I Will See You Again
We panic when we miss the point. One of the places which inspires panic so very easily is the DMV. You go there to get a new license and it’s filled with one arena after another which, if you miss one small detail, you are filled with panic. You have to get in the proper line. Because if you don’t, you have to go to the back of the line. You have to bring the proper papers, otherwise, you have to come back. You have to answer questions about “turnabouts” on the exam. And if you get those details wrong, you have to take the test again. When we miss the point, when we miss vital details, we begin to panic. That’s the context we find ourselves in in these words in John 16. It’s Maundy Thursday night. Jesus is only hours away from being taken away from them. And he’s telling them and teaching them as much as he possibly can so that, after it’s all done, they eventually would begin to understand. In John 16, we read: “15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” 16 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.” 17 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’?” 18 They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”” (John 16:15–18 NIV11-GKE)
In these words Jesus tells them their future. What did their future hold? Their future held fears and tears because, for a little while, Jesus would be taken away from them. And then, later on, Jesus tells them, “I will see you again.” And the more the disciples talk about this, the more filled with fear and panic they become. And who can blame them? Other than short periods away from Jesus, day in and day out, for the past several years he has been there with them as their friend, prophet, Savior and King. And now in clear language he lets them know that they will not see him. So, Jesus steps in and calms their panic with these words: “19 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’? 20 Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” (John 16:19–20 NIV11-GKE)
Here Jesus tells them a bitter and beautiful irony. Very shortly they will mourn and grieve because Jesus will be taken from them and they will not see him. And when that happens, the sinful, hostile world around them will rejoice. But it will not stay that way. The situation will be flip-flopped. Later on, they will rejoice while the sinful, hostile world around them grieves. And after saying this, they still don’t understand. So he gives them a concrete illustration to help them: “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.” (John 16:21 NIV11-GKE)
Jesus uses the illustration of a mom and her child. I remember when I was a teenager. And one Sunday a mom brought her newborn child into church so that the child could be baptized. And after the service a bunch of women gathered around the mom with joy and smiles on their faces. And then, one by one, they talked about how harsh and horrible their labor and delivery was. And was thoroughly confused. They were saying that their labor and deliver was harsh and horrible. But the entire time they were speaking they were smiling. It made no sense at that time. But here in these words Jesus tells us why that happens. When another human, her own child, is brought into the world, her view of that pain changes. So Jesus tells the story. Then after that, Jesus tells the point of the story: “22 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. 23 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.” (John 16:22–23 NIV11-GKE)
Jesus lets them know that they will not see him. But, later on they will see him. And when they see him it will not flip-flop again. They will have joy and no one will take away that joy. And if you travel through time after that, you see that what Jesus said was true. Jesus died, but he rose from the dead, giving them joy in being able to see him again and knowing that their sins were paid for. But he also left them again, didn’t he? He ascended into heaven. But, one by one, each of them died. And the moment each of them died, they saw their Savior face to face. And their joy has not been taken away from them. And it never will be.
Jesus promised them, “I will never leave you.” He made them that promise. And today he says the same promise to us. He says to each and every one of us, “I will see you again.” This is the great joy and promise of Easter. Jesus has been taken away from us. None of us can see Jesus face to face. But what does Jesus do for us? First, The Holy Spirit gives us faith to know our Triune God and cling to him. Second, he promises to us that because he rose from the dead, we will see Jesus. And no one—not anyone ever will take that joy from us.
“I will see you again.” This is the promise that Jesus speaks to us. But because this promise is real and true, this is also a promise we can speak to others. The apostle Paul spent many months in Ephesus preaching and teaching his fellow Christians there. But then he had to say, ‘good-bye’. And at the end of his farewell sermon, this was the people’s reaction to his good-bye sermon: “37 They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. 38 What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again.” (Acts 20:37–38 NIV11-GKE)
They had pain, real and true pain, because they knew it would be the last time they saw Paul. But, my dear friends in Christ, was it the last time they saw his face? No, Paul died and saw his Savior’s face in heaven. And then, one by one, each of them died. And then they saw Jesus face to face in heaven. But they also saw Paul. That is the great joy and confidence we have as Christians. When pastors take calls to new congregations, usually after they take their call, what falls on them like a mountain of bricks is the realization that there are people in that congregation they will never see again. And pastors have real pain because of this. But because Jesus says, “I will see you again,”, we can say to each other, “I will see you again.” And so, on the final Sunday I was there in PA, as an extra final hymn, we sang “God be with you till we meet again.”1 And with this, they reminded me that, sure, there is pain. But along with that pain Jesus gives to us a promise: Because he rose from the dead, he will see us face to face, and we will see our fellow Christians face to face.
And so, my dear fellow Christians, when you say good-bye to your children when they grow up and graduate, and you know that you will not see them nearly as often as you used to, speak this promise to them and to yourselves: “I will see you again.” When your cherished Christian friends move away, say good-bye. But also say to them, “I will see you again.” When you no longer see your fellow Christians and loved ones because the Lord called them home through death, you can whisper those soft but true words at their casket, “I will see you again.” You can say those words with every confidence of joy to come. And you can do this because Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus says, “I will see you again.” This is a promise Jesus speaks to us. And because he rose from the dead, this is a promise we can speak to others. Amen.
1 CW 327