Sunday, April 25, 2010

Homily for Jubilate


John 16:16-22

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

There are many who believe that, if you are a Christian, well, things should generally go well for you – you shouldn’t experience any serious or prolonged pain, suffering, or sorrow in your life. The inevitable outcome of such thinking, of course, is that if you do experience some significant tribulation, then that is cause either to question the strength of your faith or the object of your faith, God. Where do people get such an idea as that? They certainly don’t get it from the teachings of Jesus or from the Word of God, for they clearly teach that pain, suffering, and sorrow are the result of sin (original, actual, or otherwise), and that both the believer and the unbeliever will be afflicted by them throughout their lives.

In fact, Jesus was straightforward with His disciples, assuring them that because of their faith in Him, they would experience more intense pain, suffering, and sorrow than unbelievers. He told them that the world would hate them because the world hates Him. He told them that people would want to kill them because of Him. He taught them that the way of the disciple was the same as the way of the Teacher, and that is the way of the cross. He taught them that they must die to themselves and lose their lives in this world to save them in eternity.

And, dearly beloved, Jesus is no less straightforward with you today. “Truly, truly,” He says to you, “you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful.” You will endure pain, suffering, and sorrow, says your Lord, but it will come to an end, and then your sorrow will be turned into joy.

Jesus calls this time of your pain, suffering, and sorrow that is your life – that is the lives of your parents and grandparents, that is the lives of your children and your children’s children, that is the lives of all people from our First Parents to our last children – “a little while.” “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” “A little while?” Now, that causes us to ask, along with the disciples, “What does Jesus mean by ‘a little while’.”

The phrase “a little while” likely causes you some anxiety and frustration because it is indeterminate, indefinite. We’d so much rather have a definite answer so that we can prepare and manage for ourselves the pain, suffering, and sorrow during their designated time. We want to be in control. But that is precisely what your Lord would release you from: having to be in control, anxiety, frustration, and pain. For His words, “a little while”, remind you that He is in control: That is, He is in control of your life. He is in control of your pain, suffering, and sorrow. And He is in control of the fact that it will end and that your suffering will be turned into joy. Now, knowing this, do not His words “a little while,” then, give you something other than frustration, anxiety, and fear? Do not His words give you hope?

Your Lord Jesus, who has loved you by laying down His own life in death for you to set you free from your sin, and the frustration, anxiety, and fear that are its fruits, has also set you free from living in the bondage of frustration, anxiety, and fear and to pain, suffering, and sorrow in your life. You need not live as a slave to these things because Jesus has conquered them for you and has set you free from them. He has placed limits on both the extent and the time in which they may afflict you, and He has guaranteed you, not only that they will end, but that you will endure, and that you will have joy. But the most wonderful and marvelous gift is that, because of Jesus, you can have that joy even now, even in the “little while” of your pain, suffering, anxiety, frustration, and fear, knowing that your tribulations are conquered and that the Lord is their Master, and that He is in control, and that He uses these trials to discipline His children, to strengthen your faith, and to produce in you hope.

Now, no one looks forward to pain, suffering, and sorrow, but you can endure them and even find joy in them when you know that they are for but a little while, that they will end, and that the end joy surpasses the tribulation to the extent that it is but a faint memory. Thus, Jesus provides you the example of a woman in labor, who experiences pain, suffering, and sorrow, but who faces these trials with confident joy for the gift of her child that is the fruit of her labor. How many mothers, in the midst of their labor cry out “Never again!” but after the delivery, for the joy of the child would gladly do it again. “So you have sorrow now,” says your Lord, “but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

Today we are gathered together, just like the disciples of our Lord before us gathered each and every Lord’s day, having basked four weeks in the Paschal joy of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. And today, hearken to Your Lord’s call that you live resurrected lives, even now, as you walk through the wilderness of this world, the valley of the shadow of death, where pain, and sorrow, and suffering afflict you and the Enemy would have you be filled with frustration, anxiety, and fear so that you lose hope. For, Jesus has conquered your Enemy and He has released you from slavery to His devices. Your Enemy has no power over you, that is, unless you give it to him, for Jesus has set you free; only you can put yourself back in the devil’s chains. Your Enemy the devil would fill you with frustration, anxiety, and fear as you face your pain, suffering, and sorrow, so that you forget that Jesus is Lord of these things, that Jesus is the Lord of your life, so that you lose hope and give way to anger and hatred, depression and despair. He is a liar, and he is the father of lies! The devil would have you, for fear of the labor, abort the pregnancy, and miss out on the new life.

