Sunday, April 29, 2012

Homily for Jubilate (The Fourth Sunday of Easter)

bitter sweet_300


John 16:16-22; 1 Peter 2:11-20; Isaiah 40:25-31

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

It is a common sentiment that, in life, you have to experience the bitter in order to enjoy the sweet. This euphemism expresses the reality that life is not without its trials and tribulations, its pain and suffering, its sorrows and griefs, but that, nevertheless, life is also not without its joys and pleasures, which are augmented and made considerably sweeter by our experience of the bitter. Throughout the ages, poets and writers, philosophers, artists, and musicians have pondered the sublime, tempered, joy and peace that comes from embracing these opposing realities of life, the bitter and the sweet. Yet, embracing the pain and the joy of life alone does not gain for you a moment more in life, but the bitterest reality still remains – death. Again, the poets and the philosophers, even a good number of spiritualists and religious con-men, have attempted to make this mortal coil that we call life an end in itself, a good in itself, and they have attempted to make death appear good as well. But they deceive themselves, and they would deceive you, denying that you are more than dust and ashes, skin and bone. For the truth is that the sweetest of your life’s sweet moments are but a faint and distant cry compared to the joy that will be, and already is, yours in Jesus Christ who promises that, while “you have sorrow now, […] I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

Certainly, of all men, your Lord Jesus was, as Isaiah prophesied, a “man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief”. Though He had no sin or guilt of His own, He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows, He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed. Jesus knows what it means to be a man, to experience the bitterness of pain and sorrow, grief and suffering. He wept bitterly at the death of his friend Lazarus and He had great compassion upon a little girl who had died and tenderly raised her to life saying, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” He knew the anguished isolation of those cut off from their families and friends, even from worship in the temple, such as those with illnesses like leprosy and others declared to be unclean because they were sinners, like tax collectors and prostitutes. He knew the vulnerability and the suffering of the poor and the widowed, and He knew the hopelessness, despair, and dreadful loneliness of the imprisoned. Jesus knows man’s fear and dread of death and his fervent desire and futile attempts to avoid it, to deny it, to euphemize it, and to explain it away. And, as a man, He suffered the torment and the torture that men suffer when facing death, and He did not seek a way around it, but He commended Himself into His Father’s hands that His will be done.

Apart from faith in Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, grief and sorrow, pain and suffering, and death have no meaning or purpose at all, but they are a reality that must be tolerated and endured, whose cause and purpose is unknown and therefore is dreaded and feared, rationalized, euphemized, and explained away. But, because of Jesus, you do not have to dread and fear suffering and death, for they have been defeated. Indeed, your Good Shepherd Jesus has given Himself into death and has passed, alive, through it. Now He leads you, His precious sheep, purchased in His holy blood through suffering and death as well. For, the Valley of the Shadow of Death is not some distant foreign place you have yet to arrive, but it is here, and it is now. The Valley of Death is this world in which you live and breathe, go to school and work, raise your families, and experience pain and sorrow, bitter suffering, and death along with a multitude of sweet joys. What the poets and philosophers and the false teachers tell you, however, is that this is all there is – birth, life, death – and that you should embrace suffering and death as good friends, that it’s all part of the great circle of life. But that is a lie! You were not created for death, but for life with your Creator. You were not meant to suffer loss and pain as your loved ones are snatched from you in death and as your own body succumbs to decay and withers away, but you were born into an eternal family, in the beginning, and now. Do not listen to the spirits of this world, but listen to the Holy Spirit whom Jesus has sent into the world to counsel and console you and to guide you on the path to truth and life.

In preparing His disciples for His own suffering and death which He was about to accomplish, Jesus taught them, likely on the Thursday night before His death as they were finishing the Passover meal, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” Jesus was talking about His death and resurrection, but His words have meaning for us beyond that immediate context. Though He had taught them repeatedly that He must suffer and die and on the third day rise again, the disciples did not understand or believe Jesus’ words. When He was arrested, tried, convicted, and executed on Friday, they were all terrified and they fled – they all believed Him dead and gone. Even when Jesus rose on the third day, just as he said, and appeared to them, they did not believe Him until He showed them His hands and His side – then they were filled with joy in the presence of their resurrected Lord. But, forty days later, Jesus was taken from them again as He ascended in glory to the right hand of His Father in heaven. Then, ten days after that, on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon them. The ministry of the Church of Christ had begun. From Pentecost on, the Gospel proclamation of the Church of Christ has remained: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

But, the disciples asked, “What does He mean by ‘a little while’?” It is a bit ambiguous, isn’t it? When your child asks “When can I watch TV?” sometimes you answer, “In a little while”, then you go off and forget all about it altogether, right? And, what may be a little while to you can seem like an eternity to someone else. Indeed, the little while between Jesus’ death and resurrection was approximately thirty-six hours (three days by Jewish reckoning). But, the little while between Jesus’ ascension and His return? Well, it’s been almost 2,000 years, and we’re still waiting for a little while.

Or, are we? Before His ascension, Jesus commissioned His disciples, then apostles, to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that He had commanded them. And, He promised them, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Jesus has kept His promise to be with them, and He is keeping His promise to be with you, now. Jesus is present with you and for you with the rod and staff of His Word of Law and Gospel. Jesus is present with you in the cool, cleansing waters of Holy Baptism. And, Jesus is with you at the table of His body and blood which He has prepared for you in this Valley, in the presence of enemies who want you stay in the Valley of the Shadow of Death forever, and not enter into the Father’s House, where sheep may safely graze.

Your Good Shepherd Jesus is with you in this little while, faithfully shepherding you through life, with all its griefs and sorrows, with all its bitterness and sweetness. Your Good Shepherd Jesus is with you in this little while, faithfully shepherding you through death into joy that no one will take from you. Your enemy wants you to not believe this. Your enemy wants you to believe that this life is all there is so that you live for the now, seeking to avoid, deny, euphemize, or explain away suffering and death and so miss out on the joy of eternal life. Your enemy seeks to keep you in bondage to desires and passions of the flesh so that you seek and clamor to store up treasure on earth, to feed your pride and every selfish indulgence, to view your brothers and sisters and neighbors as competitors to keep you from attaining your insatiable goals.

