A Little While
John 16: 16-22
16 ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.’ 17 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”?’ 18 They said, ‘What does he mean by this “a little while”? We do not know what he is talking about.’ 19 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”? 20 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. 21 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. 22 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.
Verse 16 has of course been reduced to the enigmatic (or trivial) ‘Now you see me, now you don’t’, and I have certainly found that a useful peg on which to hang a poem or a story with different layers. But in context, Jesus is speaking plainly enough (to us, who have hindsight) of his return to his friends in the person of the Holy Spirit. Such a comeback will be as delightful and fulfilling as a human birth is to a mother, and it is no accident that the Spirit brings us into a reality described as ‘new birth’ (John 3: 3-8).
Jesus describes the time between (whether you think of his coming back as resurrection, pentecost or even parousia/the second coming) as ‘a little while’ (just a tick). Such periods often feel like an eternity when we are inside them, even if looking back they are much shorter. And it’s true that the period of labour before birth may vary in length and intensity. But the stress here is on the joy to come. May that strengthen us if we are going through a hard time, and may it encourage us to point others to good times ahead. Even if the weather forecast seems dire, Jesus assures his friends that his presence will sweep aside the worst prognosis.
God, you know and we know that there is much pain in the world, suffered by believer and unbeliever alike. Give your people a massive dose of the gospel, so we recognise this little while as what it is, and look forward with hope. Encourage us with the gift of your Spirit, warm our hearts with the presence of Christ, blow our minds with the things of eternity, that we make the most of the time left to us, knowing that we are loved and trusted. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.