Sunday, April 20, 2014
Mark 16:1-8; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8; Job 19:23-27
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Early in the morning on the first day of the week, the women got up to work. There was unfinished work to do because of the haste of Friday before the Great Sabbath. They made their way to the tomb to finish the work of preparing Jesus’ body for burial. He was dead. There would be time for mourning later on. Now there was work to be done. From their perspective, nothing had changed, except that the Rabbi they loved was dead. People die all the time. Eventually, someone you love will die. Now was the time to work, to do what was necessary. Life would never be the same, but it would go on. There was work to be done, bread to bake and clothes to make, the Law to keep and sacrifices to offer for failure to keep it. Tomorrow would be like today, and today there was work to do.
The first work to do would be to roll away the stone. You see, they fully expected it to be there. That would be a daunting task for two women. Imagine their surprise, even horror, when they saw that the stone had already been rolled away. Still, they entered the tomb. They still had work to do. That’s when they saw a young man sitting where Jesus’ body had been laid, dressed in a white robe. They were alarmed, as you might expect. The young man said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.”
This young man, whom we understand to be one of God’s holy angels, is the first Evangelist. He proclaimed the Good News to the frightened women that Jesus had died and had risen just as He had said He would. And, if that were not enough, he invited them to see and believe. I imagine that you have thought at times, “If only I could have seen and heard what Jesus’ disciples and the crowds saw and heard. I would have believed.” And yet, seeing and hearing, they did not believe. They didn’t understand. They simply couldn’t comprehend. The young man told them “Go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.” But, they went out and fled from the tomb and said nothing to anyone because they were afraid. Seeing is believing, or so they say. But the women saw, and they did not believe. In fact, Jesus’ disciples, and even His opponents, saw and heard many amazing things and did not believe. Truly it was, and it is, as Jesus taught: They have God’s Word. If they will not hear God’s Word, neither will they believe even if someone were to be raised from the dead.
Later that same day Jesus appeared to His disciples gathered together in fear behind closed doors. They believed when they saw Jesus’ hands and side, but only after He ate some bread and fish were they certain He wasn’t a ghost. But, as you will hear more fully next week, Thomas was not there. When they told Thomas that they had seen the Lord, Thomas said that he would never believe unless he could see and touch the wounds in Jesus’ hands and side himself. The next Sunday, Jesus again appeared amongst His disciples. This time Thomas was there. Jesus invited Thomas to touch Him and believe. However, now that Thomas could see for himself, he no longer demanded to touch, and he believed. Jesus said to him, “ You have believed because you have seen. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
But, what about Job? Job lived between 1800 – 2000 years before Jesus’ birth, and yet he famously confessed, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” Job had never seen the Lord. Job had never heard the Lord. But, Job had heard of God’s promise to our First Parents in the Garden, and likely of His covenant with Abraham to bless all nations through an heir from his own decent. There is simply no comparing what Job heard and saw to what the Apostles heard and saw, not to mention the extreme affliction God permitted Job to suffer, and yet Job’s faith and confession are as rock solid and certain as no other in the entire Scriptures. “I know,” Job confessed, not “ I think” or “I hope.” “I know that my Redeemer lives, and though my body will surely die and dissolve in the earth, I know that I will see God in my own flesh and blood body, with my own eyes.”
Whence comes Job’s faith and confession? Whence comes the Apostle’s, Thomas’, the women at the tomb, and your faith and confession? This faith and confession is created in you by the Holy Spirit through the Word of the LORD. This shouldn’t be surprising, for that’s how it was in the Creation. God spoke His Word and there was light, heavens and earth, seas, land, trees, plants, and animals of every kind. And, the day of Jesus’ resurrection is the first day of God’s New Creation. “Behold, I make all things new.” God continues to create anew through the proclamation of the Gospel, removing the stones of sin and guilt and raising the spiritually dead to new and everlasting life.
Jesus’ death on Good Friday was for all, no exceptions, no exclusions. “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son.” Likewise Jesus’ resurrection is for all and available to all. The Holy Spirit is blowing through the Word and Sacraments throughout the hills and valleys, fields, forests, deserts, and plains of this earth raising to life those who do not refuse and reject Him. Our justification, faith, resurrection, and life are His work, and it is glorious in our eyes. This is the day that the LORD has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!