Thus St. Peter exhorts you to live as sojourners and exiles, pilgrims passing through this life and world. Receive, enjoy, and share the worldly things you have as rich blessings from your gracious Lord and God, but do not live for them and thus make them your masters and gods. Treat all persons with respect and love that they may see Christ in you and glorify God. And, when you are persecuted because of your faith, remember that they so persecuted your Lord and that the student is not greater than the teacher. And, know this: that you will sorrow and the world will rejoice, but only for a little while. Then you will see Jesus and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

Jesus sets joy before you as an objective reality. The joy of which Jesus speaks is not a subjective emotion, but it is communion with God, it is life as it was meant to be, life of which the sweetest moments now are but the dimmest shadows of, a life and joy that no one will ever be able to take from you. This joy is as sure and certain and real now as is the child that will be born at the end of a woman’s labor. The joy that a mother experiences at the birth of her child far eclipses the sorrow and suffering of her labor so that it is no longer remembered. In a similar way, this life of yours is but the travails of labor. When you are born into new life in the resurrection, you will no longer remember the sorrow and suffering, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for you an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison”.

This Jesus, who is your Good Shepherd, is also your God who made you and loves you and who will faithfully see you home. He gives power to the faint and to him who has no might he increases strength. They who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. He will preserve you during this little while. And, what is a little while of bitterness and sweetness from the perspective of an eternity of the sweetest joy? It is true that you have to experience the bitter to enjoy the sweet, but even grief, sorrow, suffering, and death have become less bitter because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. And, in a little while, the bitterness will be no more.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Leaven, Salt, and Light

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)

There is no doubt in my mind and heart that the Christian faith and Church is under attack. The Church is being attacked from without by a sometimes apathetic, sometimes hostile, culture, by the government, by militant atheists, and by special interest lobbies whose social, moral, and ethical beliefs are fundamentally at odds with orthodox Christian faith and doctrine. However, I waver, at times, between thinking that theirs is the majority voice in our nation and that theirs is a small, but very loud voice, which is amplified by a sympathetic media which craves blood more than it values objectivity and truth.

But, the Church also suffers attack from within, primarily the result of apathy amongst her members who simply do not care enough about their faith to study and take to heart what its beliefs and doctrines are, who attend worship for reasons other than a desire for forgiveness and a love for the Lord, who do not exhibit Christian love, compassion, and mercy in their lives, and who do not teach their children diligently in the faith and bring them to Church for worship and Christian education. Secondarily, the Church suffers attack from within because of self-righteousness and self-security amongst her members which causes them to be prideful and unrepentant, hypocritical, and judgmental towards others.

Why do those outside often believe the Church to be irrelevant, or why do they often seem to be angry and hostile towards those of faith? Why do those inside of the Church often seem apathetic and lackadaisical about their faith, or self-secure, hypocritical, and unloving in their lives? Are the two related? How could they not be?

For, the Christian faith is not only something to know, but it is, and perhaps more importantly, something to be and to live. To be a Christian is to be a little Christ in the world, but not of the world. The answer to apathy within the Church is for Christians to actually believe what Jesus teaches and do it and live it in humility and repentance that you do not do it and live it as well as you should, but that you continue to sin, all the while trusting in God’s forgiveness and restoration in Jesus Christ. For, when you truly believe and live what Jesus teaches, then the apathetic souls, both inside and outside of the Church, will see, feel, hear, and experience the love of Jesus in and through you, and they may come to believe for themselves, when and where the Holy Spirit calls them.

And, the only answer to hatred and hostility outside of the Church is love. Love your enemies, and do good to those who hate you, just as Jesus teaches (Luke 6:27). But, do not judge others, for there is One who judges, and that One is God the Father (John 8:7). While you must not condone or bless sin – indeed, our Lord Jesus never condoned or blessed sin, but He said to those He forgave, “Go, and sin no more”(John 8:11) – it is not for you to judge another, for we all stand in judgment for our sins (Luke 6:37), and God has forgiven us all in Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection so that all who believe will not perish, but will have eternal life (John 3:16).

The most effective way in which Christians can impact and change the world for the better is by simply being Christian – that is, by living the life of Christ in the world, but not of the world. Let our marriages be faithful and filled with patience, perseverance, forgiveness, and love. Let our families be little churches in which God’s Word is studied, spoken, prayed, and meditated upon and Christ’s life is lived out in mutual love and forgiveness between fathers, mothers, and children. Let our churches be places in which God’s people gather around His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation and go out into their God-given vocations bearing the grace, mercy, compassion, love, and forgiveness of God in Jesus Christ in our words and deeds to our neighbors in every walk of life. And, let us support faithful men and women in leadership roles at every level and office of society and culture and encourage them to remain steadfast in their convictions while serving the people under their charge in compassion and mercy to the glory of God.

In short, let us not attempt to force the kingdom of God upon the world, but let us submit ourselves to our merciful Lord and King that He may work through us, as through leaven, salt, and light, to change the world for the better, that all may live in peace and quietness, receiving from the Lord His boundless gifts of grace and mercy, praising and glorifying Him by sharing these with our brothers, sisters, and neighbors.

In the Name of our crucified and risen Savior Jesus Christ.

+ Pastor Ellingworth

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Homily for Misericordias Domini (The Third Sunday of Easter) [Good Shepherd Sunday]



John 10:11-16; 1 Peter 2:21-25; Ezekiel 34:11-16

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

If you are a sheep, you are meant either for the sacrificial altar, or for the dinner table. That’s what it means to be a sheep. To be sure, while you are alive, your wool is valuable and will be shorn from your body to make clothing and blankets, and your milk is valuable for men to drink and to make cheese, but still, you are a sheep, and you are meant to die. And, when you have been killed, you will become food for men, or for animals, or you may become a sacrificial victim on the altar of God, or gods.

Throughout your sheepy life, your trust is in your shepherd. You trust in your shepherd to lead you to food and to water. You trust in your shepherd to protect you from thieves and from wild animals. You know your shepherd’s voice and his call, and you listen to and follow your shepherd wherever he leads you. However, even the best of shepherds – those who feed you well and who give you clean, clear water to drink, even those who fend off the wolves and seek you when you go astray – even the best of shepherds are still shepherding you to your death – either to sacrificial death at the altar or to the dinner table.

A shepherd knows this. A shepherd knows this ironic truth that he will, ultimately, lead the sheep he has so devotedly cared for, nourished, and protected, to slaughter, to death. A hireling shepherd will gladly do this – it’s his job, it’s what he’s paid for, it’s what puts bread on his table, clothing on his back, and a roof over his head. It’s not that he hates the sheep, or that he despises the sheep, but the sheep are a means to an end, and he cares nothing for their welfare beyond that end. Thus, he will not sacrifice his own welfare for the sheep. Certainly, he will defend them, if he can, but, not because he cares for them, but because he cares for himself – it is not in his own best interest to let the sheep die before their time. Therefore, when the wolf comes, he will not put himself in the beast’s jaws in order that a few sheep might live, but he runs and flees.

