Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sermon for 4/21/13--Fourth Sunday of Easter



True and Lasting Joy

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The life of the Christian is one that knows both weeping and laughing, heartache and gladness, sorrow and joy. And often, all of these things come together at the same time. To put it simply and frankly, we are a mess. So often we do not know what to think, where to turn, what to do. The truth is, it is the cross and suffering that we experience most in this life. That fullness of true and lasting peace, contentment, and happiness is reserved for the life of the world to come, a life that has been assured to us by our Lord Jesus Christ. It will be an eternity of joy…but it is an eternity for which we must wait.

We are getting near to the point in the Church year where Jesus ascends. And yet the disciples are told that they will rejoice. Have we missed something? Or is it possible that our definition of joy does not mesh with Scripture’s definition of joy? We do not really understand true joy. We have substituted an emotional high for something so profound and so contrary to human nature that we cannot, on our own, begin to understand it. And that is the point: true joy is not comprehensible to human nature. It is something the world does not and never will understand. That’s what our blessed Lord taught His disciples, and would now also teach us.

Instead of telling us what we want to hear, our Lord tells us what is true and real. He says, “A little while, and you will not see Me; and, again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father.” Is this just double-talk from Jesus? What does He mean by “a little while?” To which “little while” should we pin our hopes? Do we fix our hearts and minds on the “little while” when we do not see our Lord, when life is fiercest? That is precisely where Satan wants us to focus our attention. He wants us to believe that our faith does us no good, that God’s Word and holy Sacraments do not help us at all. The devil wants us to believe that God is against us, that our lives can be no better. And so we rejoice in our full bellies. We rejoice in the victories of our favorite sports teams. We rejoice in the stories on our televisions, the styles we wear on our backs, and all sorts of other worldly things. And that not bad thing in and of itself. After all, these are blessings from God. But those things last only “a little while.” The food digests. Our favorite athletes retire and our teams lose. The stories end. The clothes go out of style. Our joy in the things of this world fades.

Only the gifts given by our heavenly Father through His Son give true, lasting joy. The disciples had the presence of their Lord, and they had great joy. He died, and they thought their joy was at an end. And then He rose again! He appeared to them in that locked room, and their joy was boundless! And although He ascended and He was not with Him in the way to which they had become accustomed, He promised to be with them always, and He promised to send the Holy Spirit to sustain them for that little while. He does the same for you. You are born into this little while, where the wages of sin rain down sorrows upon you. And then the Lord brings you to the waters of Holy Baptism, where He makes you a child of the heavenly Father and gives you the Holy Spirit to sustain you. He feeds you with His own body and blood, strengthening you in the faith as you await His return, as you endure this “little while.”

And what happens after that little while? Then comes the long while, the unending Day of the Lord. Sorrow and despair last a moment. And then comes the joy which knows no end and the peace which surpasses understanding and the blessing that far outweighs any blessing in this life, the time when the sufferings of this present life can in no way measure up to the glory that the Lord has fully stored up for you. Let the world have its rejoicing while you weep and lament; for that joy will only last a little while. In the midst of that "little while," rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus. Rejoice in His ascension. Rejoice in your Baptism. Rejoice in receiving the Sacrament of the Altar. Rejoice in the communion of saints and the forgiveness of sins. In His time, the Lord will grant you joy that will never fade away. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

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