The song “I’ll Be Seeing You” carries a lot of emotional freight. For those of the Greatest Generation, the song sung either by Bing Crosby or Vera Lynn is an anthem for soldiers separated from their loved ones overseas. For younger generations the song is tied to Johnny Carson’s farewell from late night television in 1992. It was his favorite song and was the last song played on his last show.
The lyrics begin, “I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places that this heart embraces all day through. In that small cafe, the park across the way; the children’s carousel; the chestnut trees; the wishin’ well. I’ll be seeing you in every lovely summer’s day; in every thing that’s light and gay. I’ll always think of you that way.” The song is about the fondness of someone far away and all the things that stir the memory of one who isn’t with you.
We could use the title of that old standard to summarize the Gospel readings over the next five weeks. The Upper Room Discourse in John’s Gospel prepares the disciples for their Lord’s crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. He has come to do what He became flesh to do. Soon He will bodily depart to His Father. The disciples will no longer see Him face-to-face. Jesus calls the time He will not be seen a little while. This phrase confuses the disciples and perhaps confuses you, too.
It’s been nearly 2,000 years since our Lord’s ascension. You’d think Jesus would be back by now. Think of all the history that’s happened, even the atrocities, since Jesus’ ascension. We could have been spared from it all had He either stayed with us or returned to judge the living and the dead. Then again, perhaps none of us would be here. Our own existence, our family, our friends, and everyone we know wouldn’t have happened if the Lord would not have tarried. Then again, the growing of the Word of the Lord also would not have happened; a growth that continues today.
Now you see why it’s easy to be confused by the phrase a little while. What is more, Jesus also says you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. As if Jesus doesn’t confuse you enough with a little while, He now throws in the fact that there will be sorrow, but then there will be joy.
WHEN? WHERE? WHY? How about now, Lord! Can’t you see the mess this old world is in right now? It seems to get worse every day. A student of history should be the first to tell you that the world hasn’t ever been full of joy and light. The first 300 or so years after Christ’s ascension saw great persecution of Christians until Emperor Constantine “legitimized” the Christian faith in the Roman Empire. Whether or not he did us a favor with that move is another discussion for another day. The point is that there has never been, nor will there ever be, “good ol’ days” for Christians.
So back to our interrogative questions. When is the joy that Jesus talks about coming? Where is this joy? How do I get this joy? Let’s do the where first. In the midst of sorrow Jesus is where He said He’ll be: in the proclamation of His Good News that goes in your ears, at the font as Word and water splashingly save young and old from death and hell, under bread and wine in His Supper where forgiveness and life are put in your mouth. If Jesus sang “I’ll Be Seeing You”, He wouldn’t send you to the small cafe, the park across the way, or any other place in the song. He points you to where He puts His promise of forgiveness and salvation. That’s why you’re here today. This is where the action is for a Christian. This is where His glory dwells; His glory under earthly things that bring you joy.
The how was just done with the where. All that’s left is when. When is this joy coming? Christ’s end-time joy is already among you. His death and His resurrection begin the end times. All that He promises you concerning eternity is yours right now…but not in its fullness. It’s like the pregnant woman Jesus uses as an illustration in today’s Holy Gospel. There’s a baby in the woman’s womb. If all goes well with the pregnancy, the end result is that the baby will be born. All the pain and all the inconveniences of the pregnancy will go away in the joy that a baby has been brought into the world.
Consider the baby to be the life of the world to come. You know that’s yours because Jesus has acquired it for you and given it to you as a gift. Until Jesus returns on Judgment Day, a lot of good and bad things happen, just like in a pregnancy. The end result for a Christian is that you will see Jesus again and your heart will rejoice, and no one, not even Satan, will take your joy from you. You may be alive when it happens. You may be dead. What matters is that you will see Jesus with your own eyes.
That’s your hope right now, a certain hope because of Jesus. The end result is certain. You’re waiting with expectant joy for that time when it happens…and it will happen. Granted our Lord and His holy angels aren’t going to sing, “I’ll Be Seeing You” on Judgment Day, but the sentiment is there. Remember last week when Jesus told you that He knows you even when others don’t know you. He certainly knows you because He covered you in wet righteousness in your Baptism, feeds you His forgiveness in His Supper, and puts His expectant joy in your ears in preaching from this pulpit. This is how Jesus sees you now. The day comes when what is seen under Word, water, bread, and wine is seen in the flesh. Then, as now, your hearts rejoice.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”