That’s the way it goes with hireling shepherds. They may not be bad people, bad shepherds, but they’re working for a wage and they’re not going to risk more than they expect to reap in reward. They’re not fools, and they’re not shepherding for charity. However, there are bad shepherds. Such scoundrels not only care nothing for the sheep, but they care nothing for their master for whom they work. A bad shepherd will exploit and fleece the sheep for his own benefit. He will take a sheep and shear it for himself and then slaughter it to feed his belly. He will abuse the weaker sheep and pit sheep against sheep for his pleasure. A bad shepherd will not lead the sheep to pure water and good pasture but will allow them to eat and drink what is not good for them. He will not seek them when they go astray, and he will not defend them from the wolves and thieves.

Not so the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd actually lays down His life for His sheep – for one or two sheep, and for all of the sheep. He places Himself between you and the wolf. He lays Himself, willingly, into the beast’s jaws for you. The Good Shepherd does this because you are His Father’s sheep, you are His sheep. You belong to Him, and He loves you, and He loves His Father who has given you to Him.

The bad shepherds are the ruthless King’s of Israel described in Ezekiel’s prophecies, they are the scribes and the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, and they are the pastor’s, religious leaders, and false teachers today who fleece the sheep, the people they are called to shepherd and to care for, by promising them blessings for money, by embezzling their charitable gifts, and by squandering their donations on wicked, fleshly indulgence and depravity. They are those shepherds who keep the sheep in bondage and abuse them by teaching righteousness by works according to the Law, while ever raising the bar of what they must do. They are those shepherds who will not defend the sheep from false teaching predators who would lead them into apostasy or complacency, so that they no longer repent of their sins and, therefore, do not receive absolution. They are those shepherds who kill and devour the sheep themselves by teaching them lies and deceptions and by withholding the Gospel grace and mercy of God revealed in the Good Shepherd Jesus Christ. They are those shepherds who care nothing for the sheep and do not serve the sheep but desire only to be served by, and make a feast of, the sheep. And, often they are not shepherds at all, but they are wolves who infiltrate the flock by coming in the guise of sheep’s clothing, deceiving the sheep in order to lead them astray or to devour them.

Not so the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd, Himself, seeks out the sheep that the wolf has scattered and He rescues them. The Good Shepherd brings them together into the fold from all the places they have been scattered and have wandered, and He feeds them and gives them drink in good pasture, in their own land, in their own country. The Good Shepherd leads them to rest from their laboring to provide for themselves righteousness by works according to the Law, and He binds up the injured and He strengthens the weak. The Good Shepherd is not a hireling motivated by self-interest, but He is the Father’s seeking love incarnate. He is not a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but He is the Good Shepherd in sheep’s clothing. He is God in human flesh, become what you are that you may become what He is.

The Good Shepherd seeks you and lays down His life for you precisely because He is the Good Shepherd and you are His sheep. He does it because He is good. And, He is not good because men judge Him to be so, but He is good, and He is the measure and judge of all goodness. Through the mouth of His prophet Ezekiel He says, “It is not for your sake, O Israel, that I am about to do this, but for the sake of my holy Name" (Ezek 34:36). You belong to Him, and so, He takes back what is His. This He does for the sake of His Name and because of the kind of God and Shepherd He is.

The Enemy, the predatory wolf, Satan, has sought to scatter and devour God’s people since their creation. He was successful with our First Parents in the Garden. He was successful as the children of Israel were enslaved in Egypt. He was successful as the kings of Israel served as wolves in sheep’s clothing to lead the people into apostasy, idolatry, and unbelief. He was successful as the Babylonians and the Assyrians scattered the people in exile. And he was successful as the scribes and the Pharisees, the shepherds of Israel, lead the people astray into complacency or despair by withholding from them the Good News of God’s salvation in His Shepherd Messiah who was coming into the world.

On a day of clouds and thick darkness, on a Friday that we now call Good, it appeared to us that the Enemy had finally won once and for all. The Good Shepherd gave Himself into the jaws of the wolf and died. But, in His death, Jesus broke Satan’s jaw and crushed his teeth, and on the third day He rose again having defeated death and having removed the stone of sin and guilt that kept you in your graves. The Good Shepherd takes back what is His for the sake of His Name. To God, you are His precious sheep. You are worth sacrificing for. You are worth dying for. To lose you or to give you up to an usurper is to be something other than who God is; it is to not be God at all. God is love, and the greatest possible expression of love is self-sacrifice, laying down one’s life for another.

And, “to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

On a day of clouds and thick darkness, our Good Shepherd, Jesus, was raised up in death that He might draw all men to Himself and to life. He has sent forth His Spirit to call, gather, and enlighten all His sheep whom the false shepherds have scattered all over the face of the earth so that there is one flock and one Shepherd.

But, still you are a sheep, and death is part of what it means to be a sheep. Therefore, your Good Shepherd Jesus came as a sheep that He might lure and be attacked by the satanic wolf and so defeat him by His sinless and guiltless substitutionary death. Now you follow your Shepherd through death into His eternal life in His Father’s House. Death has lost its sting. It can no longer hold you. But, it has become an open door into life that cannot die. Because He has blazed the trail before you and has been raised the firstfruits of those who die in faith in the Lord, He is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.

Even now, as you pass through the valley of the shadow of death, your Good Shepherd leads you and guides you, cares for you, and protects you. He has prepared a meal for you in this life and world, in the presence of your enemies, that you might persevere. And, He leads you through death and the grave into His Father’s pastures where sheep may safely graze.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Homily for Quasimodo Geniti (The Second Sunday of Easter)

Thomas 2


John 20:19-31; 1 John 5:4-10; Ezekiel 37:1-14

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

Whether its vampires or zombies, our culture today seems to be fascinated with the “undead”. In the 1980s we had “The Lost Boys”. Later, Anne Rice had her “Interview with the Vampire”. Then, along came “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer”. Since then we’ve had teenage vampires, romantic vampires, and all manner and sorts of vampires you can imagine. And, then came the zombies. “Night of the Living Dead” has been revisited again and again. “28 Days Later” introduced the zombie-apocalypse genre. Then, just a few years ago, Quentin Tarrantino took a stab at zombies in his Grindcore tribute “Planet Terror”. Today, one of the hottest shows on television is “The Walking Dead” on the AMC network, the most-watched basic cable drama telecast in history. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’ve read the books, I’ve watched the shows and the movies, and I can’t wait until “The Walking Dead” returns in the Fall.

