Saturday, April 24, 2021

Jubilate - The Fourth Sunday of Easter (Easter 4)


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.

My fondest memories of childhood growing up in the Midwest most certainly include the numerous summer vacations my family took. We drove, by car, all over the western United States. I got to see the Badlands of South Dakota, Mt. Rushmore, the Corn Palace, and the infamous Wall Drug. I got to see Yosemite, Old Faithful, and Devil’s Tower. I visited California: San Francisco’s Lombard Street, the Japanese Tea Garden, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Los Angeles: Anaheim, Knott’s Berry Farm, and Disneyland. San Diego: The Zoo and Sea World, and even Tijuana. And, that’s just scratching the surface. All by car, mind you, without seatbelts, sprawled out in the backseat, and myself, most of the time, lying in the back window of the car. We traveled thousands and thousands of miles in several Oldsmobiles, leisurely driving from destination to destination, and each time the car would slow or there was an change in the rhythm of travel, we kids would cry out: “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” And, the answer was typically, “We’ll be there in a little while.”

Still, though we weren’t “there” yet, we were “somewhere.” We were somewhere different from where we started, and we were somewhere different from the last time we asked, “Are we there yet?” My Father used to say, “Getting there is half the fun.” He was right, of course, though I couldn’t see it at the time. So, my sisters and I bided the time by playing Mad Libs, playing games on invisible ink pads, the license plate game, etc., anything to make the time pass by more quickly. However, the truth is that, if we would only have paid attention and looked around at the landscapes and the scenery passing by, there were countless signs of us moving ever nearer and closer to our goal and destination, to the “there” of our question, “Are we there yet?” No, we weren’t “there” yet, but we would be eventually, in a little while. Still, we were “somewhere,” and “somewhere” might not be so bad if we’d just lift up our heads, open our eyes, and take a look around.

Our Christian faith and life is like such a journey. We have a goal and a destination – to live with the Lord forever in heaven, in resurrected and glorified bodies – but, often, the wait, the traveling, the distance, seems unbearable. Sure, we try to amuse and to distract ourselves to pass the time, but, too often, this causes us even greater suffering, as our enemy Satan is all too pleased to help us take our eyes and our minds off the goal and get sidetracked into any of numerous distractions, idolatries, and self-gratifying and selfish behaviors and activities. And, while sensual desires and attractions are very effective diversionary weapons in Satan’s arsenal, pain and sorrow, suffering, and loss are often even more effective. When they befall you, it can feel like you’re locked in a car on a long trip that will never end. “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? How long will this last? Will it never end?”

Truly, even in our Christian faith and life, my Father’s advice about vacationing rings true: “Getting there is half the fun.” Well, maybe “fun” isn’t the word, precisely, but the Lord would have you see your life in Him now as being every bit as important as your destination and goal to be with Him then in heaven. The Word of God became a man and made His dwelling among us as our brother; He suffered and died, was raised, and ascended back to His Father, as a man, not only so that your body will be raised from death to new and everlasting life, but so that you might begin living that new life in Him right now.

And so, Jesus prepared His disciples for this time, the time of their journey, the time of their lives in this world, now, until He would return and deliver them to their goal and destination, then, in heaven. Jesus prepared His disciples saying, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” Suffice it to say, they had no idea what He was talking about. “What does He mean by ‘a little while’?” they wondered. Jesus was speaking, immediately, of His impending death and resurrection. Very soon, His disciples would see Him no longer. But, then, in a little while, in His resurrection, they would see Him again. Then, Jesus said, they would have joy that no one – absolutely no one – would take from them. Likewise, Jesus would leave them again for a little while in His ascension, and then they would see Him again in a little while in the resurrection of their own bodies, and they would never be without Him again.

And, Jesus described for them what that time would be like saying, “You will weep and lament, and the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” This statement, just like “a little while,” has a now / not yet quality about it. That is to say that, even now, in the little while of Jesus’ absence, our sorrows can be turned into joy, and that, when Jesus returns, there will be no more sorrow. To illustrate this, Jesus uses the example of a woman in labor of childbirth. In the pain and distress of labor, she may well be sorrowful and think that it will never end and that, if it does, she will never permit herself to go through it again. But, when the labor is over and the child is born, she views her pain and distress and sorrow as but “a little while,” a little while of sorrow that, now, doesn’t seem so sorrowful, but a brief distress that she will gladly endure again for the joy of the new life she holds in her arms.

