John 16:16-22

Immanuel, Alexandria, VA + May 7, 2017

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

It starts to fade after a few Sundays, doesn’t it? After the big celebration of Easter, life gets back to normal. And sometimes, normal isn’t great. What’s normal is disappointing, frustrating. Normal life isn’t like Easter, with trumpets and flowers and all the ladies in pretty dresses. After Easter, we still have our problems and our pains. After Easter, the Alleluias fade.

I was thinking about this on Friday morning in the dentist’s chair. The big needle was coming for my jaw. The inside of my mouth was getting numb from the topical anesthetic the endodontist had applied, but the sight of that needle is still a bit disconcerting.

“Little pinch,” she said, in a kind, motherly tone. “Little pinch.” It will hurt for a moment, but it won’t be bad, and it won’t last long. These are words of comfort.

That’s what Jesus was saying as He said to His disciples over and over and over again, “A little while.” You are going to have trouble, pain, sorrow, but I will take care of you, I know how you are feeling, and I will bring it to an end in a little while. These are words of comfort.

The words of Jesus work on two levels. First of all, Jesus is prepping His disciples for what’s to come. In a few hours, He will be arrested. In a little while, they will see Him no more. He will be falsely accused, horribly beaten, and executed. This horrible event is also the most wonderful event in our redemption, for the Father took all of your gossip and slander, all of your rebellion and discontentment, all of your love of money and slavery to your desires – all of it is loaded on the Lamb of God, who bears away the world-sin.

And in a little while, He will rise again, having trampled down death by His death. A little while, and He will be taken away for death, and a little while, and He will return. That’s the first “little while.”

And now we stand in the other “little while.” We know that our redemption is accomplished, we know that Jesus is risen from the dead, but we still feel the effects of sin in the world and pain in our lives.

A little child can see his meal being prepared, and yet he still complains. He can see his dad with the toolbox fixing his toy, and yet he will moan and lament as though what is anticipated will never arrive. And we are those little children.

We have heard the dentist say “little pinch,” but we see the needle coming and are still nervous. We have heard Jesus say, “a little while,” but we still are frustrated. And that’s okay, because we live in a fallen world. The pinch does hurt, the words and insults do hurt, the death of those we love does hurt.

So Jesus keeps on speaking His words of comfort to us. He knows our weakness and has compassion. He calls us children, and it’s not particularly a compliment, but He still loves us like we love children. “A little while, a little while, a little while,” He repeats again and again, as a mother to her baby boy, comforting and reassuring, “I am going to take care of you. What troubles you so much is coming to an end. Just a little while, just a little while.”

And then in today’s Epistle, we heard that your life in this “little while” now has meaning. What you do in the body matters. How you live changes things. So first, St. Peter calls us to struggle and fight. This struggle and fight is not against other people, but it is a war we fight with ourselves. “Abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Pet. 2:11).

In our world, “Follow your passion” is standard advice, and it’s really bad advice. Cal Newport’s book So Good They Can’t Ignore You details why “follow your passion” will not help your career, so it’s not even good secular advice. But from the Word of God, we learn that the passions, our desires, are deeply disordered. Our flesh urges us toward gluttony and adultery, murder and covetousness, pride and gossip. Our passions lead us to ruin. So the first thing that St. Peter tells us today is not to follow our passions, but to fight them.

And then he tells us, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God” (1 Pet. 2:16). Good Friday and Easter have given us freedom. The death and resurrection of Jesus means that the law can no longer accuse us, and death has no more hold on us. We are free! But it is so tempting to think, “If sins are paid for, then it doesn’t matter if I sin.” But Peter says that is an abuse of freedom. The purpose of our life now is to live “as servants of God.” Life is not about how much leisure you can get for yourself, how much money you can get. Your life’s purpose is to serve God, and you do that especially by serving your neighbor. You are not free from work, but are now free to work for the benefit of those who need you.

Even when that work is hard and long, and you feel all alone in your work, none of those frustrations can take away the joy of our Lord’s resurrection. We know how this ends. We know that on the other side of the cross is life, on the other side of the grave is resurrection. And it’s all coming in just a little while. The pinch is little, the time is short, and your Jesus is strong. “You now have sorrow,” your Jesus says to you; “but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.” It is coming soon, dear children. Just a little pinch. Just a little while.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!