John 16:16 Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.” 17 At this, some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” 18 They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”
19 Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? 20 Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. 21 A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22 So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.
“Now you see me. Soon you won’t. But then you will.” The disciples are mystified and frustrated by Jesus’ riddle. And there are some subtleties. He uses two different words for ‘see’. He suggests a change from the current iterative and extended ‘contemplation’ (θεωρεῖτέ) of Jesus to the future sighting (ὄψεσθέ) of Jesus— using a more generalised word. Jn 16:22 (ὄψομαι) uses the same root verb for the future sighting of Jesus. He will be seen by them but not in the same way as he is now.
Jesus’ departure will mean grief for his disciples. They already know this but they are mystified by talk of Jesus’ return; that he will be seen again. The character of their grief is going to be different to that of the world. Their grief will be like the pains of child birth: intense but temporary, replaced by joy. Seeing Jesus again, at that later time, will turn grief to joy.
Why is Jesus so very careful in his foretelling of his resurrection? Knowing exactly what happens (as we do from our side of history) can tend to minimise the significance of his death. We move past it too quickly. We can fail to recognise what has happened; its enormity, its tragedy, the cost. Jesus’ sufferings and death were real in every sense. Let’s not move past that too quickly.
But grief will be swallowed up by joy. The resurrection of Jesus brings joy far greater than reunion with a friend, or even knowing that the friend is not forever dead. Resurrection brings the joy of knowing that death is dead and life reigns because of Jesus.
Lord Jesus, grant me faith until I can see you. And then, may all grief be swallowed up in joy. Amen.