3rd Sunday after Easter, 2008

The Third Sunday after Easter
13 April 2008
Verse 22 of St. John 16: 16-22
“I’ll Be Seeing You”

It was usually a holiday family get-together, such as Christmas, Easter or Thanksgiving, that all of the adults who had gathered in our home would rise from the dinner table, enter into the living room, gather around my mother seated at the piano and would begin singing the familiar old songs that made them happy or rekindled past happy times and memories.

And when a particular aunt was present, we could not end the evening without first singing a song she would always make request of my mother to play. Her husband (one of my dad’s older brothers) had served in World War I, and a decade or two after his return had dated and married her.But then in the late 1940’s he passed on, much to the grief and sorrow of his widow, my aunt.

So every holiday when the family gathered round the Rasch family’s piano, she would request what had eventually become ‘their love song,’ which was a popular song written and published in 1938, “I’ll Be Seeing You.”

For those not familiar with the song (that would be the very youngest present), the first four lines of the tune replicate the theme of the last movement of Mahler’s Symphony No 3. The lyrics of the popular song take casual remembrances of a farewell and by degrees transform it, ending with the sentimentally-charged lyrics: “..and when the night is new — I’ll be looking at the moon — but I’ll be seeing you.”

The song was featured in a 1944 movie entitled, I’ll be Seeing You, and quickly became a very popular song during World War II, expressive of the sentiment of couples separated from each other by military duty and geographical distance during the war.

In the 1950s, it regained popularity with American TV audiences when the song became notably recognized as the theme for pianist-entertainer Liberace’s television show. The song even graced a few episodes of “Star Trek”‘s final season, and was last featured in the closing credits for the final episode of the raunchy television cartoon series, “Beavis and Butthead.” In reverse order (so to speak) it went from the sublime, being featured in a 1940’s movie, right down to the utterly ridiculous: a popular cartoon’s swan song.

I’ll be seeing you! We hear similar words as they were originally uttered in the scriptures from the lips of Jesus. He says to his disciples, ‘I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice.’ Was he saying he would be seeing them ‘in all the old familiar places?’

In the span of seven verses Jesus introduces a mini-series of ‘opposites.’ Chiefly he speaks of Coming and of Going, of Grief and of Joy.

Of coming and going: ‘A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little whlie, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father.’ In perplexity of mind we hear the disciples repeat his words, after which Jesus repeats them again himself. In all, we hear these perplexing words uttered thrice.

Of grief: ‘Ye shall weep and lament.’ Of joy: ‘But the world shall rejoice.’ Of grief: ‘Ye shall be sorrowful.’ Of joy: ‘But your sorrow shall be turned into joy.’ Of grief: ‘A woman when she is in travail (labor) hath sorrow, because her hour is come.’ Of joy: ‘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.’ Of grief: ‘Ye now therefore have sorrow.’ Of joy: ‘But I will see you again, and your heartshall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.’

‘I’ll be seeing you, again!’ Hence joy will be yours, and it will be final and lasting joy. Says Psalm 30, ‘Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.’

Ye shall not see me. And again a little while…and ye shall see me! What exactly was Jesus speaking of? The disciples were not sure, hence they weighed hiswords. ‘What is this that he saith…We cannot tell what he saith.’

Was Jesus speaking of the events immediately to follow? For he uttered these words in the Upper Room where they had been eating the Passover Meal, shortly before his betrayal. Did he mean that they would see him crucified and hidden from their sight in the darkness ofthe Tomb? Then to suddenly reappear on Easter Day. See him dead; then see him Risen from the dead! But equally, they could in time interpret his words to have been referring to his removal from bodily sight at his Ascension and his reappearing when he returns on the Last Great Day. It may be both! For most certainly his Death and Resurrection prefigure his Ascention and his promised Second Return in glory, to judge the quick and the dead, and the world by fire.

Which ever it is, his leaving them, in his death or at his Ascension, will be painful for them, more painful than things are for a woman in the throes of childbirth.

The prophet Isaiah wrote, ‘Like a woman with child who writhes and cries out in her pangs, when she is near her time, so were we because of thee, O Lord. We were with child, we writhed, we have as it were brought forth nothing. We have wrought no deliverance in the earth, and the inhabitants of the world have not fallen. (Yet) the dead shall live, their bodies shall rise. O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy!