This is the day that the LORD has made. It is a new day, not like Friday. The women were wrong. They didn’t understand at the time. But they did later. How? By the Word. They heard the Word of the angel in Jesus’ tomb. They heard the Word that Mary Magdalene spoke to Peter. Thomas also was wrong, but He believed later because he heard the Word of the Lord proclaimed by his fellow apostles. Though it may seem that seeing is believing, faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ. Still, faith is created only by the Holy Spirit where and when it pleases Him, and the Spirit can be resisted.
But the women were also wrong about the days following being just like the days before. No, after Jesus’ resurrection, everything is changed, all things are new. No longer need we strive to make ourselves right with God. Jesus has done that for us. It is finished. The Law is fulfilled. Now we are free to serve Him without fear all the days of our everlasting lives. We live today in the freedom and joy of Christ’s resurrection. And we look forward to the day when we, with Job, Thomas, Peter and the Apostles, the Marys, and all the faithful, will see God with our own eyes, in our own resurrected and glorified bodies, face to face. Until that day keep us dear Father in Jesus Christ.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Saturday, April 19, 2014
Genesis 1:1 – 2:3; Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18; 8:6-18; 9:8-13; Exodus 14:10 – 15:1; Ezekiel 37:1-14; Jonah 3:1-10; Daniel 3:1-30; John 20:1-18
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
It is appropriate that the first celebration of Easter begin with the words “In the beginning God,” for God was, and God is, the beginning and the very Creator and source of all that is. The rest of the Holy Scriptures are the account of man’s rebellion and fall into sin, and the wages of his sin, even as God worked through His fallen creatures and creation ever towards their re-creation, restoration, and renewal in His Son. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the Omega to that Alpha, and yet, it doesn’t end there, but it is a new beginning. Friday’s “It is finished” proclaimed the end of God’s work of re-creation in His Son. Jesus observed the Sabbath rest on Saturday, today. And now, tonight at sundown, we are gathered here in vigil anticipating the dawn of a New Day – the First Day of the New Creation in Jesus Christ, a Day upon which the sun will never set, the Eternal Eighth Day.
This is the Day into which you have been baptized. The life you live in Christ will never die. Though your body will die and return to the dust from which it came, your spirit is a new creation. When Christ returns, He will raise up your body as a new creation fit for the new and immortal spirit you already are. The proof and guarantee of this is Jesus’ own bodily resurrection and ascension to the right hand of His Father.
In your Holy Baptism, the Father spoke His creative Word once again and His Spirit hovered over the waters to bring something out of nothing, to bring you out of death into life. Once again the flood waters poured over you, both killing and quickening, as you were raised up a new creation. Like Israel before you, you were delivered safely through the Red Sea while your sins and sinful nature were drowned with Pharaoh and his hosts and died. Though you were lifeless and dead as dried-out bones, the Spirit breathed life upon you and into you and gave you a heart of flesh in place of your heart of stone. Jesus is the greater Jonah who, after three days in the tomb was raised to preach the Gospel of forgiveness to you lost and hopeless Ninevites that you would be turned in repentance and live. He has delivered you out of the fiery furnace of His Father’s wrath against your sin and has invaded and proclaimed victory over both death and hell.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! This is the Day that the LORD has made! Let us rejoice and be glad in it! Christ has made all things new! From now on, regard no one according to the flesh! Christ has died for all, so all have died, and He is risen that all may live in Him. Let this be told in all the earth! Let this be witnessed in your lives, words, and deeds. Go! Flee from His empty tomb and tell all His brothers and sisters He is risen, just as He said! But, whatever you do, don’t let tomorrow be like yesterday. Yesterday is dead and buried; tomorrow is risen in Christ!
Do not be afraid. You are not alone. You are never alone. You died in Jesus death’ and were buried; in Jesus you also have been raised from death. The stone of sin and guilt that would have kept you in your tomb has been rolled away, removed, never to be placed again. This is what your baptism means. Your new life is in communion with Christ. You are His body even as He is your head. And, not you alone, but all the Church. In truth, Jesus died and was raised for all men; pity those who do not know, believe, and confess.
Do not be afraid to live freely. That is, do not permit yourself to be burdened and weighed down by cares and anxieties and fears concerning this material world, your possessions, food, clothing, shelter, and money. You have died to their enslavement; you are free in Christ who is all in all. “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”
Do not be afraid. You are not alone. You are born again into a new family, those who hear the Word of God and keep it. You are your brother’s keeper, and by your brother you are kept. One holy Name you bless. You partake of one Holy Food. This is the feast of victory for our God. The Lamb who was slain has begun His reign. Alleluia! You are born of His riven side in holy cleansing water and blood. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Let us rejoice and be glad in Him today, and tomorrow, and forever.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Friday, April 18, 2014
John 18:1 – 19:42; 2 Corinthians 5:14-21; Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
You all know the story of Good Friday and of your Lord’s Passion pretty well. You hear it recounted year after year, and rightly so, for it is a central tenet of our Christian faith. You also hear it weekly, in part, in our Divine Service and in the Gospel rightly proclaimed. To be sure, the story of Christ’s Passion is emotionally provocative. It inspires sadness and remorse, pity and anguish, revulsion and anger. It moves, not a few, to tears. But, what lasting impact, I wonder, does it have upon you? Has it changed you for the better in any particular way?
