Jubilate (4th Sunday of Easter)+ St. Peter Lutheran Church, Joliet + St. John 16:16-21 + May 11, 2014 (Mothers’ Day)+ “Your Sorrow Becomes Joy”
The disciples didn’t know what Jesus was talking about. “What is this that He’s telling us—‘A little while and you will not behold me, and again a little while and you will see me,” and “because I am going to the Father’? What is this ‘little while’ He keeps talking about? We don’t know what He is saying.”
Jesus had already told them what He was talking about. But they didn’t understand because they hadn’t experienced it yet and they didn’t yet have the Holy Spirit.
In the same way Jesus has already told us what we are going to experience in His Church after His ascension, but we don’t understand apart from the Holy Spirit granting us faith through His Word. Apart from the Spirit, relying on our own experience and reasoning, everything is dark.
What He has told us is that in this world we will experience distress and sorrow, but that our sorrow becomes joy.
And to make this easier for the disciples and us to understand our Lord uses a picture that is very fitting for Mothers’ Day.
A woman when she is giving birth has distress, because her hour has come, but when the child is born she no longer remembers the sorrow because of joy that a human being has been born into the world.
Not that there is no distress and sorrow for mothers after childbirth. Being a mother is full of distresses and sorrows. It’s not only the near-death experience of giving birth. Then it’s waking up in the middle of the night to feed and change diapers and years of caring for a little life that needs constant attention. Then they become teenagers and need attention for other reasons but don’t want it. And these days moms also often have to do most of the work of providing for her child, because Dad isn’t around.
It’s a lot of work that is demanding but not highly regarded, despite all the money that we spend on Mothers’ day. How many people with a smart and talented daughter would be happy to hear her say, “I want to be a mother when I grow up”—if she didn’t also say—“and a doctor, or a CEO, or president…”
But Jesus said, “What is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15) We are impressed when men build cities and name them after themselves, when they build companies or nations, when they make themselves wealthy and famous, when they create art and literature. But God calls it an abomination when one works to make a name for himself and instead of working and living for the honor of God’s name. it’s what the people of the world did after the flood—they tried to build a tower to the heavens and make for themselves a name.
It is supposed to be progress now when women have the freedom to pursue this same kind of idolatry that goes by the name “career”.
Work doesn’t exist to make ourselves a name or make ourselves rich. It is a calling from God, a gift, through which He wants to work through us to give life to others.
That’s why motherhood is highly esteemed by God and despised by the world. Mothers who do what they are called to do trusting in Christ to work through them, who do what they are called to do in obedience to His Word—they are pleasing to God. They do great works and get no praise from men. Changing diapers and spending your attention and energy on little children isn’t building the Eiffel tower. It’s more important. Mothers bear life into the world for God and then nurture that life.
Those kinds of works, done in faith in Christ, are not regarded as great by the world. But God has regard for them. He looks on works that are done not for the praise of men but out of faith in His Son, works that actually help our neighbor—help to give and sustain his life. Things like towers and music and athletic ability can bless people, but mothers do the work that makes it possible to enjoy these other things. They face death to bring a child into the world and they give up their youth and freedom to care for it.
But you don’t hear mothers, usually, describing being a mother with the words “distress” and “anguish.” That’s because the sorrows of motherhood God turns into joy, as He does with the sorrows of all callings He has ordained.
The agony of giving birth and the difficulties of raising a child don’t remain agony and difficulty and distress. They become joy.
The excruciating pain of labor becomes the joy of the mom holding her newborn, and the joy these two experience is greater than most joys ever experienced on earth. Dads can only stand and watch it with amazement and gladness for them.
The hassles of raising kids becomes the joy and pride of seeing them go out into the world as adults to walk with God the way to life. And even when they stray there is joy for a Christian mother, because she can turn to her Father in heaven for comfort and with confidence that He will care for her child just as He cared for her. Jesus says that the experience of His disciples will be like the experience of a mother in labor. They will have anguish, but the anguish itself becomes joy. The sorrows of Christians don’t go away and then joy comes. No, the sorrows and pains themselves become joy. Believing this, Christians begin to rejoice in the sufferings themselves.
The Scriptures say this in many places. Paul says in 2 Cor. 4: So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond comparison…” (2 Cor. 4:16-17)
And Hebrews 12 says: For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Heb. 12:11)
When the disciples didn’t see Jesus for a little while, all they could do was lock themselves in a house and weep. He was shut up in the tomb; they were shut up in the house. It was unthinkable. They had seen Jesus calm the sea with a word, seen Him cure lepers and paralyzed people and raise the dead with a word. Then He had died in apparent weakness on the cross. Given up His Spirit. Blood and water poured from a spear thrust to His heart. He was dead.
