May 7, 2017 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
On this third Sunday after Easter, the church would sober us. Jesus is risen. Our sins are forgiven. The good work of the Spirit has begun in us.
But it is not yet complete. The enemy is defeated, but he still howls about us. Our flesh has been subdued but it still pulls at us. The world is drunk in its delusion. It thinks either that Jesus is dead or that He doesn’t care.
The Lord foretells this. He says you will weep and lament. He does not say that you might weep and lament, He says that you will. No one gets out of this life unscathed. No Christian is spared the cross. And Good Friday always precedes Easter.
In that weeping and lamenting, even in temptation and sorrow, we are comforted by the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. He died and was taken away from the sight of the disciples for a little while. Then He rose and they saw Him. Though they had failed Him, He was not angry. He had died for them. He returned as a Bridegroom to His chamber. He came in mercy and love for that which was most precious to Him. He bestowed His peace upon them and established the Office of the Keys.
To illustrate what we currently suffer, and what the disciples suffered that Holy Saturday, He compares us to women in the throes of labor. It will hurt. You will think that you can take no more. You might even curse your husband and wish to die. But the pangs of childbirth are the harbingers of joy. You will discover on the other side that it was all worth it, that your husband was faithful, that the child is worth every sacrifice.
Part of this is simply the promise that you will get better. But the passage of a child out of the womb also shows something of the Lord’s own passing through the dank womb of the earth and into the light of day.
He says to us two things.
First, He says: “Marvel not that I use pain for good. For I allow nothing to befall you that you cannot handle, nor do I ever leave your side, even though that can be unclear in the trial itself. Even a mother to become a mother, passes through pain and finds joy. This is the way of My Kingdom.” So He shows by this illustration that He has loosened the pangs of death and given it purpose. Death is the passage to life.
But He did not say simply that the mother’s pain would pass away. The second thing He says is that the mother does not even remember her pain so great is the joy which follows for a man has been born to her.
The mother does not rejoice simply because the pain is over – though that would be a cause of rejoicing. Rather, she forgets her pain. She does so because there is no room left in her for the memory. She is utterly filled with joy because a man has come into the world, a son has been born to her. The Lord has caused a new man to be born out of death, out of sorrow.
So here are the two things. First: sorrow is temporary, joy is eternal. Death, itself, is a translation to life. There is great profit in the pains of the saints. The Lord is working purposefully on you. But the Lord did not say that a baby had been delivered and therefore the mother remembers her anguish no more. He says a baby has been delivered and she remembers her anguish no more for joy that a Man had been born into the world. Our translation uses the word “human being” here and I don’t think that is right in this case. Most of the time the word “man” in Greek does means human being, male or female, just the way it used to in English. But here the word “man” stands parallel to baby. Her joy is over more than the fact that a baby has been born to her. That joy does little to alleviate the pain of the barren. If it were only babies born to parents that brought joy then what about the rest of us? The only reason it is good that a baby has been born is because Jesus Christ has been born, as Man, a human being, into the world, first out of the virgin womb of St. Mary and then out of the virgin tomb of Joseph, so that the wombs of our mothers and the mothers of our children and our graves would be sanctified, so that babies born into the world might be baptized into Him.
Here is the point: You have sorrow now. That is real. We pray for your relief. But we do not think that God’s goal is for you to have your best life possible now. We understand that God works through sorrows, that He keeps you close to Himself, that He afflicts you and chastens you according to His mercy. Through sorrow, pain, and temptation He is working virtue in you. He is teaching you to trust in Him. He is keeping you close to Himself. This is why confirmation was such a big deal in the early church. They understood that the confirmands were joining an army, that they were being set up against Satan and that they were taking up crosses.
That work, those crosses, will turn to joy. It will not be different joy. It is what you have already now for Jesus is risen. You are not alone. Your sins are forgiven. But you see Him now only dimly in the Sacrament. You receive His risen Body in bread and know it by faith. But you will see Him again and see Him fully. You will see Him in His risen, glorified Body with your own eyes, not hidden in bread but visible to all the world. Then your joy will be full and you will remember your anguish no more and no one will take your joy from you.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.