Sunday, April 30, 2017

Misericordias Domini - The Third Sunday of Easter (Easter 3)

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

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The image of Jesus as our Good Shepherd has suffered greatly in contemporary Christian imagination from an overly romantic sentimentalism and from Gospel-reductionist pietism. From the pastel-colored Precious Moments figurines of Christian kitsch to the airbrushed Sunday School and church bulletin artwork depicting a smiling Jesus holding a young lamb over His shoulder or surrounded by a flock of innocent enough seeming sheep, the popular Christian image of the Good Shepherd is a soft, gentle, kind, and often effeminate, young man who lives a happy, simple and pastoral life with His greatest joy being young children and social outcasts. Now, that image is not entirely wrong, mind you, but it is a far cry from the fullness of what it means that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and from the Church’s historic understanding of that office of Jesus Christ.
That Jesus is the Good Shepherd does not mean that He is kind, gentle, happy, loving, etc. any more than it means that He is merely a competent practitioner of animal husbandry. The adjective good here (kalos in the Greek) doesn’t mean that. Rather, Jesus is the Good Shepherd in the same way that God proclaimed each day of His creation and work to be good: Jesus is good in the sense that He knows the Father and the Father knows Him. He is in complete agreement and harmony with His Father’s will. He loves what His Father loves, and He does what his Father commands. Jesus’ goodness is an innate goodness. Therefore, in calling Himself the Good Shepherd, Jesus is referencing His inherent goodness, righteousness, beauty, and unity with His Father. Jesus conformed perfectly and completely to His Father’s will, even laying down His life unto death for His Father’s sheep. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He dies for them. For this reason the Father loves His Son Jesus, because He lays down His life for the sheep. Therefore, Jesus is the Good Shepherd because He saves us, not because He plays with us and rolls with us in the grass.
The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep. He does not flee when the wolf comes, but He places Himself into the beast’s jaws and teeth that His sheep may live. This is the Father’s will, and the Father loves Him because of this, and the Son loves His Father and you in this way. This is the way in which the Father loves you, His sheep: God so loved the world in this way, He gave His only Son. The Good Shepherd protects and defends His sheep. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep. The Good Shepherd dies for His sheep. This is what it means for Jesus to be the Good Shepherd. In contrast to the Good Shepherd then is the hired hand. The hired hand is not a shepherd. The hired hand does not own the sheep, does not love the sheep, and most certainly will not die for the sheep. When he sees the wolf coming, the hired hand leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. Not so the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd knows His sheep, and they know Him, and He lays down His life for the sheep.
From man’s perspective Jesus is not a good shepherd, but a fool or a lunatic. From man’s perspective, a good shepherd raises his sheep for their wool or their meat. A good shepherd most certainly will not die for his sheep, but rather, he will raise his sheep so that they die for him, for his profit, benefit, and good. Not even faithful pastors are ultimately good in the sense that the Good Shepherd is good, but, despite their best intentions, they are still hirelings. Undoubtedly, however, Jesus had the scribes and the Pharisees in mind, who were the teachers and shepherds of Israel. Instead of leading the flock of Israel to the cool waters and wholesome food of Jesus, they slaughtered them with legalism and false teaching, directing them to works under the Law, rather than to the life-giving grace of the Gospel. And, sadly, too many hireling shepherd pastors continue to do the same today.
The problem with hireling shepherds and pastors is that they are afraid of the wolf and flee, or they do not believe that the wolf even exists. But, the wolf is real; Satan is real, and as St. Peter warns, he prowls this earth seeking sheep to devour. Satan prowls in the Church disguised as works righteousness, which falsely comforts the flock by causing them to put their trust in their works, in being good, fair, and tolerant people. Satan prowls in the Church tempting pastors and parishioners to misrepresent and misunderstand God’s Word and commands so that they do not fear His holiness and righteousness but minimize and deny their sins, believing that God only wants them to be happy and prosperous, but not obedient. Hireling shepherd pastors preach “Peace! Peace!” where there is no peace, because they do not preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins but exhort the flock to keep on doing as they are doing with the false assurance that God is love and doesn’t care about sins so long as you are loving and tolerant and kind. And so there are prosperity preachers teaching the power of positive thinking and self-improvement instead of repentance, humility, and true love, which is sacrifice and selflessness and service to your neighbor to the glory of God
Through His prophet Jeremiah the LORD has said, “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!” “You have scattered My flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the Lord. Then I will gather the remnant of My flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord.” “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: The Lord is our righteousness’.” That is a direct messianic prophecy of the Good Shepherd Jesus Christ. “I Myself,” says the LORD, “will be the Shepherd of my sheep.”
