A little while and ye shall not see me; and again a little while
and ye shall see me; because I go to the Father.
It may strike you all as a little bit odd that the Epistle and Gospel readings for Eastertide are not taken from all of the historical records of Jesus’ Resurrection. As you know, the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, which we use, follows, for the most part, the ancient Church’s lectionary. And thus we are using those readings which the Fathers of the Church selected for this season to elucidate the spiritual essence of Christ’s Resurrection. Thus, while they were very much interested in the literal and particular historical details of Jesus’ rising from the dead, they were more interested in what it meant for the survivors of His Ascension. Of course the survivors of His Ascension are all men in all ages who would become members of His Resurrected Body, the Church. Christ is the way, the truth, and the life (St. John xiv. 6); He is the means of Grace and He is the hope of glory.
Our appointed Eastertide lections help us to become living members of Christ’s Resurrected Body. But first we must engage in some spiritual preparation so that our incorporation into the life of Christ might be fruitful. We find help this morning from our Old Testament friends. David reminds us: If the Lord himself had not been on our side…when men rose up against us; they had swallowed us up alive…yea the waters had drowned us…the deep waters of the proud had even gone over our soul (Ps. cxxiv. 1-4) The faithful man who hopes to become a living member of Christ’s Resurrected Body must always remember that the Lord intends always to be on the side of those who are struggling to conquer evil in their lives. And so He comes to the aid of those who fight the assault of spiritual demons that seek to bind man to sin. The man of God does well to remember that only God can conquer sin. And with David to sing thankfully that, Our help standeth in the name of the Lord: who hath made heaven and earth.
And yet this help will be to no avail unless we humble ourselves [contritely] under the mighty hand of God. (1 St. Peter v. 6) Isaiah this morning elaborates upon the point.
For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones…For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him…[But] I have seen his ways, and will heal him…and restore comforts unto him and to his mourners. (Isaiah 57 15-18)
God dwells in the high and holy place of perfect purity, and yet He is never unmoved by man’s desperate need for Him. But man has rebelled against God, and so God’s love is hidden or concealed under the veil of wrath because man has pursued the devices and desires of [his] own heart. Man has ignored or rejected God’s love; and so God, who is Love, waits at distance for man’s return. But when a man comes to see that wickedness in his life is like the troubled sea, [that] cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt, (Isaiah lvii. 20) he will soon begin to feel that while God loves him still, nevertheless He must endure God’s love as the wrathful displeasure that opposes all sin. Man must come to acknowledge that the punishment of sin is a power too great for him to overcome. So he must humble himself and feel the motions of contrition in his soul. St. Thomas tells us that, Contrition is voluntary sorrow for sin whereby man punishes in himself that which he grieves to have done. (Summa, Suppl. I, 1) [It] is penitential sorrow…and implies the crushing of something hard and whole. Once the hard-hearted man is crushed and broken apart with the sense of how his sin has offended God, he makes an act of contrition. Only then will God begin to revive his spirit and hearken unto his mourning. As God reinvigorates His broken spirit, man enters into that Godly sorrow that pursues deeper ways of repentance and a fuller dependence upon His Grace.
God has made man to have life and to have it more abundantly (St. John x. 10). And yet, as we know, His desire and intention begin to come alive in the life of man most fully only after Jesus Christ’s Resurrection from the dead. So it is during the forty days of His Resurrection that Jesus will impart those principles that men into the new members of His Mystical Body once He mounts His throne of Ascension in heaven. A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father. (St. John xvi. 16)
And yet it is precisely with this notion of His promised departure that most Christians, like the Apostles, have trouble. They do not understand what He means by new and resurrected life in Him. Ye shall weep and lament but the world shall rejoice. (St. John xvi. 20) The world always wants Jesus dead and gone. But once He returns, the Apostles don’t want Him to leave. Mary Magdalene wanted to clutch onto His Risen body. Thomas would not believe until he had placed his finger into Jesus’ wounded hands and side. The other Apostles wanted Him to remain with them forever. They could imagine life without His fleshly presence. And yet Jesus will have none of it! A little while and ye shall not see me, and again a little while and ye shall see me; because I go the Father. (St. John xvi. 16) Christ insists that if the Apostles are to become living members of His Resurrected Body, then He must convert their souls through His Spirit alone. He must leave His friends behind, when they shall not see Him. They will see Him again through the Holy Spirit that will resurrect them into that new life alone that leads to Heaven.
And ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.(Ibid, 20) The process that leads to new Resurrected life will not be bereft of sadness and sorrow. Leaving behind the world, the flesh, and even the devil are hard enough. But to make matters more difficult, Jesus demands even more. I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law…He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it. (St. Matthew x. 35-39) Man must forsake all dependence upon the earthly and particular. There will be sorrow and pain if faith in the Resurrected One is to grow and mature. A woman, when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is not yet come. But as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. (St. John xvi. 21) Austin Farrer tells us that,
Unless we agonize at some time over the birth of faith, faith is not ours, it is not a personal possession, it is not the child of our own soul. Christ leaves his disciples so far and so long as is required for the pains of their travail. It is not an act of desertion on his part, but a merciful providence. Darkness and uncertainty, loneliness and spiritual effort are necessary to us, and, taken right, they are the growth of faith. They are as much the gifts of God as certainty and comfort. A little while, he says, and I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice; your joy no man taketh from you.
(Weekly Paragraphs for the Holy Sacrament)
And so this morning we must realize along with St. Peter and all the Apostles, that if we shall be enlivened by Christ’s Resurrected desire for us, we must endure sorrow over, separation from, and spiritual death to all things earthly. Dearly beloved I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul; having your behavior seemly among the Gentiles.(1 St. Peter 2. 11) If we are to become living members of Christ’s Resurrected Body, we must not be at home or at peace in this world because we are strangers and pilgrims whose home is in heaven with Jesus. Here we have no enduring city; but we seek one to come. (Hebrews xiii. 14) And our life amidst the non-believers must be beyond reproach; decried as malefactors, we must let them see, from our honorable behavior, what we are; they will praise God for us, when His time comes to have mercy upon them. (Knox: 1 St. Peter ii. 12) We must be risen with Christ, [and] seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. (Col. iii. 1)
Jesus Christ must leave us so that we who are left behind may reveal to the world that His Resurrected Body is alive and well in us through the faithful and obedient ties of our souls to His Spirit. If we are faithful, the ongoing Resurrection will reveal through us not only His victory over all sin and death, but also His incessant desire for the salvation of all other souls. St. Theresa of Avila reminds us of what Christ intends for us to become as partakers of His Resurrection.
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks with
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
This promise of joy Divine –when we shall see [Him] again, [and when] our heart shall rejoice…with a joy that no man taketh from us, can be obtained only if we have proved to be the Body of the Risen Christ here and now that continues to reveal to the world that Our Lord forever lives and loves to share His Risen life with all. Amen.