Thus, when I saw a cartoon on Facebook last week, I have to confess that, though the subject was a bit impious, if not blasphemous, I had to snicker a bit. The cartoon depicted a zombified Jesus coming out of the tomb. The caption coming from His mouth was “Brains!!” You know, I’d just never thought of that before. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that people today might make a zombie connection with Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Indeed, it’s quite possible that the disciples’ thoughts were not that much different. When our resurrected Lord appeared to His disciples on Easter evening, He quickly showed them His wounds and invited them to touch Him, and then He ate some food before them to demonstrate to them that He was not a ghost, or worse. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus reassures them saying, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

You see, there’s a big difference between ghosts and spirits, and even vampires and zombies, and our resurrected Lord Jesus. Unlike ghosts and spirits, Jesus was raised with a flesh and blood human body. And, unlike vampires and zombies, Jesus is not the living dead, but He is the living living. Our resurrected Lord Jesus is flesh and blood, body and soul, living, breathing, eating, drinking – just as He was for thirty-three years during His earthly life – just like you, only, His body is glorified, incorruptible, and imperishable – as your body will one day be. In His body, Jesus could walk through closed doors. He could vanish and appear when and how He wished. And He could, and He did, ascend to the right hand of His Father in heaven, in His flesh and blood body, forty days after His resurrection from the dead. He reigns and rules there as the living proof of your resurrection from the dead and ascension into the presence of the glory of the Holy Triune God.

The disciples did not recognize Jesus at first because His appearance was somewhat different. Though Peter, James, and John were permitted a preview glimpse of Jesus’ glory at His Transfiguration, the disciples had never seen Jesus in the fullness of His glory. He was the same Jesus, but different; somehow He was even more. He was glorified. The Apostle John later taught that what he witnessed having occurred to Jesus would also happen to you, saying, “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.” In a very real way, I can say that I don’t know you as you truly are. What I behold, what you behold when you behold each other, is something considerably less than what you were created to be and, indeed, what you will be in the resurrection. What will you be? Who can say for certain? But we do know this much: You and your body will be like Jesus in His glorified body, never hungering, never thirsting, having no need, want, or lack at all, and most importantly, never dying, for, “We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him.” You will be like your First Parents, but better, indeed, you will be what they longed to be, and now and eternally are. Whatever faults and wounds and defects others see in you, and that you see in others, will be glorified like the wounds of Jesus – they will become as glorious scars.

That’s part of the significance of Jesus’ resurrection; His thirty-three years of life, His mother and father, His childhood and adolescence, His friends and disciples, even His suffering, crucifixion, and death – these did not disappear, they didn’t go away, they weren’t left behind, but they were resurrected and they were glorified! In His resurrection, Jesus became the fullness of who He truly was and is. In the same way, you will not be raised a different person, with different memories and different relationships, but you will be raised as yourself, but glorified, as you truly were meant to be. In the resurrection, you will be the whole you, the real and true you. But, maybe you’re thinking that you’d rather not take your old baggage with you? Foolishness! You are who you are. All the things you’ve experienced and done, both the good and the bad, will be resurrected and will be glorified. They will not harm you and hurt you, just as Jesus’ wounds no longer harm or hurt Him, but they are glorious scars of eternal reminding: It is finished. Sin is forgiven. Death is defeated. Life reigns.

The Episcopalian theologian Robert Farrar Capon has a fascinating take on this. Concerning the returning Prodigal Son and Thankful Samaritan Leper, Capon writes, “everything about us goes home, because everything about us, good or evil, dies in our death and rises by [Jesus’] life. The son’s prodigality goes home, the Samaritan’s leprosy goes home; and so does your lying, my adultery, and Uncle Henry’s embezzling. We never have to leave behind a scrap! Nothing, not even the worst thing we ever did, will ever be anything but a glorious scar.” “And that is a gift,” Capon continues, “because we don’t have to deny one smitch of our history. […] the Samaritan goes away with his life saved because, like the prodigal, he has not put his derelict life into the forgettery. At Jesus’ feet he sees himself whole: dead and risen, and outcast and accepted, a leper and cleansed.” What is raised in the resurrection is the whole you, but better. Unlike vampires and zombies, which are something less than human, in the resurrection you will be fully human, which is more human than you are even now.

And, as goes humanity, so goes all of creation. In His death and resurrection, Jesus has made, and is still making, all things new. Along with humanity, all creation, plunged into corruption by Adam’s sin, has been redeemed and is being restored. The earthly paradise God made, corrupted by our First Parent’s sin, is redeemed, renewed, and made even better in the resurrection. Eden’s Tree of Life, which, because of man’s rebellion, became a cursed tree of death upon which the Second Adam and New man Jesus Christ was crucified and died, has been redeemed and restored and renewed so that it is present in the New Paradise, flanking the River of Life and providing life and healing for all, as a new and better Tree of Life.

The difficulty you have is that all you can see of the resurrection is the death. When Sunday morning came around, all of Jesus’ disciples believed Him to be dead. The women came to the tomb to finish preparing His body for burial. Their greatest concern was how they could get into the tomb since they believed that a great stone blocked the way. When they found the tomb open and Jesus’ body gone, even with the absolution and proclamation of an angel, they still didn’t believe and they were afraid. When the women finally told Peter and the other disciples, they did not believe their word. And, even when our resurrected Lord appeared amongst them behind closed doors, they were afraid and didn’t believe, until He showed them His wounds and ate some food in their presence. Then they were glad when they saw the Lord.

We know from today’s Gospel lesson, the historic text appointed for this Second Sunday of Easter, that poor Thomas wasn’t with the disciples that Easter evening. Where was he? We don’t know, but likely he too was hiding somewhere in fear just like the others. When the disciples told Thomas that they had seen the Lord, Thomas infamously replied, “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.” For this statement of stubborn unbelief, Thomas has received the moniker “Doubting Thomas”. But, was Thomas really all that bad? Yes, and no. He didn’t believe, that’s clear enough, and that’s bad. However, he was confident to confess his unbelief and what it would take for him to believe, and that’s good. Moreover, I think that Thomas merely spoke what the others were thinking in their hearts. I’m actually very thankful for Thomas, because I am Thomas. I need to see and touch Jesus too in order to believe. And, I think you’re probably Thomas too. Thankfully, mercifully, graciously, Jesus comes to you in His resurrected and glorified flesh and blood body to bring you peace in His Words and in His Wounds. What He gives you, He gives as a foretaste of what is to come. Jesus knows how hard it is for you who have not seen to believe, and so He speaks His Peace to you, He shows you His Wounds, and He invites you to eat and drink of Him so that you may believe and have eternal life in His Name. Again, unlike both vampires and zombies, He does not come to you dead in order to take life from you, eating your flesh and drinking your blood, but Jesus comes to you alive to give His flesh and His blood to you to eat and drink that you may receive His life.