Anguish seized the disciples. How could this have happened? They must have been abandoned by God. And for a person abandoned by God there is nowhere to run.
That very anguish of Jesus’ death and burial did not go away. It was transformed into joy, like the water at Cana didn’t go away but became wine.
So the disciples’ anguish turned into exceedingly great joy when Jesus appeared to them. But He really appeared to them before He came into the room and showed them His hands and side. He appeared to them when the women came and first proclaimed to them the message of the angel: “He is risen!”
That’s also how He appears to us.
He appears to us in the Scriptures, risen from the dead. HE appears to us in the preaching of His resurrection. And in those Scriptures and in that preaching the Holy Spirit is given to us so that we see Him and share the apostles’ joy.
After seeing Jesus risen, do you think the apostles were ever unhappy or scared or in anguish again? You might think they never were. But you would be wrong.
Paul says: We [apostles] are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair…always carrying in the body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our mortal flesh. 2 Cor. 4:8, 10-11
The apostles still had pain, confusion, great suffering even after seeing Jesus raised. In the same way mothers have plenty of distresses after the great distress of childbirth is over. There may be some distresses that equal the pain of childbirth later. But mothers almost never refer to motherhood as “anguish”. Why? Because just as the anguish of labor became joy, so the pains that come after childbirth become joy.
The biggest anguish for us in the Church is over. Christ Jesus suffered, was forsaken by God, died and was raised from the dead.
The pain He suffered became the joy that He has now in justifying us while we are yet sinners.
Because He was laid in the grave not for His own sins but ours. He bore the wrath of God not against His sins, but ours.
Out of the anguish of His soul came the joy for Him of our reconciliation with God. Now nothing stands between us and God, not even for the chief of sinners. His suffering became the joy of clothing us with righteousness in Holy Baptism, of feeding us the righteousness of God in His body and blood given and shed for us.
And out of the anguish of the apostles’ souls came the joy of their message. The three days He was gone from us, they say, meant the reconciliation of the world to God. He atoned for our sins and rose and showed the new life that is ours, which will be ours in fullness when we are raised from the dead.
And it is the same with your sorrows and pains. You see Jesus. Your pain does not disappear.
It becomes joy, just as these bodies of sin and death in which we live will be raised up and transformed into the likeness of His glorious body.
You see Jesus forsaken by God for you and raised from the dead in the Gospel. He comes and preaches it to you. For you I was forsaken by God and for you I am raised, He says, and for you I reign at the right hand of God. For you I will return on the last day.
The anguish we feel over our sins becomes joy, because it is that pain which He uses to keep drawing us to see Him and hear His voice.
He does not change the face He shows us or change His message. He says, “I forgive you all your sins.” Though they be as dark as death and as deep as hell, I endured the darkness for you and I have come from the depths and pronounce your sins forgiven.”
No one can take this joy away from us, because Jesus is present in His church to the end of the world. Whenever His word is read or spoken; whenever someone is baptized in the name of the Trinity, and whenever His body and blood is distributed as He instituted, Jesus is with us. He is the very one in whom all our sins and agonies were transformed into righteousness and joy. Look at Jesus’ head crowned with thorns. Look at His hands pierced, crying, “My God, why have you forsaken Me?”
That is our sin and agony. And it has become righteousness and joy. The same Lord is risen and proclaims the forgiveness of our sins. He bursts their chains—their legacy of guilt, sadness, and death. In place He declares you righteous, free, alive. And with this true liberating word comes joy—even though it may only be a kernel just starting to grow.
Indeed, all our sorrows will become joy. We too are given over to death for Jesus’ sake so that His life may be revealed in these jars of clay.
Joy lightens our face when we look at Jesus—that is to say, when we listen to His Word. When we see Jesus we are seeing the one on whom our guilt and our despair were placed. And He descended into the depths of God’s wrath with that real and heavy weight. But He has risen and proclaims our guilt finished and our pain turned into joy.
The pain of childbirth becomes joy—great joy.
Are you experiencing some great anxiety or pain? Over yourself? Someone you love?
Do things look like they are closing in on you? It’s all too obvious that we feel that way in the church. And many of you have felt that burden for many years.
Jesus promises that just as labor pains become the joy of a child, our labor pains, your labor pains, will not be stillborn. They will become joy, and no one will take your joy from you.
Indeed, Jesus has already turned them into joy. He has borne them and the eternal wrath of God and risen again with the keys of death with which He sets you free.
And today He invites you to sit down and receive the testament that your sorrow has been changed into joy—the sacrament of His body and blood, which pledge that His agony has ransomed us and purchased us for everlasting joy.
The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.