Do not be afraid! Live as people who are free. Fear God. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. You have been baptized together into Jesus’ death and you have been raised in Jesus’ resurrection. You have been born again of water and the Holy Spirit and nourished with the life and faith of Jesus through His body and blood. He is not dead, He is risen; He lives, He reigns and, in a little while, He returns for you. Now is the time of labor – and labor means pain, suffering, and sorrow – but in a little while, your sorrow will be turned into joy. And that assurance grants you Peace beyond human understanding, peace born from faith that confesses “I can do all things through Jesus Christ who is my strength.” “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as he is.” God the Father bestow upon you His Peace in Christ Jesus and keep you in the True Faith by the gracious workings of the Holy Spirit.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Homily for Misericordias Domini (Easter 3)


St. John 10:11-16

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is our Good Shepherd.

Of course, He is also the flock, and He is the pasture, and He is the sacrificial Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.

He is not like other shepherds who labor for a wage and who care nothing for the sheep. They serve only themselves and care only about that which fills their bellies or increases their friends and influence amongst men. Oh, they will lead the sheep to the green pastures and the cool water, but, when the wolf comes, the enemy, they’re not about to put themselves in harm’s way. Most of them flee, but some will stay and try to find a way to coexist with the predator; if you keep your distance and don’t do anything to draw attention to yourself, like speak the Truth in boldness and clarity, warning the sheep that the wolf is near, maybe the wolf will just take a sheep or two and leave. After all, the world is a dangerous place!

Not so, the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd does not flee when the wolf comes, nor does He try to find a way to coexist with the predator; He knows that the beast must be destroyed. Though the Good Shepherd’s weapons seem a weak defense, nevertheless, they prove most powerful – The rod and staff of God’s Word, Law and Gospel, as effective as a sling and five smooth stones. But the greatest weapon against the enemy is Love – no, not the love of Hallmark cards and romantic comedies, but true, unconditional, selfless, sacrificial Love. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep. On a day of clouds and thick darkness He threw Himself into the wolf’s snapping jaws and ripping teeth and He died. The Good Shepherd laid Himself down as a sheep, as one sheep for the whole flock, and He became the sacrifice that destroyed the power of the enemy and put to an end all sacrifice.

Though the wolf is defeated, his power destroyed, still he hunts and threatens and scatters the sheep. His weapons are lies and deception. Often he even wears the disguise of a sheep! He seeks to divide the flock, to single out the weak and struggling sheep and lead them off to devour them. So much easier is his deception when the hireling undershepherds cannot be bothered with the Truth. The truth is, the wolf has no teeth, for our Good Shepherd has defanged him, but how many believe his lies and perish!

The Good Shepherd searches for and seeks out His sheep whom the wolf has scattered, who have strayed from the safety of the flock. He uses hireling undershepherds – prophets, priests, judges and kings, Pharisees and rabbis, pastors – to seek out His scattered sheep and gather them into the flock, there to feed them, care for them, and protect them from the enemy in His stead and by His command. But they are hirelings, they do not own the sheep, and, though many are faithful, there are many who do not love or care for the sheep. When the wolf comes, they run, loving their own lives more than God’s people, or they stay, permitting the wolf to ravage the flock so long as he does not come to near to their own lives or interests. Often the wolf infiltrates the flock disguised as a sheep while the uncaring and unwary hireling looks the other way. What is a sheep to do?

Left to your own devices, prone to straying, weak and defenseless, with shepherds who also are sheep, with the enemy prowling the flock, often under the guise of a sheep, there is no hope. But the Good Shepherd knows this about you; Your Shepherd knows you better than you know yourself. He knows how you worry about where you will get your next meal, how you will pay your bills, what kind of future your children will have, who’s going to take care of you in your old age. He knows how the enemy pumps up your pride so that you feel secure in yourself or how he cudgels you into despair. He knows how you are tempted to listen to voices other than His, voices of worldly reason and wisdom, voices of pragmatic efficiency, but voices of those who do not care for you or love you, who love only themselves and will quickly sacrifice you if it serves them. The Good Shepherd knows you, He knows this about you, just as the Father knows Him – and still He lays down His life for you.

