“Jesus points His disciples forward to that death as a birth of new life” Jubilate 2022

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08. May 2022


John 16:16-23

In Name of the + Jesus. Amen.

Memento mori. Think about death. Learn how to die. This was a powerful theme in late medieval piety and has been rediscovered today by fanatics of stoicism. But today’s Gospel asks us to think about life. Learn how you are born. Your death you can do by yourself, unlike birth. Another person gives birth to you without your asking and your doing. You are born. You are given life from another life. Your first breath is the pain of separation. Living in that way leads to the final separation of death, denial of the life we are made for, and isolation and disconnection.

Today’s Gospel tells of our connection to life and how each step is organically related. What happens to Jesus is not one odd thing after another happening by chance, but each event is pregnant with the next. With Jesus, Calvary comes to birth in the resurrection, comes to birth in the sending of the Spirit, and comes to birth in the new life when death shall be no more. 

Nor is the life of Jesus a floating disconnected sequence, outside of and transcending time. He is born of the womb of Israel long pregnant with the promise, born of the womb of Mary by the quickening of the Holy Spirit, sharing humanity with us all, but purposefully as His genealogies proclaim. He is Son of promise, son of Abraham, son of Adam, the man sprouted from Israel’s blasted stump, Rose of Sharon, the fruit of a maiden’s womb, little Mary’s son, the flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone, blood brother Immanuel. 

“He said to them, “Are you inquiring among yourselves about what I said, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’? 20 Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy.”

The disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was telling them. Jesus speaks of His departure, His going away, His death, His going to the Father. They would not see Him. Then they would see Him. That makes no sense! If we will see Him, how can He be going away? If Jesus is going away, how shall we see Him? It must be one or the other, but not both. There is no third possibility. 

But there is a third possibility that the disciples themselves recognize. But it makes no sense because they see only separated pieces. They have disconnected “because I go to the Father,” and disconnected it does not work, like a heart dissected out of a cadaver. The disciples were imprisoned in their logic because they separated what belonged together. They disconnected into pieces what is living organic whole, which only spells death. 

There are three clauses, “‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’; and, ‘because I go to the Father’?” Jesus is what life is about—being born, new life, crying, breathing, moving, growing, changing, each step pregnant with the next. But the order of operations doesn’t make sense. The signs between are not a mathematical plus, minus, separation, or exclusion, but an arrow. One thing leads to another, and everything depends on the final clause, “Because I am going to the Father.” 

The disciples were so captive to their deadly dissection of all three phrases that they could not even ask Jesus what He meant. Jesus did this for them too. His answer did not dodge any of the evidence. Indeed, Jesus makes it heavier and more profound. He says that You will “weep and lament” (John 16:20). The disciples could come to terms with that. Good Friday’s howling, devastating grief. Total grief, not just the grief of the death of a man they loved. They could think their way through that—Jesus ending as anyone ends. Even a tragic death is something you can prepare for. Memento Mori. 

But Calvary’s grief was far more than that. The numbed disciples on the way to Emmaus murmured, “But we trusted that it had been He which should have redeemed Israel” (Luke 24:21). They had thought that God kept His promises. But their hopes were all shattered. Jesus had drawn them to stake their lives on Him, and now He was dead. They recited each step of the journey, and what did it add up to? Nothing. The disciples had not imagined facing that nothing. 

Jesus points them forward to that death that is the final contradiction of God and us. Jesus goes under; they go under. His is not a disconnected death. It is part of our death. Our death is then connected with His death. We are in it together. “I am crucified with Christ.” This death is necessary for there to be life. That the birth of new life should be at such a cost the Bible points to as a sign of our sin. “We were buried therefore through baptism into death.” What we are in on together, Jesus says, is a birth—birth when life is at stake.

How many women in the labor childbirth have cried, “Never again!” “But as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” (John 16:21). The wonder of this new life that grew in her, implanted by the husband that is one flesh with her, their one flesh realized in the creation of this new life, the flesh of flesh and bone of bone as they before of their parents and their parents, ultimately from God, who first created life and shares with us the joy and care of creating life and nurturing it, life always onward, moving, growing, changing, each stage pregnant with the next, on and on. We live in affirmation of life, an openness to life. We close life off and deny it when we interrupt it and slice it into pieces when we cut ourselves off as an isolated, meaningless piece. There are no breaks. Either we are carried along as isolated pieces of debris, or we are joined together with what life is about. 

Jesus is what life is about. He is with us, and we are with Him, flesh of flesh, bone of bone. Jesus’ death is the ultimate connection between God and us, for in Him God and us go together. Jesus points His disciples forward to that death as a birth of new life. No Good Friday, no Easter! Or following the arrow of the life that God lives and shares, if Good Friday, then Easter, and if Easter, then Pentecost, and if Pentecost, then on and on past our little death that we have already left behind at Calvary received in exchange a birth. 

Memento mori. Learn how to die? Instead, learn to live as one being born each day and through each stage, even when God has died, for, in your Baptism, you were incorporated into that death and into that resurrection. Living the life you were joined up with in Baptism, a new person comes forth and arises who lives connected with Christ each new day. Living in that connection is the life of faith, which is the gift of the Spirit, the Lord, and the giver of life. The Spirit gives us life as He gives us Christ, binding us in with Him through death and resurrection at Baptism, for we are not at Calvary or the empty tomb. Out of Good Friday came Easter, and out of Easter came Pentecost. Life moves forward, not backward. 

Just before today’s Gospel, Jesus said, “It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.” (John 16:7). Our advantage is always more of Jesus. Backward is less—not by reconstruction of some life of Jesus, not by nailing Him down by some historical proof, not by getting our hands on Him as Mary wanted to do, but by being born of water and the Spirit and going on being born as Jesus is always more. 

“You will see Me,” Jesus promised, for He promised that the Spirit would show Him to us and tie us in with Him. We see Jesus in His words, which are alive with the Spirit, for Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life… the words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:63). The Spirit’s words for giving life are the words of the apostles who were brought to birth through Calvary’s death by the resurrection. Jesus prays not only for His apostles whom He sends into the world with His word and Spirit, “But also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:20-21). One, wholeness, together, connected, sent. 

Jesus, His mission—that is what life is about, that is what we are joined into, His name on us with the water and the Spirit, born His child. He is with us, as food to our bodies and, more profoundly still, with bread and wine, His body and blood. We are incorporated, connected, together. Jesus is alive in us. We live with His life that is always forward and more. 

We are not stray, inexplicable pieces but together with Christ, alive, in motion, sent to live and share the life of Christ, growing, changing, shaping ourselves to each person’s need so we may have life and have it more abundantly, the joy that cannot be taken away. Remember your Baptism. Live your Baptism. You were born again; new life is given. You are being born each day. Each day pregnant with the next, even the days that seem to deny you and God, for we, too, are going to the Father. Quickened by the Spirit, we go with Christ, who promised, “I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.” (John 16:22).

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin

Based on a sermon by Rev. Dr. Norman Nagel.