Sermon on John 16 for Sunday, 10th May

I have recorded a sermon on the gospel reading for Sunday, 10th May. The transcript is below.

 Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”

 At this, some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?”  They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”

 Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’?  Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.  A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.  So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.  In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.  Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

In a beautiful passage from the Book of Proverbs, the being of wisdom, the creative principle of the world, speaks:

“The Lord created me first of all, the first of his works, long ago… I was beside him like an architect, I was his daily source of joy.”

Joy is written into the fabric of creation. When God beholds what he has done on each of the days of creation, saying [[It was good,’ might he be feeling the joy that is spoken of here?

Our experience of joy is more intermittent than this. It comes unexpectedly. In fact if we try to grasp it, it eludes us, as Blake expressed so beautifully:

He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sun rise.

When we experience it, though, we know that it belongs to us, or we belong to it – perhaps because it aligns us with God’s joy in creation. In this sense, it is our birthright.

Two things close us off from joy. The weight of the past can crush us under our guilt about mistakes that we have made and hurts that we have inflicted. We may also feel trapped by the consequences of the actions of others. On the other hand, when we worry about the future, we can miss the joy that is available in every moment. Etty Hillesum found access to this joy even in the transit camp of Westerbork, as she was about to be sent to Auschwitz, where she was killed: ‘Despite everything, life is full of beauty and meaning.’

The Easter prayers tell us that our heart and lungs are now organs of joy. In their natural, biological functioning, heart and lungs mediate between past and future. The blood that returns from our extremities bears within it the memories of the actions we took in the world and the things we have experienced there. The blood that is enlivened by the new breath in the chambers of the heart, bears our impulses for action within it as it goes out into the limbs. Small wonder that this meeting place of dying and rising again can perceive the joy of the resurrection!

Do sadness and grief have an opposite? If they do, it is not joy; perhaps their opposite is happiness. The joy that we experience through Christ can be ‘grave and steady’*. It is tempered by suffering and pain, like the joy at a new birth. This beautiful image from the gospel reading tells us that Christ’s joy is rooted not only in his own suffering: its roots take hold in all the suffering and evil of the world; it grows from them like a precious flower.

Attending to the Easter pulse of breath and heart, letting go of the past and living with openness and wonder for what streams towards us from the future, we may develop a grave and steady gaze for the darkness and suffering of the world. Then our Easter eyes may perceive in all that afflicts us and our world the birth pangs of the new that wants to be born.

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