This Good Friday, I encourage you to focus upon the effect that Jesus’ suffering and death has had upon you and how you live your life today and from now on. While your Lord suffered scourging, crucifixion, and death to redeem you from your sin and guilt, and that fact is the primary truth we remember this day, that is not the only thing that Jesus has done for you in His Passion. Indeed, Jesus’ death was not merely for you, so that you are the benefactor, which you surely are, but Jesus’ death was also as you. Likewise, Jesus’ resurrection was both for you and as you as well. This means that Jesus’ death and resurrection was your death and resurrection. Not only does it count for you, but it happened to you.
Jesus proclaimed this fact when He taught about serving others saying, “As you do to the least of my brothers, you do to me.” And, what our Lord proclaimed matter-of-factly, St. Paul has explained more theologically saying, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” Thus, when you serve your brother, sister, and neighbor in Christ, you serve your Lord Jesus in whom they are baptized, have died and have been raised from death. And, even when you serve your neighbor who does not believe in Christ, you still serve Christ who died for them and as them as well.
This Lenten season we prayed the Litany together throughout our midweek Vespers. In one petition of that great prayer we prayed, “By the mystery of Your holy incarnation; by Your holy nativity; By Your baptism, fasting, and temptation; by Your agony and bloody sweat; by Your cross and passion; by Your precious death and burial; By Your glorious resurrection and ascension; and by the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter: Help us, good Lord.” We appeal to God on account of these His works in His Son Jesus. In and through these, God became what we are. All that He did He did for you as you. All that He did you did in Him. And, what is true for you is true for your brother, your sister, your neighbor as well.
Thus St. Paul exhorts you saying, “The love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.” What does it mean to “regard no one according to the flesh” than to recognize that every person you know, will meet, or encounter, every person on this planet now, or ever has been or ever will be, is not merely a man, woman, or child, but each and every one of them – good or bad, rich or poor, likeable or unlikeable, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist, or any other – is an enfleshed soul created by God and redeemed by God in the incarnation, nativity, baptism, crucifixion and death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.
The rat race of your lives can easily lead you to have a pragmatic and utilitarian view of life and the world as you go to work, pay your bills and taxes, struggle to keep up your home, educate your children, and worry about things you cannot control in the world: wars, terrorism, violence, death. That view might conclude: “Whatever works is good.” Jesus died to cleanse you from your sin and failure to keep the Law that enslaved you to futile and fruitless obedience with death being your only reward. Jesus rose from death to raise you to new life in Him that you might “be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.”
“If anyone is in Christ, He is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Christ’s death and resurrection are both for you and as you. In Christ, you are a new creation. But, do you know this? Do you feel this? Do you live this? This is no preaching of the Law telling you what you must do, but this is a proclamation of the Gospel telling you of the freedom you have and enjoy in Christ! Don’t place yourself back under the shackles of the Law. Don’t let Satan lie to you and deceive you so that you believe, feel, and live as though you are not free. The hallmark of living freely in Christ is not being enslaved to the Law and material, worldly, and fleshly desires, values, and goods. The fruit of living freely in Christ, the fruit of the Gospel and Spirit, is giving freely of what you have freely received: love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, charity, kindness, gentleness, patience, long-suffering, perseverance.
What all this means is that your life is not your own – and that’s a good thing! You have died and have been buried with Christ; likewise you have been raised with Christ. Christ’s life is your life, and your life is His. Christ died for you and as you that He might cleanse you from sin and guilt and free you from slavery and condemnation under the Law. If the Son has set you free, then you are free indeed! And, what He has done for you and as you He has done for all. Therefore, regard no one according to the flesh alone, but everyone as Christ – “When you did it to the least of these my brothers you did it to me.”
