and resurrection, Jesus will bring redemption, life, and salvation. Is that the little while Jesus means? Yes, but…
How about forty days more? On Easter Sunday they see him again. But what about forty days from now? They will gaze upon him and he will ascend back into heaven right before their eyes, and they will see him no more. Is that what he means by a little while? The Easter reunion with Jesus will last forty days, and Jesus would return to his Father. Again, the disciples will not see him.
Once again, Jesus says that his departure would be for their benefit. This time it would open the door for the Holy Spirit to come. The Holy Spirit whom he would send from the Father. The Holy Spirit who he gave back to the Father on the cross when it says, “He gave the His Spirit back and died.” That Holy Spirit who came on Pentecost to remind the disciples of all that Jesus had taught them. He would open their eyes and not until then would they understand all these things.
Is that the little while? When the Spirit comes and takes what Jesus receives of the Father and gives it to the disciples. A little while and the Spirit will make clear to the disciples the meaning of the Incarnation of the Son of God, the meaning of the things Jesus did and said, the meaning of the miracles, and the meaning of Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
In that little while, in fifty days the Holy Spirit would come upon the disciples and they would speak in the languages of all nations and proclaim the risen Jesus to all the world, to every language and tongue, to every nation and tribe. And the Holy Spirit would gather God’s people from all the earth through the word of the disciples, through you witnessing to those around you, through the preaching and teaching of those God sends, through Baptism making disciples of all nations. And the Spirit will bring them to remember Jesus’ promise to return in glory and to judge the living and the dead. He will remind them of the promise to raise the bodies of the dead and transform our bodies into glorious bodies.
And how little a while will that be? Two thousand years? Two thousand more years? Next week? Tomorrow? Jesus calls it a little while. A little while, as Jesus prepares a place for us when he will call us to go be with him. A little while, at his return Jesus will bring redemption, life and salvation, and in that little while he’s bringing it to the world by the disciple’s word. Is that the little while he means? Yes, but…
How about the little while of your lifetime and then a little while? Yes, that too. Life for us is really only a little while. That means we desperately need to see Jesus for the redemption, life, and salvation that only He brings. In a little while, for some of us may only be a few days. You were baptized into the death and resurrection of the Lord and forgiven of your sin. Each week that forgiveness is given you in the absolution and in Jesus’ scarred flesh and shed blood present in the Holy Meal. In a little while you shall not see me. But is he gone? During this little while, these few days we are in right now, he has not left us, for each Lord’s Day he is with us in the flesh. He is with us in the Sacrament, in his own resurrected body and blood. He is not gone, but he is with us, and with the eyes of faith we behold him in his Word and Sacrament. For each and every one of your sins you are forgiven. In a few minutes you will come to this altar and receive that forgiveness and all these gifts from his body laid out for you and his blood poured out for you on the cross.
You have not seen the Lord’s scarred hands, but we have seen them by faith. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.
In a while, maybe a very little while, death will take you as it has those who have gone before. You know the deep sorrow of mourning just as those who love you will know that sorrow. But the spirit of truth is at work in you and will keep you in baptismal faith until that day. Faith in Jesus’ glorious promise of things to come.
And on that day you will be placed in the ground. But only for a little while. For in a little while you will be raised and you will see Jesus with your very own eyes. “Yet in my flesh shall I see God, my eyes shall behold, and not another’s,” declares Job. Our body’s time in the tomb will be the twinkling of an eye, even as our soul is rejoicing with the Lord, and we will rise to see him forever and the resurrection of the dead. Yet, in a little while…
We began with a riddle. Here it is again: Who makes it, has no need of it. Who buys it, does not use it. Who uses it, can neither see it nor feel it. What is it? A coffin. The one who uses it will not need it long, for in a little while the Lord will come again, and for his redeemed, all the sorrow of death will be turned into the all-surpassing joy of resurrection to eternal life. Amen.