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is our Good Shepherd; He is not a hireling, but He owns the sheep and He loves His sheep. And, He is also the entire flock, for, as sin entered the world through the one man Adam and thus all men were corrupted, so by the one man Jesus Christ is the sin of all men atoned for – He who knew no sin was made to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God. Thus, our Good Shepherd is also God’s sacrificial Lamb, laying down His life for His sheep, submitting unto death that His sheep may have His life in abundance.

But our Good Shepherd, who is the flock and the sacrificial Lamb of God, is also the green pasture in which we feed, drink, and are comforted and protected. He leads you to drink of the cool waters that He sanctified, and in Holy Baptism He has restored your soul. He anoints you with the chrism of His Holy Spirit, marking you, branding you, naming you, claiming you as His own, promising that nothing will separate you from His selfless, sacrificial, holy and perfect Love. And He feeds you with His own flesh and blood, here in this valley of the shadow of death, even in the presence of your enemy; He fills you to the brim with His love, mercy, peace, and forgiveness and you are satisfied, there is no want, and still He pours into you His overflowing abundance.

Surely goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life, and you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Homily for Quasimodo Geniti (Easter 2)


John 20:19-31; 1 Peter 2:2; 1 John 5:4-10

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

What do you crave? What do you desire? What do you long for? Maybe you crave chocolate, or ice cream, or peanut butter. Maybe you desire fame, or power, or money. Maybe you long for love, or companionship, or completion. Cravings, desires, and longings are innately selfish, that is, they are primarily concerned about what the self wants, what the self needs, and what the self requires. Human beings are quivering masses of wants, needs, and desires – we all have them, all the time. In our day to day lives, however, we have to control our appetites, our cravings and desires, that’s what it means for us to mature and to become civilized. If we do not learn to discipline ourselves, to control our appetites, then we become sociopaths and criminals and addicts; our appetites and our desires to have and to consume end up consuming ourselves and, consequently, those around us.

Of course, what you crave, what you desire, and what you long for does matter – some things are good for you, other things are not. Those who satisfy their craving for broccoli will likely be better off than those who satisfy their craving for chocolate covered bacon. But then again, cravings, desires, and longings for anything worldly or creaturely will not satisfy unto everlasting life and will always leave you wanting and needing more.

Your Lord says “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it,” and you will be satisfied. But you are not satisfied. Jesus died for your sins, He is raised for your justification, His hands and side pour forth Holy Gifts from Holy Wounds – water, blood, and Spirit – but you crave, desire, and long to be filled from other fountains. “All this ceremony and sacrament, this is all fine and good, but it doesn’t move me the way I think it should; I want something different.” “Pastor’s a really smart guy. He quotes the Bible and talks a lot about Jesus, but he always talks about sin and how bad I am and his sermons don’t help me in my day to day life. I want something different.” “Why do we have to do the same liturgy every Sunday? Why do we have to have communion every Sunday? I’m bored with our worship service. I want something different.” This is not the food I desire. This is not the drink I crave. I, I, I, me, me, me! Repent. The gifts of God in Jesus Christ are not about you, but they are for you. Repent. Repent of expecting God to conform to your standards. Repent of craving after constant “proof” that God is on your side. Confess your own blindness, your self-interest, your self-infatuation, your “woe-is-me” attitude. Repent and beseech God for the gift of true sight, the gift of faith, which sees that which is unseen, which sees the love of God in Jesus Christ poured out on the cross and raised from the tomb for you.

