Tomorrow is Memorial Day, a day on which the United States remembers those who have given their lives in service our nation. The most costly war our country has fought against a foreign enemy was World War II. It was a war that began in an unexpected way – with the surprise attack by the Japanese against Pearl Harbor. On that one day, 2,403 Americans were killed.
However, the surprise of the beginning of the war in the Pacific was not limited to an attack on a single day. Instead Americans were shocked by the rapid series of successes that the Japanese army and navy had against the United States. Not only did the Japanese conquer the British, French and Dutch territories in east Asia, but they rapidly overran the American ones in the Pacific as well.
For six months the United States experienced defeat after defeat. Wake Island, Guam and the Philippines fell to the Japanese. By May 1942, nearly half of the forty ships of the U.S. Asiatic fleet had been sunk, and the rest had retreated to Australia.
These events came as a complete shock to the American public and many in the U.S. military because they thought that they knew the Japanese – they thought that they understood them. They thought that the Japanese were little, yellow, rice eating men who came from a backwards country and would easily be defeated.
Americans thought they understood the Japanese. But in fact they were completely mistaken. Instead of the caricature, the Japanese had a large and very professional army and navy that was already combat tested by the conflict in China. They had weapons like the Zero fighter plane and Long Lance torpedo that were superior to anything the U.S. had at the start of the war. That had superior training in naval operations at night. And they were willing to fight to the death – to the very last man – rather than suffer the dishonor of surrender. The Japanese would prove to be a formidable opponent who could only be defeated at a high cost in American lives at places like Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
In our Gospel lesson this morning, the disciples think that they understand what Jesus is saying. However, they are in fact completely mistaken. Their misunderstanding would soon be demonstrated as they scattered and abandoned Jesus, just as he said they would. Yet in Jesus’ words this morning we learn again about the difference that the resurrection of Jesus Christ makes. And we must take up the question of whether we really understand and accept what this means for our lives.
Jesus begins our Gospel lesson this morning by saying, “In that day you will ask nothing of me.” “That day” is what Jesus has just been talking about, as we heard in last Sunday’s Gospel lesson. He had said, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” The disciples had no idea what Jesus meant. They did not understand. In fact they said to each other, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.”
Our Lord knew this, and so he went on to say, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
It was the night in which Jesus was about to be betrayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. Our Lord was talking about his coming death and resurrection. In a little while he would die on the cross. He would be buried and the disciples would see him no more. But then, a little while later, on the third day he would rise from the dead and they would see him again. Jesus’ opponents would rejoice at his death and the disciples would experience crushing disappointment. Yet on Easter their sorrow would turn into joy – like the joy of a woman after she has gone through the pain of labor and has given birth to her child.
This would change everything. Thus far, Jesus had spoken in figures of speech – he had spoken indirectly. But things would be different after the resurrection. Jesus told them, “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 of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father.”
The disciples had not truly understood who Jesus was and what he had come to do for them. Jesus said, “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” They had not asked in Jesus’ name, because they did not fully understand who Jesus was in relation to God, and who he was in relation to them. However the resurrection would change that. As he spoke about that day Jesus added, “For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”
In our text, Jesus says that this new understanding will occur after the resurrection. However, after hearing Jesus words the disciples immediately say, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.”
The disciples confidently assert this. Yet immediately after our text our Lord tells them, “Do you now believe? Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone.” Jesus tells them that they don’t understand, and very shortly their actions will prove it. It is in fact only after Jesus death and resurrection that all will become clear.
We are, of course, in the season of Easter as we continue to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And so Jesus’ words raise the question: Do you understand? Do you understand what the resurrection of Jesus Christ means for you?
Earlier Jesus said, “Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” Do you understand the comfort of knowing that because Jesus lives, you also will live eternal life with him and the Father? Do you understand that the burden of sin has been lifted for all who believe in Jesus Christ? As John the Baptist announced when he saw Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Do you understand the peace that is now yours because Jesus is the crucified and risen Lord? Just after our text Jesus says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
These are things that are true for you. And so that you may now that they are true for you, Jesus has given gifts – gifts that now in this Easter season we hear in John’s Gospel plainly and not in figures of speech.
Right at the beginning of the Gospel we learn that Jesus is going to say things that won’t be understood until after the resurrection. In chapter two our Lord cleanses the temple in Jerusalem. The Jews ask him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Those hearing this don’t understand, because it had taken forty six years to build the temple and it was even fully done yet. And then John adds, “But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.”
Jesus says things that don’t become clear until after his resurrection. Thus in chapter three after telling Nicodemus that a person must be born again in order to see the kingdom of God, he goes on to say, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
After his resurrection Jesus instituted Holy Baptism through which these words are fulfilled. Because you have received the washing of water with the Word, you have been born again. You know for sure that you are a child of God and that you will enjoy the fullness of God’s reign when Christ returns on the Last Day.
In a similar manner, Jesus says in chapter 6, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” The Jews hearing him are offended and many leave. But after the resurrection we understand that at the last supper our Lord instituted the Sacrament of the Altar through which he gives his true body and blood. He gives his true body and blood into your mouth, and so leaves no doubt that you have eternal life; that he will raise you up on the Last Day.
Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, you know that our Lord has done this for you. Yet our Lord’s doing doesn’t stop with you. If you understand how the resurrection of Jesus has changed everything then it cannot be otherwise than that you will share this love with others. A little earlier our Lord said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
The forgiveness, life and love we have received from Christ the risen Lord prompts us through the work of the Spirit to share in actions of sacrificial love. If we understand what the resurrection means and that Christ has called us, it moves us to bear the fruit of love and support towards others. Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”