Pain and suffering would most certainly be theirs as the result of their ‘new birth’ in Christ. It would not be long after Jesus’ Ascension that Herod would go after James and have him killed with the sword, and would proceed to arrest and jail Peter also. Systematic persecution would begin very shortly under their relentless persuit by Saul, and still later to come, a more sweeping and intense persecution of Christians would be persued by the Emperors of Rome. With families torn apart from each other. Bodies torn asunder by fierce beasts. Thousands upon thousands would discover that their allegiance to Christ would lead them into great sorrow. And even today, in parts of the world thousands still discover this daily.

Ye now therefore shall have sorrow! But I will see you again! Indeed, as many gasped with their last breath, their eyes were opened as they beheld eternal joy. Stephen, the proto-martyr (first martyr), received that revelation on the precipice of his stoning: ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.’

And as they were stoning Stephen he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep. And Saul was consenting to his death. Ye now therefore shall have sorrow! But I will see you again! But first, the sorrow!

An old English proverb says: God send you joy, for sorrow will come fast enough. Sorrow and joy may be inextricably intertwined, even as in accounts we hear of that make the headlines of newspapers and we hear in the reported news.

You remember this story. Back in April of 2006, four Taylor University students and a university employee were killed when their van was struck by a tractor-trailer that had drifted across a highway. A fifth student, a blond female had survived the crash. She was in a coma having received traumatic injuries to head and face, and consequently her head was heavily bandaged.

The family sat by their daughter’s hospital bedside keeping vigil for weeks after the automobile accident before they realized the blond-haired young woman was not their daughter after all, but rather another college student injured in the same car wreck. Their own daughter, they would soon be informed, was dead!

It turns out, through a tragic mix-up, whereas this family was erroneously informed their daughter was in a coma following the accident, another family had been incorrectly informed their daughter had died in the April 26th crash, whom they had dutifully buried thinking her to be their deceased daughter.

The family who had keep vigil at the hospital said that as the young woman began regaining consciousness at a rehabilitation center she began saying things that caused the family to question her identity and to realize the tragic mistake that was unfolding. Shortly following, the county coroner notified the two families and the school of the error as regards the mistaken identities.

This was a deeply perplexing, distressing, sorrowful, heart-breaking discovery for both families. For the first family it now became a time of great sorrow. For the second family it would understandably become, albeit it reservedly, a time of great joy. But for the first family all is not lost. And most certainly their daughter was not lost, for just as Jesus promised his disciples he would see them again, so in Jesus and because of Jesus the first family lives with the knowledge and belief that they will some day see their daughter again! Yes, sorrow and joy can be inextricably intertwined. Ye now therefore shall have sorrow! But I will see you again, and your joy no man taketh from you!

That joy Jesus speaks of cannot be taken away by any human being. And that is because the disciples’ joy depends not on themselves, or on anyone else, but only on Him. And that is why no one can take it away from them.

A final point. Sometimes people make the ‘mistake’ of confusing happiness with joy. Happiness, such as facing every day with a smile; put on a happy face – a smile which depends on us, on someone else, or on circumstances ourside ourselves. At the top of this sermon I made reference to a popular song. Here’s a story about another. In 1915, a British actor, George Powell, wrote a pop song that made him famous, and his father, Felix, composed the music to which it was sung all over Great Britain and by British soldiers in the trenches in France. The song was, “Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag and Smile, Smile, Smile.”

Twenty-seven years later, in February of 1942, Felix Powell (the father) went to a recreation center, sat down at the piano and sang the lyrics to the tune he had composed, ‘What’s the use of worrying: it never was worthwhile; so pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile.’ Shortly after strumming out the words, he went into another room and there took his life. Overcome with worry and sorrow even while singing ‘Smile, smile, smile,’ he did not appear to know any JOY. He did not appear to know that the only One who can banish grief and give lasting peace and joy is the Lord Jesus Christ.

Later in this same 16th chapter of St. John, Jesus promises his disciples, ‘I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.’ ‘So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no onewill take your JOY from you.’ I’ll be seeing you; not in vague sentimentality, rather, I WILL SEE YOU, AGAIN! Remember that, when in this world you have sorrow. For the day is promised you by the mouth of Jesus Christ himself, that in the end ye shall have JOY EVERLASTING! On that day when YOU’LL BE SEEING HIM!