Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Little While

Fourth Sunday of Easter
Commemoration of Anselm of Canterbury, Theologian
April 21, 2013
What do you say when there is no joy to be seen? When sorrow and tragedy and evil overwhelm you? What do you do when God seems to not be in the picture but Satan is having free reign?

What you do is what the world does not do. What you say is what the world ultimately is left speechless to say. You say that there is hope in Jesus Christ. What you do is put your hope in Jesus Christ.

At least, that’s what Jesus Himself did. Now that seems a little strange to think of it that way. Perhaps it’s better to say it this way: He knew who He was, why He came, and what He was about to do. His trust, His hope, His focus was all on the Father. His carrying out of His love and salvation was all with His eyes set on the cross.

Thus, we do what He did. We say what He said. We too focus on the cross. We too say that it is in Him that we have our hope and our salvation.

Consider how this is utterly the opposite of the way the world responds to tragedy. The world undergoes tragedy and seeks answers. Not the Church. Not we who are Christians. We see beyond the tragedy. We see, in fact, in the midst of the tragedy something the world cannot see. When tragedy strikes, we see beyond it and see Christ and His cross. Remarkably, we see even in the midst of tragedy Christ and His cross.

It’s never that God’s will is that evil runs free as it did on Monday at the Boston Marathon. It is never our Lord’s will that evil befalls people in such a way. But it is true that our God allows evil and tragedy to strike. And it’s even true that He uses evil and tragedy for good.

To the world this makes no sense. We look at terror like we witnessed on Monday and wonder what makes some people so heinous to cause this kind of harm to others. The world doesn’t believe that the triune God is a good and gracious God who wants nothing more than to save us from our sin. The world looks at events like 9/11 and Boston and tries to make sense of them. The world tries to figure out how God fits into this kind of evil and suffering. It can’t understand how these things fit into believing in a good and all-powerful and loving God. So it determines that God isn’t what He makes Himself out to be.

What actually is the case is that God isn’t what we make Him out to be. God views our life here on earth and the time we spend on it much differently than we do. So He approaches evil and suffering much differently than we do. If we ask questions of Him and try to make sense of them He answers right back, Are you trying to understand Me according to your feeble mind and your limited understanding? Are you trying to make sense of My holy ways when your reason is clouded by your sinful and self-centered ways?

He invites us to peer into His mind, though. He welcomes us to look at His ways. He does so by showing us His Son. Where we see great sorrow and suffering and seemingly endless onslaught of suffering and evil, God sees eternity. And He sees it in His Son. Taking all eternity into account, He gives to us, for a little while, His Son. He becomes a man. He walks the earth. He teaches and meets people in their sorrow and their suffering. He meets one-on-one with people who have experienced evil.

And then He does something remarkable. He chooses evil on Himself. Not one person ran the marathon on Monday wishing for evil to befall them. They ran it to accomplish something. People who entered the World Trade Center on September 11 were just going to work. People stay clear of manifest evil. When it strikes they flee.

Not Christ. He willingly stepped into the heart of evil. The people who were at the starting line didn’t know what would strike four hours later. The people along the route cheering on the runners, enjoying the day, didn’t know terror would hit. Jesus knew. He walked into the heart of darkness willingly. He walked the path of sorrow and suffering and the evil men brought upon Him. He willingly submitted to all sin and guilt being laid on Him as if He were the guilty one; as if He were the sinner.

As He approached it I imagine it was like a marathon. A marathon doesn’t go quickly. Before you even step up to the starting line you prepare. You train, you take care of your body. You log a lot of miles, looking ahead to the day when all the work you’ve put in will come to fruition. When you’re training for it, it seems anything but a little while. When the gun goes off you breeze through the first mile. You tick off the miles and yet you still have twenty-some odd miles to go in that 26.2 mile race. How will you get through it? If you’re already starting to think that it’s taking a long time, how will you feel when you’re at mile 15 and you still have over ten miles to go?

When you’re coming toward the end and your body is ready to quit, your mind is the thing that is getting you through. Playing tricks like, “It’s only a little way to go,” doesn’t help much. It’s more just sheer will. But once it’s over, you look back and see that it really was a little while. When a woman is giving birth, she is ready for it to be over. She is not experiencing joy but pain. Anyone who would tell her that it’s almost over would likely be greeted with daggers from her eyes.

No, it’s not until the marathon is over, and the baby is born, that you experience the joy. That you see that it really was a little while. This is what Jesus knew going in. Not that it was different for Him. Not that it was easy for Him. Not that He wasn’t struggling in His endurance. He needed to be sustained by His Heavenly Father. He needed the angel to minister to Him in the Garden. But He knew. He knew of the joy that was set before Him in order to endure the cross. His eyes were set on the fact that it would indeed be a little while and that the sorrow and suffering and evil would not be never-ending.

He knew that it would come to an end, because He knew the promise of the Father. He knew that He would be suffering and dying for the sins of the world. He knew that the Father would raise Him from the grave. This is how Jesus could speak of all that would transpire as a little while. It’s how He can speak of the suffering and trials and evil we endure as a little while. The world will think we are wishfully thinking when we see beyond the tragedy of a Pearl Harbor or a 9/11 or a Boston and see the cross and our Lord Jesus Christ who suffered there. They will think that we are deluding ourselves when we see all that goes on in this life as getting worse and becoming more and more nonsensical as something that is just for a little while.

Not that we don’t care. Not that we don’t see things for what they are. But we don’t descend into despair as they do. We know how it all turns out. We know that even as Jesus stepped up to the starting line He also crossed the finish line. At some point we will also. We don’t know when. Its seems like it’s taking a long time. But it is a little while.

But you know what? We ourselves will fall into the trap the world does. Since it doesn’t seem like a little while we ourselves will wonder. When enduring suffering we agonize over how it continues instead of coming to an end. You know the only way we can actually believe and know that it’s just a little while? The word of Christ. He has said it, that’s how we know. He went into His suffering and death knowing it, and He held fast to it. He secured the victory. We too go the way of Christ. We go in knowing, even though our sinful nature doubts. We go in with certainty. We go in in all confidence because it rests on the word of Christ, not on how things look, with thousands of ordinary people going to their death in an act of terror, and hundreds of people dying or scarred for life because of evil men.

In a marathon, even some who have youth and strength on their side will stumble and fall. Even some of them will not finish. Even some of them will finish far back in the race, after some who are much older and some who are weaker. Phidippides hadn’t run the first marathon when Isaiah prophesied, as we heard it in the Old Testament reading. But he knew how it works in this life. He knew that we are feeble and suffer and question God in the face of evil.

He knew also this. It lasts only a little while. He knew the same thing we know today, God is the Savior. Isaiah prophesied He would come. Since it happened hundreds of years later, no doubt God’s people thought it was anything but a little while. But in God’s time it was just that. Since our Lord has promised to return again in glory and it’s been two thousand years, we too don’t see it as a little while. But it is. It is because it’s His timing. He doesn’t operate according to our time or timing. He operates according to mercy. That’s why He entered time and willingly suffered. When we suffer in this life this is what we can always know. He has conquered sin and evil and suffering in His suffering, death, and resurrection. In only a little while you will see that in all clarity and joy. God grant you His Peace as you endure in the meantime. Amen.


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