"33I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
I have a confession that of the entire Bible I have a single line that I can say is my favourite line and one I find myself repeating in my head daily. It comes from my favourite Gospel, the account of Saint John the Evangelist. In the brief line, Jesus tells his disciples plainly how and why they should have peace in the world despite facing struggles. It is through Christ that we find peace and it is because he has overcome the world that this peace is possible. This is a very powerful statement and I would like to take some time to explore its meaning and context within the wider teaching moment in which it was spoken by Jesus Christ.
The line itself comes as the understood finale of the Last Supper account according to John. His account is actually the longest of all of the gospel writers and the topics over the course of the evening range from the importance of serving one and another, the details of Christ’s looming Passion and death, the establishment of the New Commandment, an exhortation of Jesus as the true vine and a closing that emphasizes the shared pain and suffering that those who believe and follow Jesus will endure as well. This is a scene we can only view through a looking glass dimly because of our separation in time and space from Christ and his disciples but it is also a moment that is vivid and very real for any follower of Christ. Indeed, it is safe to say that this whole night that Jesus eats and shares with his followers is not just for the men and women around him that evening, rather they are words and lessons directly given to all faithful of all ages of past and those to come. His words are clear and universal and plain.
21 "When a woman is in travail she has sorrow, because her hour has come; but when she is delivered of the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a child is born into the world. 22 So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you." John 16:21-22
Jesus does not mince his words when he speaks about the sorrow, pain and suffering his followers will continue to endure in the world. But these important words from Christ do not come in isolation. They come at the heels of Jesus explaining clearly the details of his Passion and death. And he does not do this to be morbid or gain their respect, he does this to demonstrate how he is going to overcome the world and why this important. Then he goes on to explain how the disciples have to comport themselves around one another and around new followers that will join their ranks in the coming era of the church. Jesus washes their feet to demonstrate unequivocally that all must serve one another. This is a clear and powerful statement. Moments after his disciples confess to him that they believe he is the Messiah and their Lord, he humbles himself and washes their feet even against the protest of some. If the Son of Man has washed the feet of his followers, how greater than we must serve our peers around us. He then institutes the New Commandment to love another another as Christ has loved us. And he stresses that there is no love greater than for a man to lay down his life for a friend. And finally, he teaches them, without fancy language, why he is the true vine and the Messiah spoken of in the prophecies. All of this leads up to a final reminder that the same pain and suffering the disciples are soon to witness with Jesus is awaiting them in the world as well. And that pain and suffering awaits us too. These are the last words of a friend to his brothers and sisters. He is making sure they have everything they need to get through the world while he is not there. The true meaning of the night will only become clear once the tomb is found empty and the triumph of the Son of Man has been completed. But these are timeless words, words that are relevant and bear great fruit for us today.
And we are to be of good cheer. Because Christ has overcome the world. Amen.