It is finished – all that was necessary to make you right with God, all that was necessary to redeem you from sin and death, all that was necessary to free you from slavery and condemnation under the Law is finished, completed, and fulfilled in Jesus’ death on Good Friday. Jesus took all of that upon Himself and He died for you and as you and was buried. However, He did not remain in that tomb, but He rose from the dead on the third day just as He had said. To remain in sin and death and worldly, fleshly, and material desires, pleasures, and pursuits is to remain in death and the tomb; it is to return to a rotting, stinking, filthy corpse. But, Jesus has died and has been raised that you might live for Him and as Him. And, while this new life is not always easy, Jesus promises to be with you through it all. When you give to others, you give with His gifts. When you forgive others, you forgive with His forgiveness. When you love others, you love with His love.
You are not the same. In Christ you have been reconciled with God; therefore, be reconciled with your brother, your sister, and your neighbor. You are a new creation in Christ, and so also your brother, your sister, and your neighbor. You are blessed to be a blessing. This is why we call this day good. Jesus’ death is for you and as you. Jesus’ resurrection is for you and as you. In Christ, you are a new creation. Glory be to God alone.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Thursday, April 17, 2014
John 13:1-15, 34-35; 1 Corinthians 11:23-32; Exodus 12:1-14
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples.” By how much you go to church? No, that’s not it. By how much money you give to the church or to your favorite charity? No, that’s not it either. By how “churchy” you appear outside of church, even in very “unchurchy” places? Nope, wrong again. Well then, what is it? What is it that Jesus declares will be the definitive characteristic you must display that will cause all others to know that you are His disciples and follow Him? Are you ready? Here it is: Love. All people will know that you are Jesus’ disciples when you have love for one another.
“It can’t be that easy,” you say? Don’t worry, it’s not. Indeed, there’s nothing easy about love. In fact, love is hard. Love hurts. Love is sacrifice. Jesus commands you to love your enemies and to do good to those who hate you. That’s hard! However, even when it’s considerably easier to love someone, someone who’s kind to you, someone who loves you in return, even then love is hard, even then love is still a sacrifice. You always sacrifice and give away a part of yourself when you love. And, that’s why love is the definitive characteristic of the Christian. By this all people will know that you are Jesus’ disciples, when you give away a part of yourself, when you think more of others and their comfort, safety, needs, and salvation than you do of yourself and your own, when you sacrifice yourself for one another.
It’s always been about sacrifice, because it’s always been about love. God is love. He created this world and everything in it, He created humanity, He created you out of divine, holy and perfect, selfless, sacrificial, love. God walked with Man in the Garden, and Man with God. God provided everything for the Man He loved, even a woman for him to love and to return love that Man would know God better still by experiencing and sharing His love for another. And God blessed the Man and the Woman that they would be fruitful; He blessed them with the fruit of life that they might together love and sacrifice themselves for another, an extension of God’s sacrificial love once over again.
For a time, God only knows how long or short, all went along swimmingly. Man lived in accord with God’s will and loved with His love. It was Paradise. But, then, one of God’s creatures who refused to love set about to teaching Man to do the same. “Did God really say?” he asked. Man knew what God said from His very own voice! “You will be like God,” he said. They were the hand-made creatures of God, the very crown of all He had made, made in His own image and likeness! Lies, damned lies and deceptions, that’s all that ever came or that ever comes from that hateful creature’s voice. But, the deception took, the seed was planted. Doubt began to grow, faith and trust began to weaken and die. Man now knew the difference between good and evil. Man knew a will that was distinct from God’s will; he knew his own will and He willfully acted upon it. Love had begun to die, for self-centeredness and self-interest are the very antithesis of love. Me, myself, and I don’t much care about you, you, and you.
But, what did your God, who is love, do? He did the loving thing; He did the sacrificial thing. God made a covenant promise that He would send one from woman’s seed who would crush Satan’s head. However, God also said that this Seed would in turn likewise receive a serious, even fatal blow. That was His Word, His Promise. Then He gave a sign of that promise until it was fulfilled; God made a sacrifice of animals, shedding their innocent blood that Man’s nakedness might be covered. It was a sign, a symbol, of the sacrificial shedding of innocent blood God would provide in that Seed of the woman, His only-begotten Son, whom He would send, and who would willingly go, to be the Passover Lamb of God’s self-offering to take away the sins of our First Parents and all their sinful progeny forever.
