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Fourth Sunday of Easter

[Read John 16:16-22]

Jesus, Your Sorrow & Your Joy

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, JOY, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness”, and so on [Galatians 5:22]. “You have put more JOY in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound” [Psalm 4:7]. “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of JOY[Psalm 16:11]. “Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding JOY [Psalm 43:4]. “In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy” [2 Corinthians 7:4].

And Christ our Lord said to His disciples in our Gospel today, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again, a little while, and you will see me…. Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy…. So also, 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 16:16-22].

Jesus has given us many gifts by His death and resurrection. One of those gifts is joy. We even sing in our Offertory, “Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation.” And, in fact, it is Jesus Christ himself who is both your SORROW and your JOY.

It is Easter still, brothers and sisters. We continue to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus, yet today, on this Fourth Sunday of Easter, we get a Gospel reading from before Jesus’ death and resurrection. Today, in John 16, we look back to something Jesus had said to His disciples about His resurrection and about their joy.

In the upper room, on the night when Jesus would be betrayed, Jesus warned the disciples ahead of time about the sorrow and joy they were soon to face. Their Lord Jesus was going to be taken away from them. He would die. For a “little while” they would see Him no longer. The world would rejoice that He was gone. But the disciples would be filled with sorrow that they saw His face no more.

However, they were not to despair. Jesus would rise. The disciples would see Him again – “again, a little while, and you will see me.” They would see Him again Easter day. Their hearts would rejoice. No one would be able to take that joy from them.

Jesus is gone – they have sorrow. Jesus is back – they have joy. They see Jesus face-to-face – they have joy. They no longer see Jesus face-to-face – they have sorrow. Jesus was their sorrow and their joy. To have Jesus was to have joy. To be distant from Jesus meant sorrow. They loved Jesus. They loved the Son of God.

How is it with you? What determines your sorrow and your joy? What is the key ingredient to each? What is THE factor which determines your joy or your sadness? Do you and I love the Son of God as these disciples so clearly did? Is the presence of Jesus my joy? Is the absence of Jesus my sorrow? Are our hearts attached to Him in this way? Or do you and I have many, many other things which determine the rolling of the waves of sorrow and joy in our hearts?

Do you and I love Jesus so that His presence or absence makes any difference at all? Or is it just the other stuff? What is your joy and your sorrow? Do you love Jesus the way these disciples did? Do we even think much anymore about the presence or absence of Jesus?

I have joy. When I see that my income outweighs my expenses and my accounts grow, I have joy. When the money is going the other way, I have sorrow – because that is what I love and trust. When I am in good health, I have joy, and I don’t know if I could ever have joy if I were ill – because this body is what I love and trust.

When my weeds are pulled, my flowers are in bloom, my lawn is trim, my deck is refinished, the sun is out, it’s exactly 75 degrees Fahrenheit, my feet are up, and there are brats sizzling on the grill, I have joy. And I don’t understand how a person could have joy without having these good things in their life. Would I even be able to like my life at all if I didn’t have this kind of life?

It is good to have all these things, if we thank God for them; don’t mistake what I’m saying. But perhaps you and I, in large part, brothers and sisters, have forgotten – we’ve lost sight of – what our true joy is. Or, we’ve forgotten what our true joy is supposed to be. We are Christians. Our true joy is supposed to be Jesus. His distance is supposed to be our big sorrow. His nearness is supposed to be our great happiness. He is supposed to be what we love.

So, let’s remember to draw near to Jesus in heart both at home and in God’s house. When we forget that Jesus is our true joy that we seek, we forget to draw near to Him in heart. Then even our worship becomes just a noisy gong in God’s ears, an obnoxious sound, a rattling can. Jesus accepts worship from those who love Him, whose joy it is to draw near to Him.

So, what is our joy? What is the joy of our salvation? What is our sorrow? You and I, brothers and sisters, live in our own “little while.” After Good Friday, the disciples had their “little while” before they saw Jesus again, resurrected on Easter morning. You and I – our life is a “little while” in which we do not see Jesus as we would like.

Our life is a “little while” in which we do not see Jesus face-to-face – we do not see Him walking before us as the disciples did back then and as we will someday. Jesus is with us always [Matthew 28:20], yet He is unseen, out or sight. For this little while, Jesus is always near and yet distant, with us and yet away from us, all at the same time. Our Risen Lord is with us always yet is ascended – and we wait for His return. He is our joy, and this distance, for a little while, is our sorrow.

Let’s learn to live again, brothers and sisters, as people whose big sorrow in life is this temporary distance from our Lord Jesus. Let’s learn to live again as people whose one great hope in life is the joy of seeing Him again – at the end of our life and at His return. And let’s live again as people whose most important sources of joy are those ways in which our Lord Jesus is present with us now – through His Word, through His Sacrament, through time in prayer.

When we remember that Jesus is our true sorrow and our true joy, all the other sorrows and joys in life lose their bite and lose their great allure. With Jesus as our sorrow and our joy, we can be thankful amidst both the best and the worst of life – in sickness and in health, when rich and when poor.

Most important of all, dear friends – more important than anything – is this: Jesus is now your joy only because He first made you His joy. You are the joy of Jesus. It was Jesus’ joy to die on the Cross for the guilty to forgive their sins. It was Jesus’ joy to rise to life on Easter to give sinners a new life. No matter who you are, you are the joy of Jesus; let Him now also be the joy of your life. Amen.

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