‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.’ 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”?’ They said, ‘What does he mean by this “a little while”? We do not know what he is talking about.’ 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”? 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. 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. 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. - John 16:16-22
Babies are among the most intriguing and delightful things in the world. Whether they gambol on four feet or walk (eventually) on two, just watching them is enough to make Scrooge smile.
One of the first games a baby learns is peek-a-boo. The mother (or someone else) will sit where the baby can see them and then hides their face in their hands. Suddenly they pop their hands away and say "Peek-a-boo" which somehow makes the baby smile first, then giggle. Repeating the exercise makes the baby laugh which makes everyone else laugh too. The game can be played with pieces of cloth being inserted between the parent and the child and then flipped away, or a parent popping out from behind a piece of furniture or a door frame.
It's a fun game to play, but it also seems to have a secondary purpose other than just making the baby laugh. It begins teaching the child about separation from others. For a very brief time the child can't see the other person, but the person always returns. As the child grows older, more separations occur. A parent goes to work, or the parents go out for an evening, leaving the child with a babysitter. Most times, the parents return, just as their familiar faces pop up from behind a cloth, a pair of hands, or a sofa. But sometimes they don't, and the child learns a very different kind of separation.
Jesus was preparing for his separation from his disciples. Like small babies, they had to learn about separation in steps, from a very short one to a much longer one. He used the image of peek-a-boo, the "now you see me, now you don't," to introduce the subject to them, but grown men don't think of peek-a-boo. Instead they go to the adult-type questions: "Where are you going?" "Who are you going with?" "What time will you be home?" Sound familiar?
There was a warning in Jesus's message. The disciples would be in mourning while the world would be rejoicing, but those tears and that sorrow would turn to joy. It's interesting that Jesus used the image of a woman in labor. Having undergone that particular kind of experience, I can tell you it hurt more than anything in the world that I could have imagined. But once it stops hurting, it's possible to remember that it was agonizing pain, but the body (or the mind) doesn't replay the exact feeling of the pain itself, only its presence and that it was unpleasant. The disciples would remember they lost something, but they would also experience the joy of meeting Jesus again, if only for a short time.
Jesus vanished from sight in about 33 CE and we are still waiting for him to return. We sometimes get a glimpse of Jesus-like behavior.
We still look for Jesus to come back and resolve all the problems of earth. We are often resigned to the evils of the world; after all, one person or even a thousand people can't fix them all. Every now and then, though, we see someone doing something Jesus-like, something like handing a hungry person a sandwich, filling a child's backpack with needed school supplies, bringing an elderly shut-in food, flowers, or just the gift of a human visitor. Jesus didn't just do big miracles like feeding 5,000 at a time, or walking on water, or even raising the dead; he also talked to foreigners, gathered children around him, and taught so persuasively that people were drawn to him and tried to live what he taught them.
The church tells us that Jesus is all around us all the time, whether we're aware of him or not. He isn't playing peek-a-boo with us--or maybe he is. Christians look for Jesus to be within them, in their hearts and minds. It's that Jesus in us that makes us want to help alleviate suffering and poverty, cure diseases, give everyone access to clean water and quality education, among other things. So why do those things still exist? Could it be we are waiting for Jesus to pop out and fix the problems for us? An adult form of peek-a-boo?
If Jesus is in us, we've got work to do. No games, no sitting and waiting, no trying to look around a piece of cloth to see if Jesus is there. When we were children, peek-a-boo was a great game (still is for grandmothers and infants), but it's time to get busy and show the world the Jesus in us all, even the most unlikely of people.
Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, April 9, 2016.