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  • Writer's pictureFather Benjamin von Bredow

Patience is peace.

A Sermon for the Third Sunday after Easter

April 21, 2024 at Holy Communion

John 16:16–22

“You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16:20). In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. ☩ Amen.

During a counselling course in seminary, my supervisor was giving me feedback, and said that I would do well to be more patient. “That’s a surprise to me,” I said, “I tend to think I am reasonably patient.” My supervisor pushed back, observing that I became irritated when my classmates got to the point more slowly than I would like, and I said, “Well, I think that at least I have short-term patience.”

To say that you have short-term patience is as ridiculous as saying that you have a self-controlled appetite before dinner, or good work ethic on Saturdays. My foot was planted firmly in my mouth.

But there was a truth buried in my embarrassing comment: so long as I thought that my classmates were going to get to the point, I was patient to let them get there. But after what I considered a reasonable amount of time for them to get it I would try to jump in to “help,” often unhelpfully. My patience gave out when I stopped expecting that they would get there by themselves.

Patience is peace. It is the peace we feel when, even though things are not as we would like them in the present, we are okay with that because we have confidence that a little bit of waiting and everything will turn out.

I can identify with the disciples in today’s Gospel reading. Jesus says something perplexing—”A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me” (John 16:16)—and then the disciples spend half the reading asking over and over again what he could possibly mean. “You will see me no longer, and again you will see me”: that’s clear enough, so they puzzle over the phrase “a little while.” What “little while” is Jesus referring to? When will Jesus go away? For how long?

I identify with them because I also love specifics. If you were to say to me, “I’ll come by for our meeting in a little while,” I would probably find a polite way of saying, “ ‘In a little while’ isn’t a time of day.” The disciples want to know when they can expect Jesus to go away, and precisely when he’ll be back. They are anxious.

By asking for a specific time they are working with the wrong frame of reference. They imagine—as we so often imagine, when we read prophetic language in scripture—that Jesus is simply making a prediction that will be uniquely fulfilled at a particular moment. It’s so tempting for us to look back even now at this passage and say, “Aha! The ‘little while’ refers to the day and a half between his crucifixion and his resurrection.” Or we might disagree, and say, “No, he was referring to the entire present age between his ascension and his second coming.”

But notice that Jesus doesn’t answer their question about the “little while” in this way at all. Instead, he explains the “little while” by saying, “You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (v 20).

What Jesus gives is not a time, but a pattern. The “little while” in question is the time of our weeping and lamenting, the time before reunion with Jesus takes away our sorrow and gives us stable joy. So yes, he is speaking about his day-and-a-half absence in the grave. Yes, he is speaking about his bodily absence from the earth in this age of the Holy Spirit. But he is also speaking about every moment of alienation from the joy of God. He is talking about the miry pits of this world into which we fall, all the times and ways we weep and lament until the remembrance of the Holy One lifts us up again and our alienation becomes union again.

Jesus is exposing the nature of sorrow. Sorrow is forgetfulness of the joy we had with our Maker in the beginning, and neglectfulness of the joy we expect to have with him in the end. Sorrow is the experience of alienation from the fulfillment which is both our end and our beginning. And sorrow turns into joy when absence becomes presence and distance becomes intimacy.

This is why, as we will hear in the Gospel readings for the coming weeks, the Spirit of God is called the “Comforter.” It is good for us that Jesus go away, so that our alienated sorrow can become the joy of reunion with God as he comes invisibly into our secret hearts to work his perfect will. The “little while” of Jesus’ absence ends whenever the Spirit of God reminds us that in the Son of God we are also beloved children of the heavenly Father.

Our journey through this life is often coloured by a feeling of alienation. In fact, that is what makes it a “journey,” a period of travel toward a desired homeland. So in our Epistle St Peter greets us as “sojourners and exiles” or “strangers and aliens” (1 Peter 2:11), people who pay due respect to the rulers of this country in which we are temporary residents (v 13–14), but having as our primary concern love for our fellow-travellers and reverence for God (v 17). And in our Lesson we can only imagine that the apostles felt like strangers in this world when the rulers of their own people threw them into prison for proclaiming the good news of Jesus’ risen presence to the sorrowful.

We said that sorrow is a kind of forgetfulness. We also said, as I began, that patience is the peace that comes from the expectation that alienation will be overcome. So it shouldn’t us surprise when, at the end of the chapter in from which our Gospel reading is taken, Jesus tells why he said it all: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace” (John 16:33). For Jesus to tell that our sorrow will turn into joy is to teach us patience.

Jesus wants us to have peace, so he reminds us forgetful things that in God’s good will for us every sorrow will be wiped away. And with that confidence the trials of the world can’t pull us down in quite the way they used to. “In the world you will have tribulation,” he says, “But take heart; I have overcome the world” (v 33).

Patience is not learning to grin and bear it. Patience is not the habit of repressing any reaction of annoyance you have to another person. Patience is God’s gift of peace to the person who expects the world to be troublesome, but for all that isn’t bothered because he expects consolation now and in the age to come from the Spirit of God.

That person, the patient person, nothing can touch; there is no trouble which takes away his peace. He lives the risen life of the Son of God, who placed his hope not even in the avoidance of death, but in his Father who raises the dead.


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