EASTER III – Jubilate Deo
Introit: (Psalm 66) O be joyful in God, all ye lands, alleluia: sing ye praises unto the honour of his name, alleluia: make his praise to be exceeding glorious, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Ps. Say unto God, O how wonderful art thou in thy works, O Lord! Through the greatness of thy power shall thine enemies be found liars unto thee. Glory be … O be joyful …
Collect: Almighty God who shewest to them that be in error the light of thy truth, to the intent that they may return into the way of righteousness: grant unto all them that are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s religion, that they may eschew those things that are contrary to their profession, and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
OT Lesson: My strength and my hope is perished from the Lord: remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall. My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me. This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord. (Lamentations 3.18-26)
Alleluia. (Psalm 111) The Lord hath sent redemption unto his people. Alleluia.
Epistle: Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king. Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. For this is thankworthy: in Christ Jesus our Lord. (I Peter 2.11-19)
Alleluia. (Luke 24) It behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise again from the dead: and so to enter into his glory. Alleluia.
The Holy Gospel: At that time: Jesus said unto his disciples: A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father. Then said some of his disciples among themselves, What is this that he saith unto us, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me: and, Because I go to the Father? They said therefore, What is this that he saith, A little while? we cannot tell what he saith. Now Jesus knew that they were desirous to ask him, and said unto them, Do ye enquire among yourselves of that I said, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me? Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: 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. And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you. (St John 16.16-22)
“Ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice.”
Today’s Gospel reading comes from Our Lord’s final words to the disciples on Maundy Thursday—the so-called “farewell discourse.” The immediate context is, of course, His crucifixion and resurrection. In a little while, just a few short hours, the soldiers will take Jesus away, and put Him to death. The disciples will weep and lament in fear, while the powers of the world rejoice over the fact that they have rid themselves of this Jesus of Nazareth. And imagine how dark that day must have been. This “little while” of Our Lord’s Passion was no doubt the longest while of the disciples’ lives, as everything they believed in seemed to come crashing down around them. To see Jesus on the cross, blasphemed, mocked, bruised and bloodied: what could look less like God? And they would forsake Him like cowards in His darkest hour. And whatever vestige of joy they may have had was suddenly ripped away as the seal was set on the tomb.
Meanwhile, the world rejoiced in triumph. And who were the ones who took the greatest pleasure in the death of Jesus, but those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt. Such people reject the grace of God, and despise any who would dare to challenge their self-image. Throughout the centuries nations and peoples have engaged in a relentless warfare to throw off the rule of the true God. “Ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.” The world still rejoices while Christians weep and lament. There are persecutions still going on, churches are bombed, and Christians threatened, intimidated, and slandered because of their Faith. Followers of Christ are weeping and lamenting at this very moment, as the world enjoys its persecution of them. Even in our own country we see the state attempting to silence the Church by defining Christian doctrine as hate speech. The world has its hour of greatest joy when the truth and grace of God are obscured and it is left free to strut around unchecked, puffing out its chest with pride at how advanced, tolerant and inclusive it is. According to this worldly self-righteous folly, the only sin is in claiming that sin exists at all, and any who would dare to do so must needs be silenced. It will not tolerate being told that it is not its own god. The denizens of the world fight to live contrary to the commandments of God, and free to indulge every sinful desire of their corrupted hearts. “Ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice.”
The world is indeed having its time of rejoicing. The Church looks pretty beaten up. We read of studies showing that church attendance is dropping precipitously. Some think that the Church is irrelevant because we have now attained such an advanced level of scientific and technological knowledge. Even the current pandemic is providing opportunity for those who do not believe or accept the Gospel to put pressure on the Church to abandon or change her practices because they “unnecessarily” put people’s lives at risk. “You can practise your faith as long we judge it to be good and safe for you. What can be more important than staying alive?” The world thinks it is winning, and overcoming Christ and His Church. We are only now beginning to taste what many of the saints who have gone before us have had to endure as those who bear the Name of Christ and would confess Him openly before the world.
“Ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice.” This has been the way of this sinful world since the Fall, where self-centred people desire to dominate and control others, demanding their own way at their neighbour’s expense. But do not we ourselves also fall into this trap on occasion? “How dare you suggest that I am sinful! Don’t you see how virtuous I am?” Although we are children of the Kingdom, so often we choose to live with a dual citizenship. We claim heaven as our home on Sunday mornings, but when we walk out the door, we live as though this world is all there is, and embrace its values as our own. And then we wonder why we find it so hard to draw people into the Kingdom of God.
