Sunday 13th May 2018

Seventh Sunday of Easter

John 16:16-24

The Rev’d Jenny Wilson


In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

There are times for each one of us when life is very difficult. There may be great struggle, great suffering for us or someone we love dearly, we may be shocked by great violence in some part of the world or nearer to home, we may wonder about the fact that our life is nearing its end and we may wonder if we are still of value to others, to God.

Jesus knew about such times. Our second reading tonight is taken from the 16th Chapter of the Gospel of John. We are in the middle of a long time of conversation with Jesus and his disciples. The scene is his final supper with the disciples. He has washed their feet and now he speaks at length with them about their life in him and the God he knows intimately as Father. John portrays Jesus’ speech across three chapters, chapters fourteen to sixteen, in his gospel which is followed by a chapter, chapter seventeen, in which Jesus is portrayed as praying to his Father, praying for his disciples.

Jesus begins by saying the words we often read at funerals. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” (John 14:1). We know that the disciples now understand that Jesus will die soon. We know that the disciples are very troubled and that Jesus is troubled too. Jesus speaks of the deep truth that our hearts may be healed of fear if we remember that we live and thrive in God who loves us and who has in his house a place for us. Jesus speaks through three chapters of John’s gospel weaving images that help the disciples glimpse what it is to live in God in Jesus. “I am the vine, and my Father is the vine-grower … Abide in me as I abide in you,” (John 15:1,4) Jesus says to the disciples describing their life as branches growing in the vine that is him, a vine that is tended by God, God who prunes the vine so that it might be fruitful. Jesus uses the language of abiding and the image of the vine to hint at the closeness of the relationship of the disciples with him in God.

But the disciples still know that he will leave them soon. In the passage from the 16th chapter that we heard read tonight, Jesus faces this truth, but he faces it with hope and not despair. ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.’ He says. (John 16:16) This sentence is repeated three times in the passage we heard read. John wants those who are hearing his gospel read to them not to miss this, not to be in any doubt about this for this sentence holds in it the truth of Jesus’ death and the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. Then some of his disciples say 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”?’ (16:17) Jesus knows what they are thinking and so he says again, “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.” (16:19-20)

And then Jesus uses the image of a woman in labour. Jesus reminds the disciples that a woman in labour experiences anguish – a strong word that – a woman in labour experiences anguish but then this terrible pain is forgotten with the joy that comes with a new healthy child. Jesus likens the experience that they will encounter with his death to a birth. And then he says – and he says it very plainly – “you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (16:22) We were talking about this passage after the early service on Friday and Father Bill Goodes pointed out that the joy after the birth of a child is a new joy, a joy we have not experienced before and that Jesus is using this image of childbirth to help us not only know that the terrible pain of his death will be transformed but that it will be transformed into a joy beyond our imagining.

I will see you again, Jesus says, to the frightened disciples that are sharing this last supper with him. And the pain will turn into joy.

Jesus knew about times of struggle in the lives of ordinary human beings. Julian of Norwich understood these things too. This week on the 8th of May we remembered the 14th Century mystic Julian of Norwich. Julian, one suspects, knew Jesus’ words to his frightened disciples well. One suspects she may have spent much time meditating upon them. For the she knew much about the hope that is found in God in Christ. The time in which Lady Julian lived was not an easy time; it was a time of the Black Death and much social unrest in the peasant revolts. A significant number of the population died in that plague and Julian herself was nearly one of them. It was after such a serious illness, during which she nearly died, that Julian received a series of visions. And she spent the remainder of her life, alone in the cell close to Norwich Cathedral, reflecting upon and writing about what she saw. From her writings we have a number of sayings the most famous of which is the following:

All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.

She was pondering the reality of sin and this is what she wrote:

In my folly, before this time I often wondered why, by the great foreseeing wisdom of God, the onset of sin was not prevented: for then, I thought, all should have been well. This impulse [of thought] was much to be avoided, but nevertheless I mourned and sorrowed because of it, without reason and discretion.

“But Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that is needed by me, answered with these words and said: ‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’

Julian’s words are not those of a woman wearing rose coloured glasses. Julian’s words are those of one who has lived in a time of great suffering and who has herself known great suffering. Julian, also wrote of God:
“I did not say that you would not be tempest-tossed, I did not say that you would not be work-weary, I did not say that you would not be troubled’; but I did say, ‘You shall not be overcome.”

For Julian, the meaning of God was love. In a time where the sufferings that abounded were interpreted as a punishment from God, Julian begged to differ. The meaning of God is love. In the midst of all the struggle of the time in which she lived, God is present and God is love. And somehow

All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.

Somehow, God will not allow us to be overcome.

Julian wrote the following reflection on love.

 I saw that [our Lord] is to us everything which is good and comforting for our help. He is our clothing, who wraps and enfolds us for love, embraces us and shelters us, surrounds us for his love, which is so tender that he may never desert us. And so in this sight I saw that he is everything which is good, as I understand. And in this he showed me something small, no bigger than a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand….In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that God loves it, the third is that God preserves it. But what did I see in it? It is that God is the creator and protector and the lover. For until I am substantially united to him, I can never have perfect rest or true happiness, until, that is, I am so attached to him that there can be no created thing between my God and me.

The heart and hope of Julian’s understanding resonates deeply with Jesus’ words to his disciples at the last supper, Jesus’ words of comfort and hope that are found in his closeness to his Father, God who he knows, as Julian knows, as  “God who is love”.

Woven in to each human life are times of great struggle. May we be able to reflect on Jesus’ words to his disciples, on Julian’s words nurtured by the visions given to her by God, may we find there hope and peace, and in times of struggle may we be given the strength to know that while we may be tempest tossed and work weary and troubled, that we shall not be overcome. God longs that we know and especially in the darkest times, the most difficult times, that all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.