Hence Jesus proclaims, “I am the Good Shepherd.” This is one of seven great “I AM” statements of Jesus in St. John’s Gospel. “I AM,” in Greek ego eimi, is a rendering of the LORD’s Name given to Moses in the burning bush. Thus, Jesus at once communicates that He is the LORD’s promised Good Shepherd, even the LORD Himself. Jesus is the fulfillment of the LORD’s prophetic promise to seek, gather, and rescue His lost sheep Himself from all the places they had been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. That dark day was, first, the day our Frist Parents fell in the Garden and, second, Good Friday, yet another instance in which good means something substantially other than pleasant, competent, or kind. In Jesus, God Himself sought and gathered and rescued His sheep from the Satanic wolf by laying down His life unto death. “The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep.” By dying, He destroyed death and broke the wolf’s jaws so that now he is a toothless, wounded, defeated, but furious, dangerous, and still powerful enemy. No one took His life from Him – indeed, no one could possibly do that – but Jesus had authority from His Father to lay it down and authority to take it up again. Indeed, the Father loves Him because He laid down His life in love for His Father and for you.
This day in the Church’s Year of Grace is called Misericordias Domini, the merciful goodness of the LORD. No one made the LORD lay down His life for you. He did so because of who He is, not because of who you are. God is love. Love is sacrifice. And, God so loved you in this way: He died for you that you may live for Him and in Him, not for yourself. And, you honor, thank, praise, and obey Him by laying down your life in love for Him and for others. He promises, “I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.” Your pastor shepherds may be hirelings, they may be sinners themselves in need of mercy and forgiveness, but they are called and ordained by God through His Church for you and for your sake, that you may be fed and nourished, protected and defended from the attacks of the Satanic wolf and his demons. Follow where they lead you. Eat and drink what they feed you. Heed their warnings and exhortations, all the while listening for the voice of your Good Shepherd. They are called and placed under holy orders to care for you in the stead and by the command of Christ the Good Shepherd, and they will called to account for their shepherding.
However, you have a call as well: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps.” You are called to suffer, to lay down your lives for others as Christ suffered and laid down His life for you. “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.” You are not to fight with the weapons of men and with violence, but remain steadfast in His Word and in the confession of Christ crucified and risen. This may very well mean maintaining the good confession before family members, neighbors, your employer, lawyers, judges, and people who will revile you and mock you and curse you and hate you, even fine, imprison, torture, or kill you. “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.” Truly, this world is still very dark and dangerous, and the Satanic wolf still prowls, but, do not be discouraged, and do not be afraid. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
The earth is full of the merciful goodness of the LORD! “Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His steadfast love, that He may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Quasimodo Geniti - The Second Sunday of Easter (Easter 2)

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

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
I like Thomas. Thomas is a realist. Thomas calls a thing what it is. Thomas believes that things have meaning in and of themselves, meaning endowed in them by the very God who created them. Thomas believes that, if he observes and studies real things in the real world, he can know something about them, and thereby he can know something about the God who created them.
Do you see how radically different Thomas’ view is than the view commonly held by people today? Today, as a people, as a culture, we do not believe that things have meaning in and of themselves, and we certainly do not believe that things are endowed with meaning by God or by any other supernatural being. Rather, we assume that things only have meaning insofar as we, human beings, ascribe meaning to them. We have become like the scoffers of whom St. Peter warned us saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” Truly, this is the only way that you can arrive at a biological, chromosomal, anatomical male “identifying” as a female and legislators, lawyers, judges, and all the world agreeing that this man is a woman simply because he says he is, thinks he is, or feels that he is. Somewhere in time there was a seismic shift in thinking, in common philosophy, in worldview, away from realism, calling a thing what it is, to nominalism, calling a thing what you think it is regardless of what it really is.
Thomas is not a nominalist who calls a thing what he thinks, feels, or desires that it is, but he is a realist: Thomas calls a thing what it is, what it is endowed by God to be. “These things did Thomas count as real: The warmth of blood, the chill of steel, the grain of wood, the heft of stone, the last frail twitch of flesh and bone.” Thomas needs to see and touch and, presumably, smell, taste, and hear, in order to believe. So do I, and so do you! God created our bodies and our souls, our reason, and all our senses, good. And so, it is not a bad thing that we need to experience real things in order to believe – God made us this way – but it is only a bad thing if, after having experienced other real things that proved to be true in accordance with the Word of God, and upon hearing the testimony of trusted friends who have also experienced those same real things, also in accordance with the Word of God, we do not believe them. That is where realist Thomas goes wrong saying, “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.” Now Thomas has shifted from being a realist who calls real things what they really are as God endowed them to be, to being a materialist who only counts as real material, physical things. Thomas believed in Jesus, to be sure. He believed Jesus to be dead. Thomas had seen his Lord scourged, whipped, and torn. He had seen the cruel thorns driven into His holy head. He had seen his blessed hands, feet, and side pierced with nails and spear. He had seen His lifeless body taken down from the cross and placed into a tomb. He had seen these things and he called them what they were: He called them death.
However, it was not the case that Thomas had only seen and touched His Lord in the past, but he had also seen the signs He performed, more than mere miracles, but signs confirming and fulfilling Messianic prophecies of God’s Word that he had heard with his God-given ears and comprehended with his God-given reason. Thomas had good reason to believe, not only that his Lord had died, but also that He had risen and was alive, just as Jesus had said before His crucifixion, just as his trusted friends accounted to Him that Sunday evening in the upper room. “The vision of his skeptic mind was keen enough to make him blind to any unexpected act too large for his small world of fact.” Just like that, faced with the certainty of death, Thomas became a Modernist and a Materialist. Though Thomas knew that Elijah had raised a widow’s son from death, and that he himself had witnessed Jesus raise a widow’s son from Nain, Jairus’ daughter, and his good friend Lazarus, nonetheless “His reasoned certainties denied that one could live when one had died.”
And, so it is with much that passes as science today; it is a close-minded ideology, a “small world of fact,” not an open search for truth. Only consider the debate on Global Warming, Neo-Darwinist Evolutionary Theory, and (SOGI) Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. To be on the wrong side of these ideological issues is to be labeled anti-science, anti-intellectual, bigoted, sexist, and racist. But, true science requires critical thinking and intellectual honesty, the ability to admit that, when the findings disprove your hypothesis, then what you had believed, no matter how strongly held a viewpoint, is wrong. Those who truly want to support science should defend the right of all scientists — including dissenters — to express their views. Those who stigmatize dissent do not protect science from its enemies. Instead, they subvert the process of scientific discovery they claim to revere.
However, our Lord is gracious and merciful. He comes to us in our weakness of flesh and raises us up to faith and life. He breathes His Holy Spirit upon the dry bones of our unbelief and causes sinews and flesh to come upon us, and He fills us with His life and Spirit. The following Sunday, the disciples were gathered together again with the door bolted behind them. But, this time Thomas was present with them. Once again, our resurrected Lord Jesus came to them where they were. He passed through the barrier that kept them in and He spoke directly to Thomas saying, “Peace be with you. Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Then Thomas’ “fingers read like braille the markings of the spear and nail,” and Thomas believed and confessed “My Lord and my God!” If you think about it, Thomas’ confession is even greater than was Peter’s who confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God. No longer doubting, Thomas confessed Jesus to actually be God Himself. Jesus gently and lovingly rebuked Thomas for His foolish unbelief saying, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Thomas had everything he needed to believe, but, like we too often do, he became enslaved by his desire for visible and physical proof so that he forgot that God had also given him ears to hear His Word and Promise and believe.
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book.” Which book is that?  It is first the Gospel of St. John, but that book is also the entirety of the Holy Scriptures, all of which testify of Jesus. “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His Name.” This is the reason you have the Holy Scriptures. This is the reason you have as Church and a Pastor. This is the reason you have preaching, teaching, and exhortation, the proclamation of your sins forgiven, Holy Baptism, and Holy Supper – that you may believe, and keep believing throughout your life until Jesus comes again. These things come to you from outside of you. You can see them and hear them, touch them, smell them, and taste them. “May we, O God, by grace believe and thus the risen Christ receive, whose raw imprinted palms reached out and beckoned Thomas from his doubt.”
By all means, use your God-given senses to observe and study His creation, and derive its meaning. By all means, use your God-given reason to know and understand and believe. However, use also your God-given ears and listen to His Word, the Holy Scriptures, for they are the revealed Word of God and they are Truth. That which you perceive finds its meaning in God’s Holy Word, “which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” For, “if we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater. For this is the testimony of God that He has borne concerning His Son.” Don’t be a nominalist, believing that things are essentially meaningless until you give them meaning, but be a realist like Thomas, believing and confessing that all things that are are and are sustained by the creative Word of the LORD and thus testify to their Creator and to Jesus, the Word made flesh, crucified, died, risen, reigning, and returning in glory today, tomorrow, or the next day. And, to preserve you in faith until that day and hour, your Lord Jesus is present with you now that you may believe, and that believing you may have life in His Name, to the glory of God His Father.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

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.
Everything is upside down. Nothing is as we had expected. He came as our king on Sunday. The city was electric as the crowds cheered Him and laid down their cloaks before Him praising God. Everyone was full of hope and joy. We cut palm branches from the trees and waved them in the air, and our children sang “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the LORD!” It was the inaugural day of a new kingdom, of a new hope. But then, He didn’t go to the king’s palace, He didn’t go to the governor’s fortress, but He went into the temple and He began doing the unthinkable…, He began turning everything upside down. He overturned the tables of the money changers and those who sold sacrificial animals. He made a whip of chords and began lashing at them and driving them out of the temple crying, “It is written: ‘My house will be a house of prayer.’ But you have made it ‘a den of thieves’.”
The Sanhedrin was enraged. Herod was both curious and suspicious. And Pilate was afraid that a riot would break out and Caesar would have his neck. So, they began looking for a way to kill Him. Since He was innocent, they began looking for false testimony against Him. And, many came forward in those days, but they were all easily disproved, until…, blasphemy! They would charge Him with blasphemy, a crime for which the punishment is death. Oh, they had to trump it up a bit, to be sure. After all, He didn’t come right out and say directly that He was God. But, He said what He said, and He meant what He meant, and, and for once, everyone understood Him. They understood Him because they had seen the signs, the miracles, He performed, signs and miracles that confirmed and fulfilled the Messianic prophecies, signs and miracles that only God could do. The only way you could charge Jesus with blasphemy was if you knew who He was and that His claims about Himself were true, and you rejected Him. That isn’t unbelief, but that is rejection of the Truth staring you square in the face. But, that is what they did. And, in effect, that is what we all did. We exchanged the Truth of God for a lie. We called good evil, and evil good. We turned everything upside down.
But, we were deceived. An enemy had done this. And, this is what the enemy does: He turns everything upside down. Though he attempts to mimic God, His Word, and His works, He twists them in order to deceive us. He makes good and true things seem like torturous slavery, and evil things seem enticing and desirable and good. The enemy deceived Judas, convincing him that he should betray our friend and teacher. Maybe he thought it would speed things up, get the revolution started already. Or, maybe he doubted that Jesus was truly the Messiah. Who knows for sure? Regardless, we know that he changed his mind later, when it was too late. After Jesus’ arrest in the garden Thursday night, we were all afraid that we would be next. And so, we ran, each one of us, going our own way, and we abandoned Jesus as they arrested Him and took Him to trial before the High Priest, the king, and the governor. I myself escaped with only a linen cloth covering my body. But, Judas was very sorrowful. He tried to return the money, but they wouldn’t take it back. Then they themselves, the scribes, the Pharisees, and the Sanhedrin, became the instruments of the enemy. Instead of thanking Judas, praising him, or forgiving him and comforting him, they began to accuse him. His guilt was enormous, more than a man could bear. He had betrayed an innocent man, his friend and his teacher. The enemy convinced Judas that it was better to end it all, to die, than to keep on in such pain. The enemy robbed him of all hope. But, it was a lie; it was all a lie. That is what our enemy is. He is a liar, even the father of lies. All he wants is to destroy us and end us in ruin, because he hates God. And, how weak we are, so susceptible to his tempting, believing his lies. God, have mercy on us sinners.
Even Peter denied Him, though Jesus had told him in the garden, “This night, before the cock crows, you will deny Me three times.” Peter answered Him saying, “I will die for you, but I will never deny you.” And, we all said the same. But, we were so afraid! Fear – fear is one of the enemy’s most powerful weapons against us. To fear anything or anyone more than God is to sin against His First Commandment. We all feared losing our own lives more than we feared denying Jesus. Three times someone from the crowd identified Peter as one of Jesus’ disciples. Each time Peter denied it vehemently, the third time even invoking a curse upon himself, he was so very afraid. But, then the cock crowed, and Peter remembered what Jesus had said to him: “This night, before the cock crows, you will deny Me three times.” Peter was cut to the heart. Like Judas, he also wept bitterly. But, Peter remembered how Jesus had forgiven him in the past; He remembered the mercy and love He had shown to the least of men and women, and he had hope. In truth, I think that the angel told the women at the empty tomb to go and tell the disciples, and specifically Peter, the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection and that they would find Him in Galilee, in order to absolve and comfort Peter from the sin of his denial and betrayal. After His resurrection, Jesus did absolve Peter personally, and He sent Him with this charge: “Feed my sheep.”
Everything is upside down. The women went to the tomb early Sunday morning, just as the sun was coming up, in order to finish the preparations for His burial, to anoint His body and wrap it in linen. The rest of us had returned to the upper room where we celebrated the Last Supper with Him, in fear, with the door bolted tight. The women worried that they would not be able to roll away the great stone that barred the entrance to Jesus’ tomb. But, when they arrived, they were terrified to find that the stone had already been rolled away! Moreover, Jesus wasn’t there! I mean, His body, it was gone! And, there was a young man there, sitting where Jesus had lain, wearing a white robe. He said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.” Then he told them, “Go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.” But, they were terrified, and they fled from the tomb, and they said nothing to anyone, because they were so very afraid.
Fear. Fear keeps us locked up inside ourselves, in our homes, in our churches. Fear keeps us from telling anyone anything about Jesus, about the Good News of death and resurrection for the life of the world. The stone that was meant to keep Jesus’ dead body in His tomb was rolled away, and yet our fear was like a great stone keeping us locked up in our own tombs of hopelessness, despair, and unbelief. Fear turns everything upside down. Christ is risen, just as He said! And yet, we too often live our lives as though He remains dead.
My brothers and sisters, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! And so are we! Jesus’ resurrection isn’t merely a historical fact, although it is certainly that, but it is a present fact and reality. Jesus lives! Death could not hold Him, and it cannot hold us! How then will we live our lives as a result of this fact? After Jesus’ Ascension and His sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, we were no longer afraid. For forty years and more we proclaimed the death and resurrection of Jesus before kings and emperors, suffering imprisonment, beatings, torture, hardship, and loss, but without fear. We all gave our lives for our confession of Jesus. I myself was dragged to my death through the streets of Alexandria for proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Most of you will be blessedly spared such horrible suffering, but persecution in your day is of a different, more subtle, and therefore, more deceitful and devilish kind. We knew fully well that we were on the outs with our society and culture, but you have enjoyed being in with your society and culture for such a long time now that you have much to lose in terms of worldly comfort, stability, possessions, and prestige. That is why St. Paul speaks of the importance and necessity of disciplining yourselves as a runner disciplines his body to run a race. Likewise, he exhorts you today to “Cleanse out the old leaven,” the “leaven of malice and evil,” and celebrate this festival with the “unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Your culture values what it considers freedom, independence, and equality more than anything else, but these are nothing more than a euphemism for sinful license without any regard for truth, goodness, or God. It is tempting and intoxicating, but it is another lie of the enemy of which you must beware, mark, and avoid lest you become ensnared in the tomb once again.
But, He has left us a wonderful gift, His body, the Church. As He was dying, Jesus told His mother to behold John as her son, and He told John to behold Mary as his mother. What He meant was that, in Him, we are a new community and family of faith. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, adopted children of our God and Father in Jesus, and we all have the Church as our Mother, from whose holy womb in baptism we were born again into a new life that will never die. Therefore, let us gather here together every Lord’s Day, every Sunday, which is a Little Easter, to commune together in Christ, our sins forgiven anew, nourished, strengthened, protected, equipped, and sent by His Word and Blessed Sacraments to live in true freedom without fear. And let the Light of Christ shine through us in word and deed to the glory of God the Father, through Jesus Christ His Son, in His most Holy Spirit. For, Jesus has turned everything upside down, which means He has made us right again with God His Father, a new creation.
Then 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!

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Holy Saturday - Vigil of Easter

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.
The events of Thursday and Friday threw Jesus’ disciples into confusion and despair. When they saw Him betrayed in Gethsemane by one of their own, arrested and taken away for trial like a common criminal, they all fled in fear that the same fate might befall them as well. When a couple of young women recognized him and exposed him as he looked on from a distance, Peter was afraid and he denied his friend, his master, and his Lord, just as Jesus had told him that he would. Only a precious few stood near His cross as He died. And, when the women returned to His tomb on Sunday morning, they came prepared to anoint a dead body. Such was the darkness, the chaos, and the confusion that ruled those days and nights, just as it was in the beginning when the LORD said, “Let there be Light.” And, there was Light.
In the beginning, the Light of God’s creative Word penetrated and overcame the primordial darkness, bringing order out of chaos. And, even now the Light of that Word made flesh Jesus Christ shines forth from His empty tomb reordering the fallen creation, making all things new. And so, tonight, we remember our holy baptisms in which we were born again and made new by the water and the Word into new life that cannot die. Surely, if we have died with Christ in a death like His, we will also be raised with Him in a resurrection like His. He saved us in the killing flood of baptism, and He delivered us safely through the waters by His mighty hand, gathering us into the Ark of His body, His Church. In His Church, though we are tossed and turned about by the tumultuous waters of our sinful culture and world, and by our own sinful flesh and desires, we float safely through and upon those troubled waters until He returns to deliver us safely home. And so, tonight we wait and watch in hopeful and expectant vigil as we remember that He has come, that He comes now, and that He is coming again, perhaps before the sun rises in the morning.
He has called us through His Spirit-Breath from death to new life in Him. Though we were as dead as dried bones lying strewn about in the Valley of the Shadow of Death in chaos and confusion, by His Word and Spirit the LORD has raised us up to new life and service in His kingdom, a mighty army. Still He breathes His Spirit upon us through His Word and Sacraments that we might “rise each day from the death of sin to live in newness of life” before Him.
Yet, still we succumb to temptation and are fearful and sin. Satan tempts us to believe that our new life is a lie and that God is holding out on us. Therefore, like Jonah, we attempt to resist God and flee from Him, going our own way. But, as Jesus spent three days in the heart of the earth, may we so repent of our sinful unbelief and fear and “embrace our death in Him through Holy Baptism and so proclaim His victory over sin and death to all the world.”
And, as we take up our crosses daily and follow our Good Shepherd through the Valley of the Shadow of death, we remember how the LORD protected Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace of King Nebuchadnezzar. Let us so remember and be strengthened in faith that we might persevere through temptation, suffering, and death, that our God is faithful and will protect and preserve us, and that not even death can defeat us, so that we may “reject all false worship, and live and die in confidence, knowing that we are safe in [His] Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with [the Father] and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”
This night, all fear must be cast out and darkness chased away, for Christ, the Light of the World, is risen and death has been defeated. He has died, and yet He lives and will never die again, and He shares His victory with us. The ancient darkness has been banished forever. Let us rejoice in the brightness of His Light.
“Almighty God, through Your Word and Spirit You most wonderfully created all things, and through the Word made flesh You brought new life to fallen humanity. Grant that in Your mercy we may be conformed to the image of Him Who shares fully in our humanity, even Jesus Christ, our Lord.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.