Even now your Lord Jesus is present with you with His Word of Peace and with His Holy and life-giving Wounds to raise you to new life in Him and to feed, nourish, and strengthen you in faith in Him that you, like Thomas, may not disbelieve, but believe, saying, “My Lord and my God!” Indeed, Thomas did not remain doubting, but he is believed to have traveled to India to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the people of that land. Likewise, you have been raised to new life in Jesus Christ that you may go and tell in word and deed the Good News that Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

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


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.

The Day of Rest had ended. The sun had risen. It was time to get back to work. There was bread to bake, there were fish to catch, there were linens to weave, and there were a multitude of other trades and vocations to be attended to so that there would be food on the table, clothing on the back, and a roof over the heads of the people Jesus died to save. The marketplace was astir about the events that took place on Friday. The Jewish religious leaders were trying to spin the events of that day in their favor. Pilate and the Roman authorities were simply trying to maintain order and stability. And, a group of women, friends and disciples of Jesus, went to Jesus’ tomb to anoint His dead body. They all believed Him dead. Thus, for them, today was really no different than any other day: birth, work, death, with no hope for anything more, unless they deluded themselves believing that they could work their way into God’s favor, or extend their life by their labor, or merit His grace by their prayers, sacrifices, and good deeds.

The weight of life can seem unbearable at times. When the economy is bad, when jobs are scarce, when nobody’s getting a raise, and yet food, and fuel, and the necessities of life keep rising in cost, each and every day is a struggle. Like Sisyphus, just when you seem to be getting ahead and have almost reached the sunlight at the top of the mountain, something gives, and that stone comes rolling back down to the bottom, and you have to start all over again.

That’s life. But what about eternal life? What about your relationship with your Creator; your relationship with God? You think paying your taxes and putting gas in the car is a heavy burden? What about your sin? Sin you were born with; sin you were conceived with; sin you add to daily and nurse like some grotesque infant, in thought, in word, and in deed? The wages of sin is death, and your sin is like an enormous stone, a boulder, that seals you in your grave. As long as that stone of sin is in place, you’re not getting out alive – not a single one of you. But, who can remove the stone?

That was the question being discussed by the women as they went to Jesus’ tomb early on the first day of the week. “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” They were still looking for a helper, a redeemer, a savior, and a king, but they did not believe that Jesus was Him. Or, if they did believe on Thursday, that belief was shattered on Friday, and after a day of rest on the Sabbath, they only believed Him to be dead. What a tragedy, they thought. Or, as the Emmaus disciples would lament later that day, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”

Do the dark days of your life tempt you to despair in hopelessness? Do you wonder if it is possible that anything or anyone can relieve your suffering and improve your situation? Do you feel like you are all alone, with no one to help, with no one who cares? Are you tempted disbelieve; to formulate a humanist philosophy to understand your pain and suffering and the meaning of life; are you tempted to just curse God and die? That’s what Job was tempted to do. Job had it all, family and friends, health and wealth, all as a rich blessing from God. However, God permitted Job to lose it all. His family were killed; his wealth and health were taken away; and, his friends, even his own wife, tempted him to just curse God and die. But, he wouldn’t do it. It wasn’t because of what his eyes saw; it wasn’t because of what his flesh felt; it wasn’t because of the empty ache and sorrow within his soul; but, it was because of his faith and trust in the Word of God, Job would not curse God and die, but He 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. My hear faints within me!” Job made that confession of faith in His Redeemer and in His resurrection over 1,500 years before Jesus’ birth!

When the women arrived at the tomb, they were astounded to see that the stone had already been rolled away. Surely they expected to find some strong men nearby to explain this unexpected turn of events. But, going inside the tomb, they found, not a few strong men, but a young man dressed in a white robe. He told the women, “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.” Though Jesus had clearly predicted His crucifixion, death, and resurrection on the third day at least three times, the women did not believe, the disciples did not believe, indeed, no one believed until their eyes were opened by the Holy Spirit and they were caused to remember what He had said to them while He was with them. Though the angel instructed the women to “go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee,” and that “there you will see Him, just as He told you,” they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

How does fear and astonishment concerning what is going on in your life, in your world, keep you from living in the Gospel promise of life in Christ? Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. This is most certainly true. Yet, you often live your life as if this life is all there is. Therefore, you fret and you worry, you horde and you covet to feed the flesh and to satisfy its desires and passions, so inwardly focused upon yourself, your fears, your needs, and your desires, that you ignore your hungry neighbor, you despise your needy brother, and you wouldn’t think to tell anyone about the hope that you have, because hope is the farthest thing from your mind and heart. Do you not see that all of that has died with Jesus? All of your fears, all your concerns, all your covetousness, anger, and selfish desires were crucified with Him, dead, and buried. But, Jesus has risen, just as He said, and He has left all that dross dead in the grave. You are free! These cannot keep you in bondage and slavery any longer…, unless you permit them to.

This festival day is not just a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, but it is a celebration of your resurrection. You are a new creation in Jesus Christ, born again from the watery womb of the Church in Holy Baptism. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus has made you a new lump, having removed the old leaven of sin. You are clean. You are pure. You are holy. You are free. Thus, do not leaven yourself once again in the ways of the old flesh, but let us feast this Easter Day on Christ, the bread of heaven; the Word of grace has purged away the old and evil leaven. Christ alone our souls will feed; He is our meat and drink indeed; faith lives upon no other! Alleluia! The stone has been rolled away and the Holy Spirit cries to you, “Lazarus, come out!” You are free, free to live without fear, holy and righteous in His sight, all the days of your life.

This day, and every Lord’s Day, which is a Little Easter, your Lord is present with you here, behind closed doors, with His Word and with His Wounds, true, life-giving meat and drink for you to eat and to drink that you may be de-leavened anew, forgiven, and strengthened in faith. He is present with you, and for you, that He might live in you, and you in Him, that you might truly live, and truly give His life to others. The stone of sin and death has been removed. There is nothing to keep you in your grave. Rise and live. Your Paschal Lamb, Jesus Christ, has set your free.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Homily for Holy Saturday (Easter Vigil)


John 20:1-18

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

When all was still and it was midnight, Your Almighty Word, O Lord, descended from the royal throne. We sang those words from the Apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon on Christmas Eve in joyous contemplation of the glorious condescension of the Son of God to be conceived and born as a helpless infant in meekness, lowliness, and humility. For, it was in the hopeless and futile midnight of man’s attempt to justify himself by works according to the Law, when men must sleep in death, the wage for their sin, unable by reason or strength or volition to make any movement towards God whatsoever – it was in that hopeless and futile midnight stillness that God has acted, that God has chosen, that God has willed, and that God has done what was necessary to redeem and to justify and to raise you, O man, from death and hell, to walk and to move and to live and to breathe in Him and through Him forever unto eternal ages through the free and perfect gift of His Word, His Son, made flesh, Jesus Christ.