Today’s Epistle lesson teaches us to train ourselves in godly virtues while we await the final restoration; to endure life’s trials and temptations, and by so doing, give witness to the eternal joy of the resurrection. St Peter says that, while our true home and citizenship are in heaven, God has given us this temporary journey here for a reason—to be His ambassadors; to show the world what His Kingdom is like and to draw others into it through the example of our lives. The Collect reflects this theme, as we pray: “Grant unto all them that are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s religion, that they may eschew those things that are contrary to their profession, and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same.” That means following the true path of the Catholic Faith, by not only professing the name “Christian,” but by doing only what is consonant with the Christian faith and morals. St Peter spells out, in all simplicity, the manner of our fidelity to this Name we bear: it is not in using our freedom as a licence for malicious actions, but that through our free choices we may show ourselves as servants of God. The “little while” of which our Lord speaks is this present life, that span of days during which we sojourn here below before entering into the beatitude of God in heaven: that joy which no one can take away. During this “little while,” we may choose or reject that good to which God calls us, so Peter urges us to purity: to an uncompromised integrity of body and soul wherein, by obedience to divine revelation, we will be found justified and vindicated by Christ at our life’s end. For the “joy no man can take away” is won only by a sincere submission now to Him in Whose image we have been created and by Whose Divine Son our redemption is made possible.
“A little while.” What does that mean? That was the disciples’ question, but it is also ours. How long is “a little while”? We have all heard it; perhaps our parents said it to us, in answer to our questions about some event to which we were looking forward. “A little while” may be very brief, or it can seem like an eternity. From the crucifixion to the resurrection was only three days, but for the disciples it must have seemed much longer. And then, just forty days later, again “A little while, and ye shall not see me: … because I go to the Father,” directing our hearts towards the closing mystery in the great Paschal cycle. At the Ascension, we will commemorate Our Lord’s being lifted up from this world and returning physically into the presence of God the Father. At that time those men of Galilee will hear the angels asking them why they are standing there gazing into the heavens, for “this same Lord Jesus will come again in glory as you have seen Him go.” And although they expected Him to return again soon, that “little while” has stretched on. For the past twenty centuries the “little while” between this departure at Christ’s Ascension and our eternal and inseparable reunion with Him has been the cause of the Church’s vigilant expectation, ardent faith, and mission. We do not always perceive that this earthly pilgrimage is just a “little while,” but as children of God, even as we wait, our sorrow itself is tinged with heavenly joy because, when we enter into the full meaning of the Son’s going to the Father, we realise that the affairs and conceits of our world are not only nothing worth but also deadly and destructive apart from the Gospel of Christ. And according to St Augustine, Our Lord’s second coming is not far off: “It seems long now because time is still passing; but when the wait is over, we shall see how short it was.” In the risen and ascended Christ, we have hope that our sorrows and pains, our sufferings and disappointments, even our betrayals and wickednesses, can become the occasion of redemption and joy, “because I go to the Father.”
“Say unto God, O how wonderful art thou in thy works, O Lord! Through the greatness of thy power shall thine enemies be found liars unto thee.” We know how fear can inspire lies and flattery from those unwilling to submit to rightful authority. The Easter triumph finds its reflection in the final exaltation of Christ’s Ascension to the glory of His Father, and the eternal hope of heaven opened by the Redeemer to the children of His Kingdom fills us with unspeakable joy. But until that day, Christ’s Holy Catholic Church must continue to endure its little while of suffering. She must continue to suffer the hatred of the world and the relentless attacks of Satan. Christians must endure the sorrow of still bearing sinful flesh with its passions which war against the soul. There is still disease and addiction and anxiety. There is still pride, anger, jealousy, covetousness, gluttony, lust, and sloth. But only for a little while. The day of our unmitigated joy lies ahead. And one day our faith in Him will be vindicated before the eyes of the whole world.
When we focus on our own issues, when we lament our own misfortunes and how unjustly we are treated, we cannot see Jesus. But when you see Christ in all things, at all times and in all places, you will have joy—joy that no one can take away from you—for no matter what happens to you, Christ is yours, and you are His. The purpose of the Christian Faith is not to provide a temporary escape from the sorrowful realities of life. Rather, our Faith strengthens us and helps us to endure until that sorrow gives way to eternal joy. Present sorrows always seem like they will last a lifetime, but they fade in the light of eternity. St Paul writes to the Romans, “I consider that the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us (Rom 8.18).”
“Ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful but your sorrow shall be turned to joy.” For the Christian, joy is the result of seeing Christ. The disciples had presumably seen Jesus every day for the past three years. In a few short hours, He would be lifted up on a cross, then buried out of sight in a tomb. But it was just a little while until the disciples saw Him again—truly saw Him, risen and glorified. But it was again only a little while until they would no longer see Him, as He ascended to His Father’s right hand, and was hid from sight once more. But were the disciples sorrowful then? No, we are told that they “returned to Jerusalem with great joy (Luke 24.52).” So why were they now joyful? Because joy is not an emotion, but a state of being. The difference between happiness and joy is that joy also exists beneath the cross. Joy is not a momentary interruption of sorrow; rather, sorrow is a momentary interruption of joy. Joy does not cease during sorrow. It may be obscured, but only for a little while. Because of the resurrection, our mourning is always seasoned with joy. As S Paul assures us in I Thessalonians, “We do not sorrow as others who have no hope” (4.13). That is to say, that through Christ the pain of life has become the pain of new birth. This is why the New Testament describes the cross as labour pains. As Our Lord says: “A woman, when she is in labour, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. Therefore you now have sorrow, but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one can take from you (John 16.21).”
The passion and death of Christ are the labour pains, while Easter is the birth of a new humanity. Revelation describes Jesus as “the firstborn of the dead.” When we participate in Good Friday and Easter through Baptism, we are born again, but we are also being born again. New life is planted in us in Baptism, but this life is not yet fully formed. As this new life grows, we experience labour pains; and often the most painful things cause the most growth, and the life within us is destined to break free from the confines of our mortal bodies, “in a little while.” This helps us to put our lives into perspective. If we never think about pain and death and only focus on the positive aspects, our subjective emotional state may be more cheery, but we have not solved the problem of death; we have merely avoided it. Christian faith results in genuine hope and joy because, while it forces us to face our sin and mortality, it also enables us actually to conquer both. We face our tribulations “in Christ,” with the full assurance that we have already conquered the world through faith in Him. We must still live through all of the highs and lows in order to fully experience what it means to live “in Christ,” but the pattern of Christ’s life teaches us that the pathway to joy leads through the cross. If there is no confrontation of sin and no mournful repentance, then there can be no forgiveness or new life. The temptation to skip the cross is what Jesus resisted in the wilderness, and even in the Garden of Gethsemane on the eve of His crucifixion. But then we could have no joy. The world’s time of rejoicing is coming to an end. As the disciples came to understand, Our Lord’s suffering was not His defeat, but was actually His victory. What the world and the devil rejoiced in turned out to be their own defeat. Death was swallowed up forever. The sins of the world had been taken away by the shedding of the Blood of the Lamb of God. Human eyes could not see it. All they could see was a brutalized man, executed by the Roman authorities.
We have eternal life within us through the resurrection of Christ. As the people of God, we are pilgrims and sojourners in this world, looking to a homeland yet to come (I Peter 2.11-20). Though we are even now children of God, the fulness of what we shall be has not yet been revealed (I John 3.1-3), but “the Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him (Lam 3.25),” and Our Lord assures us that the wait is but “a little while.” Mark Frank, the 17th-century Caroline Divine, puts it this way:
The sum of all is this: that though it sometimes falls out to us that we lose Christ, or cannot find him for a while, and so fall into perplexities and fears, and go up and down dejected, with downcast looks; yet if we so seek him with a solicitous love, a reverent fear, and humble diligence, we shall meet angels after a while, to comfort us and bring us news of our beloved Lord, and find him risen or rising in us ere we are aware. And the close of all will be our duty … to make ourselves sensible of the perplexed and sad state of those that are without Christ, who have lost him in the grave, or know not where he is, or how to find him; and thereupon, to set ourselves to seek him that we may be sure at last to hear of him, and be made partakers of his resurrection.
Though we must experience sorrow for a time, though we must live as aliens in a world that is at enmity with Christ, yet our sorrow shall be turned to joy when we see Him. Because He is risen, we too have been raised to newness of life, and this little while of weeping shall be replaced with an eternity of rejoicing in the presence of Christ. “Ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy … and your joy no man taketh from you.”
Քրիստոս հարյա՜վ ի մեռելոց!
Christ is risen!
Collect: O God, who by the glorious resurrection of thy Son Jesus Christ hast destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light: Grant that we, who have been raised with him, may abide in his presence and rejoice in the hope of eternal glory; through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
The God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight:
And the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you and remain with you always. Amen.