This is why St. Peter exhorts you, like newborn infants, to crave, desire, and long for the pure spiritual milk of the Word of God. A newborn infant is the epitome of selfishness, he is concerned only and completely with his own hunger, his own thirst, his own want, his own needs, and desires, so St. Peter is not exhorting you to something unfamiliar or to something that you are incapable of. In fact, the newborn infant is all need; he cannot provide food, drink, shelter, and clothing for himself, and, if left to himself, he will certainly die. The newborn infant must receive from another or he will die. And, mother’s milk is the purest, most wholesome nourishment that the newborn infant can receive, thus St. Peter exhorts you, like newborn infants, to crave, desire, and long for the pure spiritual milk of the Word of God. It is only good to be selfish for the Lord’s gifts, His Holy Word and His Holy Wounds; there is enough and more for every newborn infant ever born.

That first Easter evening in the upper room was all about the Holy Wounds of Christ, which is to say that it was all about Jesus, crucified, died, risen, and present in His flesh and blood bearing the wounds of His death. Jesus showed His disciples his nail-pierced hands and His sword-pierced side, then He proclaimed to them “Peace be with you.” This was not some friendly greeting, this was a proclamation of the truth – The Peace of God was literally with the disciples, standing in their midst. It is Christ’s wounds that have secured our peace, and it is from those wounds that His peace flows.

It was that Peace that Jesus ordained His apostles to bring to His people, the Peace that is the forgiveness of sins, as He breathed upon them saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” And, it is that Peace that I, a called and ordained servant of the Word, am commanded and set apart to bring to you this day – the Peace of God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ. This Peace is testified to by the Holy Spirit who is sent forth from the mouth of God with His Holy Word. This Peace is testified to by the water of Holy Baptism, which washes away your sin and joins you into Jesus’ death and resurrection. And, this Peace is testified to by the blood of Holy Communion, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins; “For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.”

These are the gifts that Christ freely gives, and like newborn infants, you are to long for this pure spiritual milk. That is, you are to depend completely upon the gifts that flow from the Words and the Wounds of Jesus. Your sustenance, your safety, your very existence depends upon Him. What you feel that you want or need is blessedly irrelevant. Your Lord knows what you need and He gives to you all that you need to sustain your bodies and lives. You are called to die to your self and live to God, for in His Holy Word and Holy Wounds is plenteous forgiveness, life, and salvation, for today, and for all eternity.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Homily for The Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord (Easter Sunday)


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ changed everything.

Adam’s bones were cleansed in the holy blood of the Lamb. The veil covering the Presence of God was torn from top to bottom, from God to you – no longer is there a separation between God and man. The stone of sin that kept you entombed has been removed. The Greater Jonah has bounded from His three-day bed. The strong man has been bound by the Stronger-Than-He. The cherubim no longer bar the way to paradise. And the great dragon of old has been made a toothless lion.

The Day of Resurrection is the eternal Eighth Day on which the sun never sets. All of creation has been restored now while awaiting and groaning for a fulfillment in the not yet. When the Son of God died on Friday it was finished. There was, and is, no more to do. Justification for the sins of the entire world is complete. Do you believe this? If you do, thanks be to God for this gift of faith! If you do not, repent, receive, and believe while there is yet time.

In His death, Jesus crushed the serpent’s head and Death was overcome by death. The wood of the Second Isaac’s sacrificial pyre has become for you a Greater Tree of Life with healing leaves and life-giving fruit in overflowing abundance. The Father has sacrificed His only-begotten Son for you. There was no ram caught in the thicket to offer as a substitute for Him, but He was the Ram caught in a thicket of nails, thorns, and whips, willingly laying down His life in love for your sins and for the sins of the entire world.

He died. He rose. He lives, today and forever. You are baptized into His death and resurrection: His death was your death. His resurrection is your resurrection. In this you have been sealed, anointed, with God’s own Name, promise, and Spirit; nothing can separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.

The strife is over, the battle won, but the old evil foe is still bent on the destruction of those whom God loves in Jesus. He is a liar and the father of lies. He tells you that Jesus did not rise again. He tells you that Jesus did not die for you, that you are not worthy, or that you are beyond the scope of salvation. But, lies are his only weapons, the lion has no teeth. Nevertheless, he will find much prey, and what a sorrowful tragedy that is.

Eat Jesus’ body, drink Jesus’ blood, and do this in remembrance of His death and resurrection: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. Do not fall prey to the devil’s lies. Love your neighbor that they may not fall prey to the devil’s lies as Christ has loved you today and always unto eternity.

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the + Name of our Victorious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Homily for Holy Saturday – Easter Vigil


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

In the beginning…. When someone utters a statement that begins with words “In the beginning…,” you know you’re talking either to a theologian or a philosopher, or perhaps even a lunatic. Those words indicate that the speaker is about to make an absolute statement, something that they believe to be true even if they could never be prove it using empirical data or scientific method, even if contradictory evidence exists. In essence, they’re making a statement of faith, even a creed. And that is exactly how the sacred Scriptures begin, “In the beginning, God….”

And, the first thing that God reveals of Himself in the beginning is that He is a maker, a creator. This is remarkable, for to make something, to create something, is to put some amount of yourself into that which you make. And, the created, for as long as it exists, bears the mark of the Creator. It is remarkable that God should have created at all, but this He has revealed of Himself that to make, to create, to give life to another is an essential quality of God in His innermost being.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth by speaking, by His Word gone forth from His mouth. And, the Word of God does not return to Him void, but it accomplishes that for which it was sent. In this way did God make all things that have been made, by His Word, in six days: sun, moon, and stars, the birds, fish, and animals, the trees, and everything else. And then, remarkable, God made a man, not by His Word as with everything else, but with His hands from the dust and dirt of the earth. God made a man in His image and breathed into the man His own living breath, and the man became a living creature. And from the flesh of the man God formed a woman and He brought her to the man. God blessed the man and His wife with the blessing that they would be makers, creators, life-givers like Him: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” And on the seventh day God rested from all His work of creation, and God blessed the seventh day.

God is a maker, a creator, a life-giver – this first self-revelation of God is most important, for it helps us to better understand the incomprehensible and boundless love, grace, and mercy that also are essential qualities of His innermost being. We know how it went with our first parents in the garden. Infinitesimally more amazing than their rebellion against their Creator is God’s plan of salvation, that He would save man at all, let alone at the self-sacrifice of His Son. Before their fall He knew what He would do. In a moment’s vision to the “I AM”, but over hundreds of generations of mankind, God was creating anew, re-creating His fallen, broken creation. Why in this way? Why so long? These are imponderable questions from man’s perspective, but suffice it to say that this, too, is a revelation of God’s essential quality in His innermost being. He will not force Himself on anyone, but loves men that they might love Him in return. He gives life to dead and dying men that they might receive it from Him once again.

The flood was a mighty example, not of God’s silence, but of God’s mercy towards man. He cried out to the world drowning in sin and death that there was another way. He cried out “Stop going down the path you are going, the path that leads only to death”, and His life-giving Word cried out “Turn around and live!” The waters He utilized in creation He would now utilize in re-creation, washing away all sin and corruption while lifting up in salvation those who hearkened to His voice.

Similarly did God demonstrate to His people that He would save them, provide for them, and protect them, ushering His people out of the house of bondage in Egypt, passing them through the Red Sea, while destroying those who refused to repent and live in that same life-giving water.

The valley of dry bones combines themes of God’s creation of man with those of the resurrection of the dead, both occurring by the life-giving breath of God. These were the bones of God’s people that once were covered with flesh and tendons, but now were dead, dried out bones. Along the way the people of God turned from faith and lost hope; they cut themselves off from the life-giving breath and spirit-filled water of God.

In Jonah, God gives us a prophetic type of His plan of salvation. God told Jonah to preach to the Ninevites that they might repent and be saved. Because Jonah disobeyed God and fled, God brought both judgment and salvation upon Jonah when he was swallowed by the great fish. The three days Jonah spent in the belly of the great fish are a type of the three days Jesus spent in the heart of the earth. Jesus was judged in the place of Jonah and in the place of all men, and He arose triumphant from the grave to release all us would-be-Jonahs from sin, death, and the grave. And, once again God used water as an instrument of judgment and salvation. Jonah was thrown into the water in judgment to drown, but he was swallowed by a creature of the water and was saved.

Not only does God continue to call men to repentance and faith, but those who receive Him He marks and seals and protects. The baptismal imagery in the readings you have heard this evening are no coincidence, God continually uses His life-giving Word, water, and Spirit to mark and to seal His people. In renewing your baptismal vows, you are not unlike Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, refusing to bow down to false gods and idols, renouncing the devil and all his works and ways. So doing does not endear you to this world whose prince is the devil who will hurl many fiery darts at you. But like those three faithful Israelites, you know that you are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection and that nothing, not even death, can separate you from God the Father’s love.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. In six days God made the universe and everything in it, and on the seventh day He rested. When Adam’s rebellion plunged the world into sin and death, God set about restoring His fallen creation. The last thing He had to do was to redeem mankind from sin and death. God the Father sacrificed His only-begotten Son for the life of the world. God the Son willingly laid down His life in love. When He died on Good Friday, all that was required for the redemption of mankind was completed, it was finished. Having finished God’s work of re-creation and redemption, Jesus rested from His labors on the seventh day. Jesus rose from the dead on the day we call the first day of the week, Sunday, but from God’s perspective, it was the eighth day, the culmination of the seven that went before it. The sun never sets on the eighth day, it is eternity, for Jesus, and for all who are baptized into His death and resurrection. The sun has set, that day is now. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Good Friday Homily

Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12   (Audio)

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Christian artistry, from iconography to stained glass, from statuary to jewelry, has long been a teacher of the Church’s faith and a preserver of that faith throughout the centuries from generation to generation. I personally enjoy going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art or to St. Patrick’s Cathedral or to any number of churches, seminaries, and museums to observe how a sacred artist has painstakingly crafted the tiniest of details into his work to capture the theological confession of a biblical story, or a scene from the life of Jesus, or a sublime truth about the nature of God and man. Christian musicians, likewise, have been known to do the same in their compositions as many of the visual artists. Johann Sebastian Bach, for example, placed a rhythmic emphasis on the third, off-beat eighth in each bar of his Pentecost chorale “Come, Holy Ghost, Creator Blest” emphasizing the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. The precise attention to detail in such artistic works is the artist’s confession of the faith that they have received which they have in turn gifted to the Church of Christ in works of sacred art.

One of my favorite sacred works of art, typically found in iconography and jewelry, is the Trinitarian Crucifix. This crucifix features the crucified corpus, or body, of our Lord Jesus on the cross. What is unique about the Trinitarian Crucifix, however is that a figure of God the Father is typically depicted as holding up His Son upon the cross with God the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, descending upon the Son from the Father. What is conveyed in this depiction is that Jesus’ crucifixion and death is the work of the entire Holy Trinity. God the Father sent His Son to die. God the Son obeyed the Father and willingly laid down His life. God the Holy Spirit is sent forth by the Father and the Son to birth the Church. The Church has at all times and in all places confessed that when any one Person of the Holy Trinity is acting, the entire Holy Trinity is acting. As the Son of God died on the cross, so God died on the cross for the sins of the world.

A similar depiction appears on the bulletin cover in your hand. As Jesus’ crucified body hangs upon the cross, we see four simultaneous actions taking place. The left hand of the Father bears the sacrificial knife that would slay His Son even while the Father holds in His right hand the crown of victory that He will place upon Jesus’ head. Also, a hand above Jesus’ head holds the key that unlocks heaven because of Jesus’ sacrificial death, while a hand at Jesus’ feet brings a hammer down upon a skull depicting that Jesus, in His death, destroyed the power of death that enslaved Adam and all his descendants. Indeed, a picture says a thousand words.

Images such as these serve to remind us that it was the Father’s will to crush Jesus. He who spared Abraham’s only-begotten son did not withhold the knife and the fire from His own only-begotten Son. The Father wounded and crushed Jesus for our iniquities so that by His stripes we are healed. Jesus, Himself, acknowledged that this was so in His testimony before Pilate saying that Pilate’s authority to crucify Him was given him by Jesus’ Father in heaven. The Father said “Go, my Son,” the Son replied “Your will be done, my Father.” He was led, like a lamb to the slaughter, and He opened not His mouth. As there is Unity in Trinity, so there is Trinity in Unity.

For, the will of God is one, shared by the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Where the first Adam chose to follow his own will and plunged the world into sin and death, the Second Adam subordinated His will to the will of His Father, saying “Not as I will, but as You will.” And this is love, and obedience, and honor, all wrapped up into one commandment and one will of the Holy Trinity, love. God is love. The Son of God loved the Father perfectly, subordinating Himself to His will, obeying His commands; and the Son of God loved you perfectly, laying down His life in death for the life of the world.

Therefore, as the preacher to the Hebrews proclaims, Jesus is our Great High Priest, the anointed intercessor between God and man, and He offers up the perfect sacrifice, not of the blood of bulls and goats, but of His own sinless and holy blood. He is our priest and He is also the sacrificial victim. God the Father willed His Son to die. God the Son willingly laid down His life in death. And the God the Holy Spirit was breathed out by the Father, through the Son, for the life of the world.

Underneath the wounds and the stripes and the agonizing cries of Good Friday, God’s will is being done for us on earth as it is in heaven. God’s will for us is that we shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord. No greater work can be done for us than Jesus Christ dying on the cross. The debt of sin is consummated today for you. Believe it for the sake of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A New Commandment

Holy (Maundy) Thursday        John 13:1-15, 34-35


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The New Commandment that our Lord gives tonight is really the same as the Old, “Love,” the difference being, of course, that the New Commandment is the Old fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Our Lord Jesus fulfilled the commandment to Love – to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind; to love your neighbor as your self – when He laid down His life in love and died for the life of the world. Greater love is not possible than that one should lay down His life for His friends, not to mention His enemies.

And, in so doing, Jesus makes all things new. He takes the Old Commandment, the Old Covenant, and He fulfills them, then He transforms them into something new. The Old Commandment to love demanded perfection; it demanded complete, total, unconditional, perfect and holy love, always, in thought, word, and deed. That is to say that the Old Commandment kept us in bondage to sin and death because it always showed us our sins and how we did not keep it. But Jesus kept it for us. Jesus loved the Father perfectly and unconditionally, always; and Jesus loves you perfectly and unconditionally, always, even sacrificing Himself unto death and giving you His life.

So, the New Commandment that Jesus gives is a life-giving and liberating commandment; it is filled with, and it flows from, Jesus’ own love for God and for the world. Jesus loves you with this love and in so doing He has filled you to overflowing with His Divine Love so that it is with the Love of Jesus that you love one another. If you receive Jesus’ love, then you are tapped into an ever-swelling spring of living water; you will never thirst for love and you will always have limitless love to give. For, giving is what Jesus’ love does. Love gives to others, love serves others, not the self, just as Love Incarnate removed His outer garment, tied a towel around His waist, stooped down and washed the filthy feet of His disciples. He had always loved them, loving even those who hated Him, now He loved them to the end.

This is the night before Jesus’ crucifixion and death; this is the night of Jesus’ betrayal at the hands and lips of Judas. Our King who entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to shouts of praise will ascend His throne on the Friday we call Good and He will be named and crowned our King. But tonight He reveals what His Kingship looks like and of what quality His kingdom consists. The very Word of creation bows down to scrub His creatures’ feet. The eternal, only-begotten Son of God, humbles Himself to serve. The King of the Universe displays what true love is by thinking nothing of Himself, but only of others. Jesus has always been the King of the Jews, but His people wanted a different kind of king, another Saul or another David; tonight King Jesus fulfills those imperfect types and makes Kingship something new.

Jesus takes the bread and wine of the Old Covenant, and, having fulfilled them, He makes the Passover into something new: “This is my body which is for you. This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

And so we welcome Him yet again tonight as He comes to us in His holy meal, a king with a bowl and a towel, ready to wash us, to serve us; a king with a feast of His own body and blood, ready to nourish us; a king who is a lamb, slain in our stead that death might finally and forever pass over us. This is our Jesus who loves us, His own, to the end, with a love that never ends. Tomorrow we will stand in awe before that love as it shines forth in glory upon the cross; and the day after that we will shout for joy in that love as it breaks forth from the tomb.

Who could ever have dreamed of love so amazing, so divine? Glory to You, O Lord Jesus! Glory to You, our Lamb, and glory to Your holy blood forever! Amen.