So very much like that night in December is this night in April! When you left this place Friday evening, you left in darkness, in sadness, and in hopelessness of salvation. O sorrow dread! Our God is dead! You sang in darkness as the Son of God hanged dead upon the cross. You know that He died in your place. You know that it was your sins that pierced His flesh like biting nails and thorns, that affixed Him to the tree of death, until He gave up His breath. You remember that the death of God was punctuated by darkness, an earthquake, and by the tearing of the temple curtain. These testified that no amount of prayers and sacrifices in the temple could remove the wage of death, but only God, that even the heavens and the earth were sustained from chaos and death by the creative Word of God alone. Truly, if Friday were the end of your story, then you would be the most pitiable of all people.

Dearly beloved, people of God, brothers and sisters in Christ, you are gathered here tonight in this semi-darkness, in vigil and in prayer, because Friday was not the end of your story. In many ways, it is a new beginning. All is still, as if it were midnight, and you remember that on this night your Lord’s lifeless body laid still in a borrowed tomb. But, Jesus’ dead body in the tomb is your dead body in the tomb, for Jesus is Adam, Jesus is Jacob, and Jesus is Israel. Jesus is Man, and He received in Himself the wages of your sin and the sins of all men. He bore the stripes and suffering you deserved. He was pierced by thorns, nails, and spears, and His flesh was torn by leather, bone, and stone for you. He was forsaken by His Father that you may never know that hellish loneliness and torment. And, He died and tasted the fullness of death, received its potent sting, that you may experience death with its teeth knocked out, as sleep from which you will awake.

For the Father planted Him deep in the earth from whence Man came, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. But, as with a seed of grain, out of His death springs new life! God has raised Him from the dead! He burst the strong bands of death and hell; no longer can they hold Him. Veils and shrouds, boulders, doors; no longer can they hinder Him.

Why is this night unlike other nights? It is the night in which your Savior passed over from death to life. Thus, Jesus is not merely your Passover Lamb, but Jesus is your Passover; because the Angel of Death took Him in death, death passes over you. Jesus’ Sabbath rest in the tomb has fulfilled the Sabbath for you. He leads you safely through the drowning sea of baptism, through death, into life as you have been baptized into His death and resurrection.

This is the night of the First Day, when light was spoken into darkness. Tonight Christ’s primordial light breaks out from the darkness of death and fills the world. Jesus Christ is the Light of the World, the Light no darkness can overcome. Your Lord, your hope, is arisen; to Galilee He goes before you. He says to you, O Woman, O Man, why are you weeping? Why do you seek the living amongst the dead? Out of the darkness of death, the stillness of midnight, the hopelessness of man’s death, life has arisen, light has dawned. Jesus Christ is arisen from the dead! Alleluia!

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

Friday, April 6, 2012

Homily for Good Friday


John 18:1 – 19:42; Hebrews4:14-16; 5:7-9; Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12

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

This is the day that Abraham saw on Mount Moriah, and He was glad. Jesus is the Lamb, of God’s offering, caught in the thicket of your sins, even as you remember this day the thorns that crowned His sacred head and pierced His holy flesh. Jesus is your unblemished Passover Lamb who willingly lays down His life for you. Like the fiery serpent in the wilderness, Jesus is made to be the symbol and token of your poisonous sin and death, raised up for you on a tree that you may look to Him and live. Jesus is your Great High Priest who has entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.

For generations, the Patriarchs and the Prophets had told of His coming, but you have not believed their word. Because He comes in lowliness and humility and poverty you do not receive Him, while those from afar, and those who cannot see, hear the Word and believe. And, because He preaches, not works, but forgiveness, you reject Him, insisting, “Just tell me what I have to do, and I’ll do it, if it seems good to me.” And, because He receives sinners and the unclean, even gentiles to Himself, and because He eats with them and drinks with them, you despise Him, and esteem Him not. And, when He is marred and disfigured, without majesty or beauty, a man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief, hanging upon the cursed tree of the cross, you hide your face from Him and consider Him justly stricken, smitten, and afflicted by God.

And you are right. It was the will of the LORD to crush Him; He has put Him to grief. But, He did not suffer because He deserved it, but, rather, He Suffered because you deserve it. Jesus did not suffer for His own sins and guilt, but it was your griefs and sorrows that He bore. It was for your transgressions that He was wounded. It was for your iniquities that He was crushed. It was for your peace that He was chastised. And it was for your healing that He bore the stripes. For, the LORD has laid upon Him the iniquity of us all. And so, you do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with your weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as you are, yet without sin.

Yet, all this He does willingly for you. No one forced Him to go to the cross and no one took His life from Him – Not the Sanhedrin, not Herod, not even Pontius Pilate, Satan, or even the LORD Himself – but Jesus went willingly, like a lamb to slaughter, silent, opening not His mouth. And, in death, He gave His soul as a guilt offering and He suffered the excruciating loneliness of abandonment by His Father. But, as a seed planted in soil, the Seed promised to Eve, reiterated to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, He saw His offspring, as countless as the stars in the heavens. And, for this, He gladly suffered.

Therefore, because your Great High Priest Jesus has redeemed your flesh from death and has atoned for your sins and guilt, you may in confidence draw near to the throne of grace and receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. That throne of grace is the cross of your crucified Lord and King Jesus from whence mercy comes and grace is offered. It is the mercy seat where the sacrificial blood is sprinkled on behalf of all nations. Do not hide your face from Jesus’ crucified body on the cross, for the crucifix is the image of God’s love for you. In His wounds and stripes you have healing; and, in His death you receive life. For, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Jesus is that holy grain and Seed; you are His abundant fruit.

“This is the day that the Lord has made,” sings the Christ in Psalm 118, “let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Though that day is the day of resurrection properly, it cannot be separated from this Friday which we also call good and in which we rejoice. As your substitute, Jesus prayed, “Out of my distress I called on the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me free. The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? The LORD is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.” As Jesus faced His Passion and death for you, He trusted in the LORD and in His Word for strength, deliverance, and for salvation. He prayed, “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD. The LORD has disciplined me severely, but He has not given me over to death.” Now, the crucified Christ has become the very Gate of Heaven that the righteous may enter through it. And so, we sing with Christ, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Homily for Holy (Maundy) Thursday


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.

Tonight you will remember how Jesus has made all things new: How He has given you a new Passover Feast in the Blessed Sacrament of His body and His blood. How He has given you a new example of love in His selfless and sacrificial service of His disciples. How He has given you a New Commandment, that you should love each other, your brothers, and your neighbors, as He has loved you. And of how, on the night when He was betrayed, He made with His Father a New Covenant in His holy and innocent shed blood, that the Angel of Death would pass over you. Tonight you will hear all this. Tonight you will receive all this. And, tonight you will do all this in remembrance of your Lord Jesus who has loved you to the end.

The Passover was the Feast of God’s deliverance of His people out of slavery and bondage in Egypt. It was a feast of remembrance – remembrance of the judgment God executed upon Satan and sin and death, symbolized by the nine plagues which befell the Egyptians and the tenth and final plague, the killing of all of Egypt’s first born men and livestock. Judgment was executed upon all of the gods of the Egyptians, even upon the son of Pharaoh himself. But the LORD’s mercy was shown to the children of Israel as He commanded them to sacrifice an innocent, unblemished lamb, and to mark their doorposts and lintels with its blood that the Angel of Death would pass over their homes and spare their firstborn, both man and beast. On the fourteenth day of Nisan, each household was commanded to take a one year old, unblemished, male lamb, from either the sheep or the goats, and, together, they were to kill their lambs at twilight, roughly between the hours of 3pm and sunset at 6pm. They were then to take some of the lamb’s blood and put it upon the two doorposts and the lintels of their homes and then eat the flesh of the lambs that night in their homes, roasted on the fire, with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Each and every year thereafter, they were to do this in remembrance of the LORD’s mighty deliverance of His people out of the House of Bondage in Egypt.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, it was just before the celebration of the Passover. Jewish pilgrims from as far as 700 miles journeyed to Jerusalem to eat the Passover Feast and to remember God’s mighty deliverance. On the night in which He was betrayed, this night, Holy Thursday, Jesus celebrated one last Passover meal with His disciples. He told them that this was something He earnestly desired to share with them before His suffering, and that it was a meal that He would not eat again with them until it was fulfilled in the kingdom of God. It was during that Passover meal, near the end, that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and gave it to them saying, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Then, in the same way, He took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” In so doing, Jesus reinterpreted the Passover and the Passover meal in terms of Himself, His own body and blood: Though they did not understand then, He was teaching them that He would become their Passover Lamb, that His blood would mark them as chosen and favored by God so that the Angel of Death would pass over them. He would lay down His own life unto death on the cross as the sacrificial Lamb, God’s offering for the sins of all men. From then on, in place of observing the Passover, Jesus’ disciples, then and now, are to do this in remembrance of Him, for as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. In eating His body and drinking His blood you proclaim to the world that Jesus is your Passover Lamb who was sacrificed for you to make you clean. And, no greater expression of love is possible than to sacrifice yourself for a friend, for a brother, even for those who hate you.

After supper, in conjunction with His teaching, Jesus gave His disciples a concrete, hands-on example of what that kind of love looks like in action. He rose from supper, laid aside His outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around His waist. Then He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around Him. It was unthinkable that a Lord and Rabbi would wash His disciples’ feet, and Peter understandably protested saying, “Lord, do you wash my feet? You shall never wash my feet.” But Jesus lovingly taught Peter and the others about the nature of love and forgiveness. He told them that they were all clean, but the one who would betray Him, and that they did not need to be washed again, but only their feet. Then He told them that, in the same way, they should wash one another’s feet just as He had done for them. And, putting His teaching into a formula He summarized, saying, “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.”

The New Commandment was not entirely new, for love had always been the summary and fulfillment of God’s Law: Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and, love your neighbors as yourself. What was new about Jesus’ New Commandment was sacrifice and confession. The Law of God demanded perfect and continual love of God and neighbor, an impossible obedience for you and all men conceived and born in sin, sinning daily in thought and word and deed. But, the love Jesus commands is a love that confesses its sin and unworthiness, that knows it does not deserve the love it has received and therefore, in humility and selfless, sacrificial love, cannot help but share the same with brothers and neighbors, even enemies. The New Commandment is really an invitation to die with Jesus to self and selfishness and to live in selfless, sacrificial service. You love as you have been, and are still being, loved. You forgive as you have been, and are still being, forgiven. You give as you have been given, and are still being given to. There is no longer a compulsion to love in order to win favor with your God or to pay for your sins against Him, for Jesus Christ has fulfilled the Law of Love for you, in your place. Now you are the recipient of God’s love and forgiveness for Jesus’ sake – and that’s quite new! – freely, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, no strings attached.

Jesus has given Himself for you in every way imaginable. That you might no longer eat the bread of affliction, He gives you His body as bread that you may eat and live. That you might not be struck down in eternal death He has shed His precious and holy blood to atone for your sins that the Angel of death may pass over you. That you might not suffer in slavery and bondage to sin and death and the devil, Jesus fulfilled the Passover before making His Exodus out of this world of sin and death through His death upon the cross for you. And, that you may live in the freedom of His grace and love, Jesus has invited you to share His grace and live with your brothers, your neighbors, and even those who hate you, for in loving, in forgiving, and in giving you are truly free from the chains and bondage of hatred, fear, anger, selfishness, jealousy, resentment, and greed. This is the New Commandment your Lord Jesus has given you that you may live in His love forever.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Homily for Palmarum (Palm Sunday)


(No audio available)

Matthew 21:1-9, 26:1 – 27:66; Philippians 2:5-11; Zechariah 9:9-12

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

It was indeed the Father’s will that Israel have a king, but not a merciless earthly king like Saul and his successors, but a gentle king of peace and mercy, of selfless love and sacrificial service. But, since the children of Israel cried out to God for a king like those of the pagan nations around them, God permitted them to have what they asked for. He gave them a king and He commanded His prophet Samuel to say to the people: "These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day." Indeed, it seems that the Lord knows a thing or two about kings. How much more does He know the prideful, selfish, greedy, and murderous hearts of men.

