Jesus said:“A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.”
Then some of his disciples said to one another,
“What does he mean by saying to us, ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?”
“What does he mean by this ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.”
Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them,
“Are you discussing among yourselves what I meant when I said, ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’? Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labour, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. On that day you will ask nothing of me. Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete. “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but will tell you plainly of the Father. On that day you will ask in my name. I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father.”
His disciples said,
“Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.”
Jesus answered them,
“Do you now believe? The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”
Years ago, the paddle-steamer Waverley used to leave its home on the Clyde to visit ports around England, and hence I found myself on board with a group of Primary age children for a trip down the River Tyne, out to sea, along the coast a little and back. The day before, as we talked about the trip, I warned them that when the ship turned at sea, it would cease to go up and down, and instead rock side to side for a little while as it faced a different thrust from the sea, and indeed it did, the starboard paddle (the side we were standing) rising dramatically out of the water to whirr wildly. Back in the classroom, one boy said, in heartfelt tones, “I’m glad you told us what would happen when it turned, or I’d have been dead scared!”
Murmurs of agreement all round.
Warnings are useful, and a large part of this passage is advance warning, as Jesus prepares the disciples for the crucifixion; the time when others will be glad but they will mourn; the time they will not see him, will think he is gone but this is not a time without hope. In the resurrection, they will see him again. Is this also warning and hope for us; the hope that Jesus will return, a hope to hold to when we can’t ‘see’ him; the times we feel as if we are turning against the tide, our faith and emotions tossed about?
It seems to me that this thinking can have, and has had, two possible effects. We can concentrate only on the future hope and fail to connect fully with the present time; those who don’t worry about the earth because it will all, one day, go and they will be caught up to heaven, is the extreme form of this view. Or we can read the words as assurance that what we experience in our lives is a natural thing that is very hard, but that will have a great outcome – like a woman in labour.
He who assures us of this is one with the Father; we are connected wonderfully with God; we can ask; we can receive. We can receive peace even when the world is shaking us about something frightful! And sometimes – often, even – we won’t understand, and just have to hold to the knowledge that we have Jesus with us; that the Holy Spirit will ever guide us.
Living, loving God, we praise and bless you for this present moment when, even though we feel tossed about by our questions and fears, even though people mock and say, “So where is this Jesus?”, even then, we can know your peace and hope. Bring to us, we ask, and to the world, the courage to believe and the peace Jesus brings, a peace that nothing can take away. Amen
The Rev’d Ruth Crofton is a retired minister living in Durham.