In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Something deep within our fallen pessimism tells us that when Our Lord says we will see Him in a “little while’ that it is akin to the doctor saying “this will only hurt a little bit.’ We are the people who made Ray Croc rich; who live on credit, buying now and paying later, paying for the rest of our lives; who flip the channels during commercials or even during the program; who groan in complaint if the hymn has more than four stanzas. Patience is not one of our more obvious traits. We are not given to waiting.
I suspect that there has never been a more agonized waiting in the history of men than that restless Sabbath when Our Lord’s Body laid in the tomb. That was the first little while. It must have felt like an eternity for the disciples behind those doors shut in fear, uncertain as they were in their doubts with their ears plugged by false grief. Their sin had made them deaf and they were confused. But Our Lord is patient. He came to them on the third day just as He had promised – despite their faithlessness, despite their fear, despite their doubts and worries, betrayals and hiding. He came to them and they saw Him again – just as He had said. They saw Him for a little while, for forty days. Then He ascended to the Father and they waited again. They waited 10 more days, another little while, and then they saw Him again in the flames of Pentecost. And ever since the Church has endured little whiles.
When have you shut the door in fear, plugged your ears with false grief, and wallowed in your doubt? When a loved one died, perhaps? Or when you suffered some unforeseen tragedy, injustice, or betrayal. It is not usually right away. We usually handle the immediate onslaught fairly well. Our faith is trained. Our prayers arise spontaneously. We are strong and hopeful. God’s Word comforts us. And that is good. But when the “while’ of the “little while’ settles in, when we realize that we have to live with this, with these consequences, with these limitations, with this broken trust, with this past and this sad future, we grow scared. It seems too much, too unbearable, too long. We want things the way they were and know they cannot be. We quickly grow tire of the wait. Ask the widows. Ask those in prison. Ask the parents who sit in hospitals. This world is broken and dying. It is not right. It hurts. And waiting is always riddled through with pain. The widows know, and so do you.
But still the promise of God endures: “Lo, I am with you always, even during the while. You will see Me again. I am coming back. I will keep My Word.’ The flames of Pentecost still burn. They burn where God has placed Himself in mercy: in the preaching and the reading of His Word, in your prayers, and in the giving of His Body and His Blood. He did not abandon the disciples on Holy Saturday. He was faithful. He kept His promise. He has not abandoned you. He has not forgotten you. You will see Him this very day even as Simeon beheld Him in the Temple. And after seeing your salvation, God made Man in the Flesh for you, hidden in the bread, you will sing: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.’ You will be ready to depart from this cruel world and go to your reward for you will have been served by angels and by God.
Having been justified by faith, you have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. You have peace! Through Jesus Christ you have access by faith into this grace in which you stand. You rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that – not only that!- but you also glory in tribulations. You glory in them because you know that tribulation produces patience; and patience, character; and character, hope. Hope does not disappoint. Hope does not disappoint! Because the love of God has been poured out into your heart by the Holy Spirit who was given to you in the gracious waters of Baptism. You are baptized. God loves you. For when you were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. He died for you, for your hope, for your character, for your patience. And He is coming back. So wait on the Lord. Be of good courage. He shall strengthen your heart. You shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Patience may not be your most obvious trait. But it is yours. It is a gift from God, a fruit of the Spirit that abides in you. Though it may chafe, though you may shed tears, yet you endure, and with wisdom born from above you have come to this day to see Jesus, to receive His grace in His Word and Sacraments, to be strengthened and encouraged until such time as you are relieved of these burdens, the tears all wiped away, and the good work begun in you is complete. Wait on the Lord. You will not be disappointed. In a little while, you will see Him.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Rev’d David H. Petersen
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana