Sunday, March 27, 2016
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 women “went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Kind of an anticlimactic Gospel for Easter Sunday, don’tcha think? Imagine if this had been the response of everyone to the resurrection of Jesus, that they were afraid and didn’t tell anyone anything. How very few would actually believe. Truly, only a very few could be saved. After all, Jesus’ body could have been stolen from the tomb. Then, where would be the proof? All those sightings of Jesus raised from the dead, and other believers raised from the dead too? Only the hopeful psychotic delusions of the distraught, the naïve, and the superstitious.
And yet, here we are, two thousand years later, gathered in this sanctuary at the same time millions of others are gathered in their churches throughout this nation and, at one time or another this day, throughout the world, to remember, and to celebrate, and to praise and give thanks to God for the resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer, from the dead. Apparently someone believed. Obviously a whole lot of someones believed. They believed and, afraid or not, they told everyone everything. In fact, they most often did so to their great risk and peril, which lends credence to the truth of Christ’s resurrection rather than doubt.
For, consider the zeal of the Apostles and the early Christians in the years and decades following Jesus’ death. Each of the Apostles, save John, were martyred because of their belief in Jesus’ resurrection and their refusal to be silent, but, rather, to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all without concern for their personal safety or well-being. Tradition holds that Peter was crucified head downward, humbly considering himself unworthy to die in the same manner as His Lord. Tradition also holds that St. Paul was beheaded in Rome, that James the Lesser was thrown from the temple wall, stoned, and had his brains beat out by a fuller’s club, that James, the brother of John, was slain by the sword, that Thomas was run through with spears, seared by heated plates, and finally burned alive, that Judas Thaddeus was beaten to death with sticks, that Phillip and Andrew were both crucified, that Matthew was beheaded, that Nathaniel (Bartholomew) was flayed alive and was crucified, and that Matthias, who replaced Judas Iscariot, was stoned to death while hanging upon a cross. While John, the beloved disciple, remained alive and presumably died an old man, he was exiled by the Romans and lived alone on the Island of Patmos. Truly, martyrdom takes many forms. Further, subsequent generations of Christians until the early part of the fourth century were met with similar persecution and death for their witness to Jesus, His resurrection, and the Gospel. And, there are still Christians today who are persecuted and martyred for their confession of the faith. There were the Ethiopian Coptic Christians executed last year by ISIS. There is the Indian Roman Catholic Priest Father Tom, right now, who was abducted in Yemen by ISIS, who murdered four nuns that were with him, and will very likely be crucified any day now. And, there are countless Christians in China, the Sudan, and throughout the world who daily risk their lives and livelihoods for their Confession of Christ.
Why would any of them die for something they were not certain of? Would anyone suffer such horrendous torture and evil death, and subject their families to the same, if they were not absolutely convinced of the truth and the Gospel meaning of what they believed about Jesus, His death, and His resurrection? No, not likely. But, what made them believe so strongly? What evidence was there that Jesus had been raised, just as He had said? Undoubtedly, the greatest evidence was the empty tomb itself. Only consider the facts of Jesus’ burial: The Jews and the Romans had no motive to steal Jesus’ body. In fact, they were extremely concerned about that possibility and so set a Roman guard at the tomb to prevent such a scheme. Further, before His resurrection, Jesus’ disciples were too fearful and cowardly to attempt such a feat. Some skeptics have suggested that the women went to the wrong tomb. However, this does not pan out as the women knew where the tomb was and the Sanhedrin could simply have produced Jesus’ body from the correct tomb and effectively falsified the account of Jesus’ resurrection. And then, there were the burial linens neatly folded and placed at the head and feet of where Jesus had lain, hardly what one would expect in the case of a hasty grave robbery.
Even the fact that the Gospels record women being the first eyewitness of the empty tomb and the resurrected Lord lends credence to the truth of the resurrection, for women were among the lowest in society in terms of respect and honor. Their testimony would not even be admissible in a court of law. Surely, if the writers of the Gospels wished to convince people of the truth of the resurrection they would have recorded the accounts men of renown and honor, whose testimony would have been received with greater credulity. The fact that the Evangelists preserved the eyewitness testimony of women and did not change the facts to something that would be more socially acceptable lends to the veracity and trustworthiness of their report.
Likewise, our Easter Gospel’s rather abrupt and disconcerting ending, “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.” The earliest manuscripts and fragments we have of St. Mark’s Gospel all end in this way, with those words. And, St. Mark’s account of Jesus’ resurrection has been read and heard in Christ’s Church on Easter Sunday since at least the seventh century. Truly, the Gospel reads and ends like a historical record of factual events rather than as a story intentionally constructed to lead the hearer or reader to a particular conclusion and belief. You have to acknowledge that the St. Mark could easily have ended his Gospel on a more upbeat note with an actual siting and even a conversation with our resurrected Lord instead of the women fleeing the tomb confused and afraid and saying nothing to anyone. However, St. Mark has recorded what actually happened. The preservation of these uncomfortable and often embarrassing facts lend credibility to the Gospels and the testimonies of both Jesus’ disciples and those who had no interest in lending credence to them at all.
Still, as interesting as all these signifiers to the veracity of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection may be, that is not why we are gathered here this morning, is it? No, it is not. We are here this morning because Jesus is risen from the dead, just as He said. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Regardless of their response to the angel’s announcement, the women found the tomb empty and they were astonished and filled with amazement and fear. As they approached the tomb they fretted about the very large stone sealing its entrance. However, when they arrived at the tomb they found that the stone had already been rolled back. You must understand that this was not for Jesus’ benefit, but your theirs and yours. Lutheran dogmatician Franz Pieper writes in his Christian Dogmatics, “Just as Christ came to His disciples clausa ianua (through closed doors), so He also arose clauso sepulchro (through closed tomb). The only purpose of rolling the stone from the door of the sepulcher was, according to Scripture, to exhibit the empty tomb to the women and to convince them by this very fact that Christ had truly risen.”
The stone was rolled away for you, that you might believe and trust and be confident in your faith that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead just as He said. Our Lord Jesus had already been raised from death, had visited the spirits in prison in hell to proclaim His resurrection victory, and was on His way to Galilee just as He told His disciples on the night in which He was betrayed. The stone rolled away was a sign for you. “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.” Jesus had predicted His death, even by crucifixion, His rest in the tomb, and His resurrection on the third day. Everything He had predicted has been fulfilled. The stone rolled away and the empty tomb were the indisputable proof. Now, all there was left to do was to believe. If all that Jesus predicted had come to pass, then He must also be in Galilee just as He said.
What does this mean? Well, apart from Jesus and those whom He raised, who later died again, no one has ever been raised from the dead. That is because of the curse of our First Parent’s sin, which is truly our sin as well, the wages of which is only and always death. But, Jesus’ resurrection means that our sin is atoned for and we are free. Jesus’ death was our death – the death of the sinless Son of God as a man in our place – and, therefore, His resurrection is our resurrection. The stone that sealed Jesus’ tomb can be understood metaphorically as our sin which keeps us in death and in our tombs. But, it has been rolled away; our sin has been taken away and can no longer hold us in death and the grave. In fact, even if the stone were still in place it could not hold Jesus, and it cannot hold you who believe and are baptized into Jesus. But, as I said before, the stone was rolled away for you, that you may believe and be strengthened and be confident in the truth that your sins are forgiven and that, even though you die, you will live. As the Lutheran dogmatician Johann Gerhard wrote in his Postilla, “True believers cannot be damned on account of their debt of sin – it has been adequately demonstrated by the resurrection of Christ that God the LORD has been paid a complete settlement.”
Yet, still, how often are we silent about this Good News, our faith, our forgiveness, our justification, and our hope of resurrection to never-ending life? How often are we like the women at the tomb – afraid? We have this incredible Good News of forgiveness, life, and salvation, and yet, we tell no one, we say nothing, and, too often, we live as though nothing has happened, nothing has changed. Fear keeps us from sharing the Good News. Fear of judgment from our peers, fear of judgment from our family, fear that we don’t really believe what we think we believe, or fear that we are not strong enough in faith to tell anyone else. Well, my brothers and sisters in Christ, fear died this morning. The tomb is empty. He is not here. He is risen, just as He said! He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Cleanse out the old leaven of sin and death and fear. You are a new, unleavened lump! For, Christ our Passover Lamb ahs been sacrificed! Therefore, let us celebrate this festival, not with the old leaven of malice, evil, and fear, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth! This is the Feast of Victory for our God! Alleluia! Alleluia!
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Saturday, March 26, 2016
Genesis 1:1 – 2:3; Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18; 8:6-18; 9:8-13;
Exodus 14:10 – 15:1; Ezekiel 37:1-14; Jonah 3:1-10; John 20:1-18
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.
Friday, March 25, 2016
John 18:1 – 19:42; 2 Corinthians 5:14-21; Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“Behold my Servant,” saith the LORD. That is how the LORD thinks of His Messiah, His Anointed One, His Christ: “My Servant.” And, that is how the LORD’s Son thinks of Himself, as the Servant of the LORD. And, how does the Servant serve the LORD? What does the Servant do? He humbles Himself and becomes obedient unto death, even death upon a cross. For, to be a servant is to be selfless. The servant is not interested in his own interests, but in the interests of His Master. You are the interest of Jesus’ Master. God the Father loves you, and He sent His Servant Son to lay down His life to redeem you, to win you back from your sin and from its just wage, death. God the Father loves you, and He loves His Servant Son also. Therefore, the sacrifice of His Servant Son is His sacrifice as well.
The Father’s Servant “shall act wisely; He shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted,” both in His crucifixion and death, and in His resurrection and life. This is the Theology of the Cross: God has chosen what is foolish in this world to shame the wise, what is weak in this world to shame the strong, what is low and despised in this world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are. From the lowly seed comes the majestic tree, but not without the destruction of the seed. And, “if a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” This is the Theology of the Cross, which is “folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” When they gazed upon Jesus, they saw only weakness and lowliness. They despised Him and considered Him nothing. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son from Nazareth?” “Do we not know His origin, His birth, and His parents?” “He is nothing. We know Him. We have no use for Him.” And, when the LORD struck, and smote, and afflicted Jesus, they thought He was getting His just desserts. Yet, it was our griefs and sorrows Jesus carried. It was for our transgressions that He was wounded. It was for our iniquities that He was crushed. By His chastisement and stripes we are healed and find peace with God. This was the LORD’s will for His Suffering Servant, whom He loves, because He loves you.
Jesus is the LORD’s Suffering Servant. He served His LORD by laying down His life for you. “It was the will of the LORD to crush Him; He has put Him to grief; when His soul makes an offering for guilt, He shall see His offspring; He shall prolong His days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.” You are His offspring. Jesus died that you might prosper. He “bore the sin of many, and [made] intercession for the transgressors,” that is, for you. Jesus paid the debt you owed. He suffered the wrath that was justly yours. He was obedient to the Law of the LORD in perfect love, fulfilling it for you and giving you the credit. Truly, the Gospel message of Good Friday is the Word of Jesus from the cross, “Tetelestai,” “It is finished,” It is fulfilled,” the old has past and the new has come: forgiveness, salvation, and everlasting life.
Jesus is the LORD’s Suffering Servant, and you are the LORD’s servant too. Jesus’ New Commandment to you on Holy Thursday was to love one another as He has loved you. But, it was Jesus’ death on Good Friday that gives you the freedom to do that, the freedom to love as you have been loved, not out of fear and coercion of the Law. Before Jesus’ death, the Law loomed over you like a cruel, unloving, and merciless taskmaster. It demanded perfection of you, and you were literally damned before you started, before you even tried to keep it and to do it. But, now Jesus has tetelestai, Jesus has fulfilled the Law’s demands for you in His perfect and holy obedience and in His suffering and death on the cross. Tetelestai, it is finished, it is fulfilled, for you. The old has been fulfilled and has been made new, and that means you have been made new as well.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come.” The change that has been wrought in you is servanthood, love. There is a change in which you view your fellow man, be he your brother, your neighbor, your friend, or your enemy. “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.” We regard no one according to the flesh because our flesh has been redeemed in Jesus Christ who died in the flesh fulfilling the Law’s demands for all. Christ has “died for all, therefore all have died.” So also, Christ has been raised for all that all may live in Him. There is a world of advice and exhortation out there for you making demands upon you as to how you should live, what you should do, how you should talk and dress and eat and raise your families and vote and really every other aspect of your life. Not all of those things are bad in and of themselves, but what do the Scriptures say? What does your Lord Jesus say? “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.” And, what does Paul say? “The love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.”
Jesus died for you to set you free from the threatening coercion of the Law, that you might no longer live for yourself, but to Christ and to your neighbor. The Suffering Servant Jesus served and suffered that you might become the LORD’s servant in Him. He has even given you this ministry, this service, the ministry of reconciliation. What does this mean? This means that, as Christ has reconciled us to Himself, so now does He send you as His ambassador to implore others to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.
Jesus died so that you might live. The life you live is His life. Jesus lives for you, with you, and through you to the glory of our Father. Tetelestia: It is finished – all that was necessary to make you right with God, all that was necessary to redeem you from sin and death, all that was necessary to free you from slavery and condemnation under the Law is finished, completed, and fulfilled in Jesus’ death on Good Friday. Jesus took all of that upon Himself and He died for you and as you and was buried. However, He did not remain in that tomb, but He rose from the dead on the third day just as He had said. To remain in sin and death and worldly, fleshly, and material desires, pleasures, and pursuits is to remain in death and the tomb; it is to return to a rotting, stinking, filthy corpse. But, Jesus has died and has been raised that you might live for Him and as Him. And, while this new life is not always easy, Jesus promises to be with you through it all. When you give to others, you give with His gifts. When you forgive others, you forgive with His forgiveness. When you love others, you love with His love.
You are not the same. In Christ you have been reconciled with God; therefore, be reconciled with your brother, your sister, and your neighbor. You are a new creation in Christ, and so also your brother, your sister, and your neighbor. You are blessed to be a blessing. This is why we call this day good. Jesus’ death is for you and as you. Jesus’ resurrection is for you and as you. In Christ, you are a new creation. Glory be to God alone.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Thursday, March 24, 2016
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.
The fruit of the Tree of Life, the Passover Lamb, the Manna in the wilderness, the sacrifices in the tabernacle and the temple, the welcoming widow’s unspent jar of flour and jug of oil – what do all these, and others, share in common? They were gifts of the LORD’s providence to sustain, to preserve, and to atone for His people who had broken their relationship with Him by their sin and rebellion. Moreover, these gifts had the special quality of always being sufficient. They were enough, for the individual, for the family, and even for the neighbor who had less than nothing. One could gather neither too much nor too little, for it was the LORD’s providence, not man’s, and with the LORD there is always enough, and then some to share. The work of man’s hands sometimes produces abundance, and other times dearth, but it never satisfies. Those who have much, and those who have little, always desire more. Desire produces greed and selfishness, brutishness, resentment, hate, violence, and murder. Not so the gifts of the LORD. All receive. None can take credit. The LORD provides for all His rebellious and sinful people, even those who reject Him, all that they need to support their bodies and lives both now and forever.
Those gifts were sacraments, of a sort, doing what sacraments are meant to do: pointing you outside of yourself and your feelings and your emotions and your works to that which the LORD has said, and promised, and done. The sacraments are signs for you and for your sake that you may believe and be confident in your faith – the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen. And so, on the night in which He was betrayed, your Lord Jesus celebrated one final Passover meal with His disciples and instructed them to continue celebrating that meal together, often, in remembrance of Him and what He was about to do for them and for the entire world. But it wasn’t merely a remembrance meal or a memorial as some Christians are want to say, but, like the Passover itself, it really and truly bestowed what the LORD had promised in and through His Word attached to it. Like the Tree of Life, the Manna in the wilderness, the Passover Lamb, and the tabernacle and temple sacrifices, this meal delivers what it says because the LORD has attached His performative and creative Word to it for you.
To the Israelites, the LORD said that the blood of the lamb was a sign for them. When they obeyed His Word, when they trusted in His Word of Promise and marked the lintels of their doors with the lamb’s blood, then the LORD knew that they trusted in Him, and His wrath passed over them and He spared their firstborn. However, the blood was a sign for them, not for the LORD. The blood was a gift to them, a sacrament, that they might believe and be confident in their faith. Such was the case also with the fruit of the Tree of Life and the Manna in the wilderness. The fruit and the manna were sacramental signs for them, for the people, that they might believe and be confident in their faith. The LORD attached His Word of Promise to the tree and to the manna, and so they delivered precisely what that Word promised – forgiveness, life, and salvation. And, the blood is still a sign for you that you might believe and be confident that your sins are forgiven, that your faith might be strengthened, and that you might be comforted and have hope to persevere, knowing that you are united with Jesus in His life, His obedience, His death, and His resurrection. That is why Luther says in the Small Catechism, “that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins’.”
The Passover was to be the beginning of a new year of the LORD’s grace for the children of Israel. Each year they were to celebrate and to remember His mighty deliverance of them from slavery and bondage to Pharaoh and the Egyptians. And so, this day, and each day we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, is a memorial for you, a day of remembrance of the Lord’s mighty deliverance of you from the bondage of sin and death. Once again, the Lord’s Supper is not merely a remembrance, but it actually bestows what the Lord’s Words say – the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Thus, we confess with St. Paul, “As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Each time we celebrate the Lord's Supper we take within ourselves the fruit of the cross, which has become for us our Tree of Life.
But, why do we remember? Why do we need to remember? Because we are Passover people, continually in need of faith, trust, and confidence in the Word of the LORD, the Word of the Gospel that passes over our sins. We are still on a pilgrimage, not from Egypt to the Promised Land, but from hell to heaven, from death to life, and our only hope is in the Word of the LORD and in the sign, the Sacrament, He has given – the crucified and risen body and blood of His Son Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God that takes away our sins and the sins of the world. Even before our fall into sin, our lives were drawn from the Word of the LORD and His gifts – the LORD’s fruit, the LORD’s bread, the LORD’s sacrificial system, the LORD’s sacrifice. Then, now, and always, salvation comes to those who believe and trust in the Word of the LORD. There is no other way.
The blood of all those lambs, calves, and bulls had pointed only to this, to Jesus, to the Lamb of God’s sacrificial self-offering. And, now Jesus was leaving, by means of the cross and the empty tomb, ascending back to His Father as our brother, our Redeemer, our Great High Priest, and our Bridegroom. Therefore Jesus left us this meal of remembrance as a sign, like the blood of the Passover Lamb, that we might trust in His Word of Promise and be confident until He returns. He did this because of His love for you. Likewise, He did set forth an example in His own selfless service and love to His brothers by washing their feet, not that you should wash anyone’s feet, but that you should serve your brother and sister in Christ, and your neighbor, even the stranger and your enemy, in humility, in love, and in selfless, sacrificial service. This is His New Commandment for you, that you love one another as Christ has loved you. And yet, this commandment is not new at all, but it has been the fulfillment of all the commandments of God from the beginning, even before the fall. Jesus’ New Commandment, which we also commemorate this evening, is the first and only commandment of the new creation – the same and only commandment of the old – which we are now free to obey and to do without fear or coercion, but out of love for God and for our neighbor.
You are free. Yes, that is what we remember tonight. You are free from the condemnation of the Law. You are free to obey the Law of the LORD because you want to, not because you have to, because you get to, not because you will be punished if you don’t. You are free to keep it and to do it and to love it because it is good and true and just. Jesus, our Passover Lamb, has offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sins. Jesus’ blood now marks us and death passes over. Gone are the fear and the guilt and the shame and all the fruits of sin. You are freed from these tyrants forever in Christ. As St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Tonight we remember and celebrate and receive anew our freedom in the body and blood of Jesus Christ, our Passover Lamb, the Word of God made flesh laid down for us unto death in selfless sacrifice, in love for us and for all the world. We eat it in haste, with shoes upon our feet, for it is our strength and our hope, even our forgiveness and life, as we make our pilgrimage from earth to heaven and from death to life. His blood is a sign for you that God’s wrath still passes over you. May His blood be on us and on our children now and always.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.