3rd Sunday After Easter St. John xvi.
April 17, 2016 A.D.
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer.
The Anxiety of Not Knowing
Text: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.” St John xvi. 20
Jesus is looking beyond the present to the new age. When he does he uses a conception deeply rooted in Jewish thought. The Jews believed that all time was divided into two ages – the present age and the age to come. The present age is bad and under condemnation; the age to come was the golden age of God. In between the two ages, preceding the coming of the Messiah, who would bring in the new age, there lay the day of the Lord; and the day of the Lord was to be a terrible day, when the world would be shattered into fragments before the golden age would dawn. The Jews were in the habit of calling that terrible between time; ‘The birth travail of the days of the messiah’. According to some Jewish authorities, all souls pass into an intermediate dimension called the "World of Souls" after death. It is there that they are judged and then they abide there until the resurrection and final judgment.
Both the old and new testaments contain descriptions of this terrible period; “See, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the earth a desolation, and to destroy its sinners from it” (Isaiah 13:9) and “The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be [burned up]”. (2 Peter 3; 10). When Jesus, or his apostles, used the word Hades which we translate as hell, they meant the same thing as is meant in the Old Testament. Thus, the New Testament usage agrees exactly with the Old Testament. Literally speaking, Hades means "death" or the "grave"; and figuratively, it means "destruction".
Roman Catholics preach about hell and the sins that will get you there. It is part of the old ‘catholic guilt’ thing the church used to scare people. Southern Baptists believe in a heaven and hell. People who fail to recognize God as the one and only are sentenced to eternity in hell. Calvinists believe that some people are pre-destine to an eternal life in hell no matter what they do while living on this earth. Anglicans do not talk about hell or when they do they are polite about it. The bible does reference ‘Hell’ in fact the authorized King James Version references Hell 23 times in the New Testament. I think Jonny Cash provide a good description of hell when he said “How well I have learned that there is no fence to sit on between heaven and hell. There is a deep, wide gulf, a chasm, and in that chasm is no place for any man.” It could be that the chasm is hell, filled with graves or destruction. We don’t know just like we can’t know for certain that heaven is in the clouds and beyond. So it is that we believe that there is a hell just as much as we believe there is a heaven and that eternal life in one is the polar opposite of eternal life in the other.
Jesus is saying something even more important in today’s gospel reading from St. John. In this life there are always some unanswered questions and some unsolved problems. There are times in our life when we are feeling troubled, we take it personally and we wonder why God is doing this to us. He has a plan for us and we must endure the trials and tribulations during life on earth in order to experience the good and the glorious.
When I took my leave from the other Church I had no idea what God had in store for me. I knew I had been called to serve him and I had to have faith that he would show me the way. I had invested a lot of myself into the Church and I valued the relationship I had with the congregation. At one point during my leave, for some reason, perhaps the Holy Spirit was guiding me, I reached out to another clergyman I knew but had not spoken too in a couple of years. He encouraged me to continue my walk with God and guided me to UECNA. As I investigated UECNA and spoke to Archbishop Robinson I came to understand, after a time, that God was showing me a path and it was up to me to walk down that path not knowing where it was going to lead me. I put my future in God’s hands and do the things I thought needed to be done. Of course now, today eighteen months later, we know where God was leading me, right here with you. This is where we are meant to be and those other people played their part to get us here. Had they not done what they had to do as part of God’s plan we would either not be here today or we would have gotten here by some other route. There was a sense of loss and it was painful at times.
Jesus tries to explain this process to the disciples by using the analogy of a women giving birth to a child. The pain during the birth process is excruciating but as soon has the woman has delivered the child she tends to forget the anguish because she is holding the reward, her new born child.
Just like the woman giving birth the trials and tribulations of leaving the other Church are behind me and the joy of being here has made it all worthwhile.
Jesus endured a different experience. In order for the scriptures to be fulfilled He had to die on the cross, He had to rise again on the third day and He had to ascend into heaven. To make this happen the leaders of the Jewish church had to do what they did. It was their part in the overall plan to crucify Jesus. I am certain God had revealed to Jesus the plan of what was going to happen to him but that did not make the experience any easier. He still had to suffer the scourging, carrying the cross and being nailed to the tree. He still had to suffer death on the cross.
God reveals his plan for us one bit at a time so, as not to overwhelm us, always gauging our ability to handle what lies ahead. The not knowing the entire plan can be frustrating but this is where we must put our trust in God, we must have faith that he loves us and will not put us through an experience he does not think we can handle.
In this life there are always some unanswered questions and some unsolved problems. When our judgment day comes there will be fullness of knowledge. ‘In that day’ said Jesus, ‘you will not need to ask me any questions anymore.’ In this life here on earth, we must always walk by faith and not by sight; we must always be accepting what we cannot understand. It is only fragments of the truth that we can grasp and glimpses of God that we may see; but in the age to come, with Christ there will be fullness of knowledge. On judgment day we will either fall into “that chasm” that “is no place for any man” or climb the stairway to heaven. Which path we take depends on how we live this life, following the commandments of God and loving our neighbor or abandoning his teaching to satisfy our own needs. God gave us free will to choose, choose wisely.
And now unto God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost; be ascribed all might, majesty, power and domination as is most justly due this day both now and forever; world without end.