Friday, March 25, 2016

Why have I been left all alone?

JOY SET IN STONE


*christopher* from San Francisco, USA
So, likewise, you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. John 16:22

THE Lord’s disciples were about to have the worst night of their lives!  They knew that this night was different from all others.  They did not know exactly what lay ahead, but they knew it would be very bad, because Jesus was going away.

But why would He leave them?  It’s a question we can all understand because we have all asked it.  Why did my husband have to die?  Why did my wife leave me?  Why did daddy go away?  Much sorrow and many tears have been shed over separation, but without minimizing any person’s own grief, we could safely say that the sorrow these men felt on this particular night was worse than any other, because the Lord of Life was about to be put to death.

Like the disciples we too have sorrow now.  Jesus, who knows better than anyone what men are made of, predicted it.  He knows how we love to devour one another, how deep our envy, jealousy and greed can run.  He knows, too, the bedlam that the devil orchestrates: the class conflict, the endless wars, the grinding poverty; and the crimes he instigates: such as the 29 year old man who, not too many blocks from where we sit this morning, murdered both of his grandparents, beating them both to death.  And He knows about the fear of death, and the fear of judgment that dwells in every human breast.

But sorrow for Christians does not end there.  The Lord warned that His followers would suffer special disdain because of Him.  Perhaps our four Confirmands should remember this before they formally confess their faith today, and make pledges which are bigger than they are.  If you profess your faith, dear Christians, and live by its dictates; if you recognize that there is only one Way to God, faith in the crucified and risen Christ, and that all others however reasonable or appealing lead only to perdition; if you turn your back on the world’s dismal version of morality as St. Peter cautions in today’s epistle; if you swim up stream as the world swims downstream to the never-ending sorrows of hell then, very simply, the world will make you sorry.

Since Adam first sinned humanity has had but one, singular ambition: to turn its sorrow into joy apart from Jesus.  We have tried everything from stern religion to reckless living; from tyranny to libertarianism to get the monkey off our backs, but nothing ever works.  Nor should we expect some as yet unknown technology to do what only Jesus can: instead we should believe His promise, “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”  What did the Lord mean when He said, “I will see you again?”

He was referring first to His resurrection.  He was now only hours away from dying the most unjust death in history, unjust because He was holy. We, on the other hand, because of our transgressions, deserve to die a thousand deaths, to perish spiritually, physically and eternally.  While our own death is well-warranted, the Lord’s was not, but it had to happen because it had a unique purpose, one planned in eternity for our blessing.  In the words of St. Paul, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief.”  Not only did Jesus die to eradicate our sins, He also rose again; not spiritually or symbolically, but in the flesh.  He was made alive by the power of the Spirit and fulfilled this promise to see His disciples again, thereby transforming their deepest sorrow into the greatest possible joy.

He was also referring to Pentecost. Though He was returning to the Father He did not leave us as orphans.  Instead He sent the Holy Spirit to be our counselor and comforter, and there is none better!  He sent the Spirit to teach us all things through the church and to bring to our remembrance all that Jesus said and did.  Most especially, by the Spirit’s power our eyes are opened to see that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus justifies us before God; that it cleanses us from all sin, and promises to us unspeakable Joy that will never perish, spoil or fade away.

Our Lord was also referring to the church, the word and the Sacraments, and here is where we see Jesus most clearly, here we are filled with the joy of salvation each Lord’s Day.  These four Confirmands, among other things, are pledging today to faithfully attend church, to hear God’s Word and receive the Sacraments every Lord’s Day, because apart from the Gospel, faithfully administered in and by the church, there can be no Christian faith, and no Christian Joy.  People often say: I don’t need to go to church.  I believe in God, and I say my prayers every day, but don’t be deceived by your own sweet thoughts.  Such sentiments have no power to turn the sorrows of sin into joy.

And the Lord has one more thing in mind when He says: I will see you again, namely His final return when He will “come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.”  At that time He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and turn our bleakest sorrow into inexpressible joy that
 will never be taken away.  It will be a joy independent of the chances and the changes of the world.  One that is untouchable by the activities and assaults of men.  The joy the world gives is at the mercy of the world.  The joy which Christ gives is independent of anything the world can do.  It does not depend on what the world gives and takes away, because it is dependent only on the presence of Christ, and it is grounded only in God.

Not only will it be permanent but also complete.  It is characteristic that in life’s greatest joy there is always some element of incompleteness.  There is always something to mar it, and in the back of our minds we know that it cannot last.  Not so the joy that Jesus promises because He is at the center of it, and with it there is no alloy, no tinge of imperfection.  It is pure, it is complete.

So if you have any sorrow today, if you have looked in vain to be rid of it, and searched high and low to obtain fresh joy, then hear the Word of the Lord, and believe His extraordinary promise,  “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”  Amen. 

Rev. Dean Kavouras

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