John 16:16-33

The disciples’ confusion at what Jesus is trying to tell them continues to deepen as we read through chapter 16 of John’s account. And no wonder, as Jesus seems to have fallen into speaking in riddles:

A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me … They said, ‘What does he mean by this “a little while”? We do not know what he is talking about.’

Jesus knows perfectly well that they don’t get it. All innocently he goes on “Are you discussing among yourselves what I meant…?”. And he goes on to explain it to them. So clearly, it appears, that they declare “now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech”.

Which, let’s be honest, is a pretty generous statement. It doesn’t seem to me as if he is being any clearer in this passage about what is about to happen than he had been in the previous few. In fact, he even says as much – “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”.

But Jesus does give them something that is a little bit more like a promise, more like a picture of the road ahead than he had given before.

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.

It’s perhaps worth remembering that almost every reader of John’s gospel, from the early believers that he wrote for, until the present day, has read with the benefit of hindsight. We should read it understanding that the author wrote for believers: he wrote to help people make sense – theological and philosophical and poetic and emotional sense – of the faith that they had already received, a faith that from its earliest days was built around the declaration “he is risen – he is risen indeed”.

The author expects his readers to understand what it is that Jesus is talking about.

But put that thought aside (into the ‘things generally worth bearing in mind when you read the gospels’ basket – I hope you have one of those, a place where you keep these sorts of ideas for future use).

I wanted to focus, as I often do, on a detail that struck me for the first time as I read this account this week.

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.

Jesus is telling the disciples, essentially, it’s going to get bad – very bad, very soon – but you’ll get through it. You’ll get through it, and when you do, on the other side there will be rejoicing.

And he offers them an analogy; one that would presumably have been far more powerful for the women amongst his followers, but one he clearly felt would be meaningful even to the men – the pain and the joy of childbirth. It’s often suggested that he chooses this metaphor because of the sense of creativity that comes with it – that the pain they are going to feel is part of the process of bringing something new into the world – in this case, the new being the resurrection. Or maybe it’s just the most universally understood image of pain turning into rejoicing.

But that’s the big picture. The detail that struck me, especially in the light of our reflections last week about the love that Jesus shared with his friends and asked of them being a love that would make enemies, even provoke hatred, was these words: you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice

He’s not just telling them that something bad is going to happen, and they will be devastated by it. It’s worse than that. They will be devastated, but around them they will see others rejoicing. The very thing that brings you pain beyond your imagining will be for others a cause of celebration.

That’s so much worse.

I was trying to think of an analogy in modern life. Being surrounded by Australians as England lose the ashes? But its hard to care enough to feel any pain, especially after so many repeats of the same experience. Perhaps the nearest I could get was when the carbon price legislation was repealed; I was devastated, and was surrounded by many who were rejoicing quite openly.

But that’s a poor, almost insulting, parallel, to what was about to happen to these disciples.

And so, after his image of childbirth, Jesus repeats his words, put adds an additional promise to them:

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

No one will take your joy from you.

I will see you again, and you will rejoice, and the joy of that time will be a joy that will last. The world that rejoiced in my death will not be able to steal from you your joy when you see me again. Because I won’t be taken from you again. Because, as I promised before, I will ask the Father, and God will send another, the Spirit, to be with you forever, to assure you of your place in the family, to declare that you are never orphans.

Though the rejoicing of the world will make their pain all the worse, they will see him again, and when they do, their joy will be one that the world can never take away.

But that’s not the detail that really got me, either.

The detail that really got me was one that is missing.

 Jesus says, “you will weep and the world will rejoice, but later you will rejoice”. But he doesn’t go on and say “and the world will mourn”.

That’s how it ought to finish, right? That’s how it’s been set up. Those who rejoiced when you were mourning, their time will come. They will mourn when they see, when they know, that they were on the wrong side.

It’s there in the Wesley hymn “Lo, he comes with clouds descending”:

Those who set at nought and sold Him,

Pierc’d and nail’d him to the tree.

Deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,

Shall the true Messiah see.

(In our hymn book “deeply wailing” has been softened to “deeply shamed before him”, which I have to consider an improvement).

But ‘deeply wailing’ is how the disciples would have wanted it to go. People will rejoice at our loss, at our pain, our defeat – but they’ll see! When the shoe is on the other foot and doing some kicking.

But – and we know this, but I how often we forget – that’s not what Jesus says, it’s not his way.

Those who rejoiced in the death of Jesus will not be mourning when he is resurrected.

Because the resurrection, and the reconciliation of all things in the risen Christ, is for them, too.

Paul – Saul – may well have been numbered amongst those who rejoiced at the death of Jesus. But he would devote most of his life to the message of reconciliation.

John Newton, as a slave trader, would no doubt have joined the mockery of those who mourned; but over many decades God worked in him the ‘Amazing Grace’ which he most famously wrote about.

C.S. Lewis was famous for his mockery of the Christian faith before he became even more famous for his defence of it.

The resurrection is not good news for those who believe, and bad news for the rest.

It’s the reconciling of all things, the restoration of Shalom to the whole of creation that God is working in Jesus.

And that’s good news for everyone.