Yet, it was indeed the Father’s will that Israel would have a king – a king who would not take, but who would give; a king who did not come to be served, but to serve; a king who would not rule by power and force, who would not murder, but a king who would rule with love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness, and who would lay down His own life into death for His subjects. The king the Father gave to His people was Jesus, at whose birth the choir of angels sang in praise, whom gentile sages from the east honored with precious gifts, whom God Himself anointed and christened, with His Holy Spirit at His baptism in the Jordan, ordaining Him for a kingship of sacrificial death upon the throne of the cross, crowned with thorns of cruelty and mocking. This is He of whom the prophet wrote, “and the government shall be upon His shoulder” and “of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.” The people were right to receive Jesus as their king, but they had it all wrong about the kind of king He would be.

John the Baptist had prepared His way, preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He was like those servants of old who went before their king to prepare his way for safe travel by filling in the low places in the road and by removing stones and leveling the high places as the prophet had said: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.” Only, John prepared the way for King Jesus to enter into your hearts and your lives by removing your mountains of pride and your valleys of despair by the preaching of the Law and the Gospel. It is a kind of surgery, this preaching, that heals you by wounding, by cutting, by crushing, and by killing. That is to say that the Law has to have its deathly way with you, convicting you of your sin, showing you your uncleanness and death, slaying your adulterous and idolatrous self, that the Gospel may then be given to you freely, by grace alone, and heal you and raise you up to new life in the King who first died for you and was raised to life, victorious over sin, death, and the devil.

As Jesus entered Jerusalem, the City of David, the City of the Great King, the people received Him as their King. They laid down their cloaks upon His path before Him. They cut palm branches and they waved them in the air, crying out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” By all appearances, they truly believed Jesus to be the promised Messiah, for they received Him with all the Messianic accolades and titles. They cried out to Him “Hosanna,” which means “Save us, we pray”. They called Him the Son of David, the title and designation of the Messiah given in prophecy. They confessed Him to be the Blessed One of the Lord God Himself. Yet, with all that positive confession, with all that faithful praise and adoration, before the sun sat on the day we call Palm Sunday, the religious leadership of the people were becoming disillusioned with Jesus and the kind of King He was showing Himself to be.

Immediately upon entering the City of the Great King to the pomp and circumstance and the crowds, though He entered riding, not upon a war horse or chariot, but upon a lowly colt of a donkey, a beast of burden, King Jesus proceeded, not to Governor’s headquarters in order to throw him out, but He proceeded to the temple and He began to throw out the money-changers and the peddlers of pigeons, crying out, “It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers.” These people were using the temple for dishonest gain by exchanging the people’s money for pennies on the dollar and extorting the people by overcharging the poor when they purchased their sacrificial victims. Is it any surprise that women and children, the poor and the sick and the demon possessed, and all the other unclean or disenfranchised people flocked to Jesus? But, when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, and they said to Him, “Do you hear what they are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?” Jesus then left Jerusalem and returned to the temple the next day and taught in many parables which the chief priests and the Pharisees perceived were about them. Though they wanted to arrest Jesus, they could not, for they feared the crowds because they held Him to be a prophet.

As the week that we call Holy continued, however, the chorus of those setting themselves against King Jesus grew. Many who believed in Him were scandalized by His teaching. By Thursday, even His closest disciples had become conflicted. When Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus’ head with costly ointment, the disciples were indignant at the waste. It was likely then that Judas decided to betray Jesus to the chief priests for thirty pieces of silver. After celebrating the Passover feast with His disciples, Jesus and they went out to the Mount of Olives, to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. There Jesus told His disciples that they would all fall away from Him that night. Peter insisted that he could never betray his Lord, but that he would die for Him if necessary, and the rest of them said the same. Yet, before sunrise the next morning, they had all abandoned Jesus in fear and confusion and unbelief in fulfillment of the prophecy, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.”

Jesus’ trials before the Jewish Sanhedrin, before Herod, and before the Roman Governor Pilate each focused upon the confession of the people that Jesus was the Messiah, the God-given King of the Jews. Jesus was careful to not make this claim Himself directly, but He did not deny the claims that others made about Him. When He was handed over to be crucified, He remained innocent and guiltless, but He was charged, convicted, and executed for the claims, the guilt, and the sins of others: for the crowds, for the disciples, even for Judas, and even for the scribes and the Pharisees, the Sanhedrin, Herod, and for Pilate himself. Indeed, your God and Lord does not force Himself upon you or upon anyone – He is not that kind of a King – but you must receive Him as your King, your Lord, your Savior and God. He comes in humility and lowliness, not to be served, but to serve. He comes, not to bring you health and wealth, power and influence, but He comes to bring you forgiveness of your sins, eternal life, and salvation. He comes, not to defeat your enemies, but to restore you prodigal enemies of God to sonship with your heavenly Father.

Jesus is your King, the only true King ever to have lived, who served you, His subjects, His people, in selfless, sacrificial love, even laying down His life into death that you would live. He is your substitute ram caught in your thicket of sin and death. He is your scapegoat bearing the load of the world’s sin upon Himself to face death and the devil in the wilderness. He is your Passover Lamb whose blood marks you as His own so that the Angel of Death passes over you. And He is your Great High Priest who has entered into the Holy Places once and for all, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own sinless, holy, and innocent shed blood, securing for you an eternal redemption from your sins.

Jesus is the King your Father wills for you to have – a King of boundless mercy and compassion, forgiveness, and selfless, sacrificial love for you and for all mankind. Jesus is the King your Father wills for your to receive and confess; Jesus is the King whose reign your Father wills for you to share in by so loving others as He has so loved you. Jesus is your King, who has claimed you and named you as His own in Holy Baptism. Jesus is your King who provides for your sustenance, comfort, and protection in this life and world. Jesus is your King who gives you His body to eat and His blood to drink in intimate communion with Him for forgiveness of your sins, strengthening of your faith, eternal life, and salvation. And Jesus is your King who comes on the ‘morrow to crown you as kings and queens with Him of heaven and earth. But, already you have been called to kingly service of your neighbor in his need with the promise that when you serve one of the least of your brothers, you serve your King and Lord Jesus. You learn this service best by being served by your King Jesus – by being in His Word and in His Wounds as the recipient of His grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness. Then, you live this service by showing this grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness to your neighbor, to your brother, as it has been richly and abundantly showered upon you.

Today, six young kings and queens will receive their First Communion, their first reception of King Jesus’ holy body and precious blood given and shed for them for the forgiveness of their sins. In receiving this precious gift they receive their King and they confess Him to be their Messiah, their Lord, and their God. They sing with all the faithful, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest.” Into the mouths of babes their King is received, and out of the mouths of babes is His Name confessed.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.