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May 17, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this sixth Sunday of Easter comes from our Gospel text, where John records Jesus’s words, “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.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends …

It doesn’t feel that way, does it? It doesn’t feel like Jesus has overcome the world. Just in this present time alone, when all the world has locked down, when both lives and livelihoods are at significant risk, when we can’t even meet together as friends and family, much less as a congregation … it doesn’t seem like Jesus has overcome. It feels like we have been overcome, doesn’t it?

Of course, this is not an isolated incident, and SARS-COV-2 is not the only threat to life and livelihood. Frankly, this outbreak seems to be just another issue (albeit a rather debilitating one) that our community, nation, and world has had to face. Political division. Racial tensions. Persecution of Christians here and abroad. Deep distrust of the media, regardless of their political leanings. Farming issues. Meteorological events like tornadoes and hail. Geological issues like earthquakes and volcanoes. International tensions flaring up. Diseases like cancer and AIDS still running rampant. Crash of the stock market worldwide. Jobs being lost left and right for many and varied reasons. Heightened rates of depression and depression-related fatalities. Broken homes and bitter familial relations. People being so … ugly to each other! My friends, beautiful as this world is, it’s a mess! It sure seems like the world is out to get us, and boy … does it seem like it’s succeeding in that endeavor.

So, Jesus tells His disciples and us to “take heart; I have overcome the world.” Really? Is He whistling past the graveyard? We’re dealing with some really heavy issues here! How can He say that He has overcome the world, when we ourselves are being so overcome by the world? Well, maybe a little context would help us better understand how Jesus can say this with a straight face … and perhaps give us a little perspective.

See, these are the last words of many in which Jesus was preparing His disciples for what was about to happen. He’d told them that He was going to prepare a place for them in His Father’s house. He’d promised them a helper who would come and be with them forever, teaching them all things and bringing to remembrance everything their rabbi had told them. He’d proclaimed that He was the true vine, and that whoever abides in Him, and He in them, would bear much fruit. He’d warned them that the world would hate them, but only because it hated Him first. He said they’d be put out of the synagogues, that they’d killed by people who would think that they were serving God. He promised … that they would have sorrow … but that their sorrow would become joy.

Then comes our text, the culmination of this discourse. Jesus tells them that the Father loves them, and that He was leaving the world. The disciples think that they understand, that they believe, but Jesus informs them that they would all scatter, leaving Him alone. Nevertheless, He’s not alone because the Father is with Him, and He’s told them these things so that, in Him, they may have peace. He finishes by promising them, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

What immediately follows our text is Jesus’s high priestly prayer on behalf of all who believe in Him … moments before He and His disciples cross the Kidron valley … to the Garden of Gethsemane, wherein He would be betrayed and arrested. From there, He would be brought before politicians who would decide His fate. He’d be beaten, flogged, and have a crown of thorns pressed into the tender flesh of His scalp. He’d be paraded through the streets of Jerusalem, nearly naked, carrying the very device with which He would be executed in a matter of hours. He would have nails driven through His hands and feet, die the worst form of death imaginable among wicked men, and His body would be placed in the tomb of a rich man. … And Jesus says, “take heart; I have overcome the world.”

I don’t say this as if to say, “You think YOU’VE got problems?” True, what Christ Jesus endured in the final hours before His death would make our problems pale by comparison, but that’s not the point. I say this … because Jesus knew all of this would happen, and He still said to the disciples, “take heart; I have overcome the world!” Either He’s crazy … or He knows something that, in that moment, the disciples don’t.

Obviously, it’s the latter, and by the gracious gift of faith, we have been made privy to what the disciples didn’t understand at that time. We know that Jesus’s death on the cross was His overcoming the enemy of sin that we humans introduced into the world. The sinless One became sin incarnate and put it to death in His own flesh, making satisfaction for all our sinful thoughts, words, and deeds forever. … But we also know that the story doesn’t end there! The grave could not hold Him, and death could not keep Him! He overcame the old evil foe by rising again that following Sunday morning! Now, His promise to those who are His … is that His victory is now theirs! Those who believe it … receive it! Faith! Righteousness! Eternal life! Our sin is atoned for, and eternal life is ours in Christ Jesus! “Take heart! I have overcome the world!”

Yes, we have tribulations. Yes, we have real problems and issues that we face here. Yes, there is wanton suffering and sin and death in the world. But Jesus promised it would happen. This is a good creation, but it is broken by sin. Jesus told His disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation.” But followed that truth with another: “take heart; I have overcome the world.”  He’s not whistling past the graveyard; He sees the bigger picture, knowing that the graveyard will be emptied one day, because His grave was emptied that first Easter Sunday! These times are trying, make no mistake about it, but we are not being overcome by the world. The world has been overcome by the crucified and resurrected Lord of creation, so take heart! His victory is yours! Alleluia! Christ is risen!

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.