That initial blood, the blood of innocent animals, was a sign, a symbol. There was no power in the blood itself to forgive sins or take them away. The only reason the blood covered sins was because God said so. When the blood was shed, God lovingly and sacrificially looked upon His sinful people as if they were not sinful. God so loved the world and the men He made to love that He did what was necessary to restore that relationship. In the wilderness, God set Himself to dwell with His people once again. However, sinful men simply couldn’t bear being in the presence of God’s holiness. It would literally destroy them. Therefore, once again, He did what was necessary in order to show His love to His people. He lovingly and sacrificially gave them the tabernacle and the sacrificial system that the blood of bulls, goats, and lambs might be sacrificed so that the people could live in the presence of God for a time, but only for a time. Indeed, as these sacrifices never took away sins, they needed to be repeated regularly and annually. They were signs and symbols pointing toward the sacrificial Lamb of God’s self-offering whose shed blood would take away the sins of the world forever.
The tabernacle was literally a moveable tent. The people were nomadic at the time and they needed to move from time to time. God promised to go with them. Thus, He did not have them construct a permanent structure, but a moveable one. When they were on the move, God went before them as a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. But, when they made camp and set up the tabernacle, the Glory of God filled the inner sanctuary of the tabernacle and remained there until it was time to move again. Again, the tabernacle was but a temporary means by which God could dwell with His people and bless them with His presence. The tabernacle was not the fulfillment God had promised. There was something greater still to come. “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us.” This passage from John’s Gospel refers to the Incarnation of the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. The words translated as “made His dwelling amongst us” literally mean “tented” or “tabernacled.” In the Incarnation of the Son of God, God literally “pitched His tent” amongst the men He created. The Word literally became flesh and blood that He might be pierced with nails and shed His holy and innocent blood and become the sacrifice that truly takes away the sins of the world.
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love is sacrifice. On the night in which He was betrayed, that is this night, Jesus ate one last Passover with His disciples whom He loved. “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” In His words and actions, Jesus both loved them and instructed them in the way of love. First, He washed their feet. Washing the feet was a humble activity typically done by servants. Here, Jesus serves His disciples and washes their feet. It was a loving and sacrificial thing to do. When Peter objected, then Jesus got theological saying, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” This washing meant more than removing filth from the feet, it meant communion with Jesus. You are washed clean of your sin-guilt through faith in Christ and the sign and seal of His forgiveness, Holy Baptism. In Holy Baptism you are washed clean in Jesus’ blood and are covered in His righteousness and holiness. In the Last Supper, Jesus connected this washing to the blood He would pour out for you upon Good Friday’s cross. In that Passover meal, Jesus was the sacrificial Lamb of God who willingly and lovingly laid down His life for all mankind. He washed them, then He fed them, and then He sent them to love others as they had been loved.
He gave them the bread to eat saying, “This is my body which is for you.” Then He gave them the wine to drink saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” All that He is He gives for you in selfless, sacrificial love. He gives His blood for you, not merely to cover your sin, but to take it way. Man was commanded to not drink the blood of animals, not even the Passover lamb, for life is in the blood, and man receives his life from God alone. But, the blood of Jesus, who is life, He commands you to drink. Jesus brings a New Covenant, for He is the fulfillment of the First. Jesus is the Seed of the woman promised to our First Parents in the Garden. On Friday, He would crush Satan’s head even as that worm sunk his venomous fangs into our dear Lord’s flesh and He died.
Jesus’ self-sacrifice on the cross for you was the ultimate gift of love that can be given. “Greater love has no man than this, that He would lay down His life for His friends.” After His resurrection and Ascension, His disciples would remember His words, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” But, how can you lay down your life for others? Do you have to sacrifice yourself and die? Well, maybe, in extreme cases. But, what do the Scriptures say? “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Love others as you have been loved by God in Jesus Christ; love with His love. Give to others as you have been given to by God in Jesus Christ; give with His gifts. Forgive others as you have been forgiven by God in Jesus Christ; forgive with His forgiveness. But, first and always, love, for love is the fulfilling of the Law, and love is the fruit of the Gospel.
Jesus is the tabernacle and temple of God. While in the flesh on earth, the Man Jesus was the dwelling place of God with men. Now ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven, Jesus is Man abiding with God. In His death and resurrection, Jesus restored Man fully to God – “It is finished.” Now a Man sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven. Yet, because of His loving sacrifice, shedding His holy and innocent blood to cleanse you from your sins and guilt, where He is He has promised you shall be also. It was the loving, sacrificial will of the Father to restore you to a right relationship with Him. Jesus is the love of God poured out for you to cleanse you of all your sin. He has made the Tree of the Cross a new Tree of Life that you might eat and drink of its fruits and live in the Garden of heaven with God, Father, Son, and Spirit once again and forevermore. This is His gift of love to you. Eat, drink, receive, believe, share, live – now and forever.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.