But, Jesus’ point here is not only that you have strength to endure pain and loss and suffering for the joy that will be revealed “in a little while” when He returns – though, it is most certainly that – but, Jesus would have you count it all as joy. For, in Christ, you are a new creation, the old has passed away. And, the new life you live, it will never die. It is Christ’s life into which you have been grafted, as a branch is grafted into a vine and draws life and nourishment from it and is made fruitful. For, you are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection: Jesus’ death is your death, and Jesus’ resurrection is your resurrection. Jesus’ life is your life. The Father has given Him all things, and Jesus shares all things with you, His beloved, His body, His Church, His Bride. Therefore, not only will you endure and persevere through pain and loss and suffering, but also you may find joy in these travails. For, there is a great difference between joy and happiness: Happiness tends to be fleeting and depends upon temporal factors like circumstances or other people, whereas joy is everlasting and not dependent upon circumstances, but flows from baptism into Jesus Christ and faith.

Thus, St. Peter urges you as “sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” See, my family vacation analogy wasn’t that far-fetched. St. Peter’s point is that you recognize that you are on a pilgrimage, a journey, towards a goal and destination – an eternal reign with Christ in heaven – and that, even though you have not yet reached your goal and destination, you have already begun to live this new life that will never die. Therefore, how you live, and what you do now, in this life, matters. First, passions of the flesh and worldly pursuits are weapons in Satan’s war against your soul. He will use them to divert your focus from the way you should go, to distract you, or even to cause you to lose interest in your goal and destination. Second, how you live and what you do is a witness and confession of what you believe in your heart. Thus, St. Peter exhorts you to “keep your conduct among the Gentiles [among unbelievers] honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” And, third, you miss out on the joy, the contentment, the peace, and the freedom that Jesus died to give to you by washing your guilt away in His holy, innocent shed blood and by forgiving your sins and justifying you before the Father.

Yes, we have a goal and destination – eternal life in heaven with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – but, getting there is half the fun! Don’t permit yourself to be defined by things that are passing away. You are not your career, or your marriage, or your family. You are not your friends, or your neighbors, or what the television, movies, and magazines suggest you should be. But, you are children of the heavenly Father, purchased and won in the holy, innocent shed blood of His Son Jesus Christ. Live your life in this victory, this freedom, and this joy knowing that, even the dark and difficult times are for but “a little while,” and that the victory is already yours in Jesus Christ. Moreover, you are not alone. Though you do not see Him during this “little while,” He is here. He has promised to never leave you or forsake you, but to be with you always, even to the end of the age. He is here to fill you to overflowing with His grace, mercy, love, peace, and forgiveness. Not only will you want for nothing, but you are filled to overflowing with His rich and boundless gifts. He blesses you. You are blessed to be a blessing.

Are we there yet? No, and yes. The victory is yours in Christ Jesus now, but you do not yet get to enjoy it in its fullness. You are on a journey, a pilgrimage, and life with Jesus in His kingdom is your goal and destination. Do not be afraid. You will get there. Only, do not get sidetracked and distracted and miss out on the kingdom goal. But, take heart, you are not alone. Your Lord Jesus, who has already made the journey for you as your brother, is with you now, though you do not see Him, and He will comfort and strengthen you along the way. You will see Him again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

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


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.

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is our Good Shepherd.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Quasimodo Geniti - The Second Sunday of Easter (Easter 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.

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Now what? So what? What does the fact of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead mean for your life today and tomorrow and until there are no more tomorrows? How then should you live? What should you do? Well, in some ways, nothing has changed, for, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God. But, then, on the other hand, everythinghas changed, for the Word of God has become flesh, has suffered unto death, and has been raised from the dead in the flesh. So, while the Word of God has always been the life of men, no longer is death the end of man, neither in the flesh nor in the spirit.

And, you already share in the first fruits of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, for you have been baptized into His death and you have been raised in His resurrection. All that properly belongs to Him, righteousness, Sonship, eternal life, is given to you as a free gift of God’s grace through baptism and faith. Through baptism into Jesus’ death, your sinful nature and all your guilt has been crucified, died, and buried – it is finished! And, through baptism into Jesus’ resurrection, your new man has been raised with Christ to life to serve and to praise the LORD freely without compulsion of the Law. Yet, this is only the first fruits, for there will be the death and resurrection of your body in time to come. And, that is important to remember and to not discount. For, God created Adam as a flesh and spirit man. And, as the flesh alone is not a man, so the spirit alone is not a man. However, when Adam sinned, he introduced death into the world, resulting in that Adam, and all his descendants thereafter, would die in body and in spirit. Yet, while all men experience, in time, the death of the body, because of the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the death of the spirit need not be experienced at all. Further, because of the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the death of the body is not the end of the body, but your flesh and blood body will be raised when Christ returns on the Last Day.

Ezekiel was given a preview of the Last Day when the LORD lead the prophet by His Spirit to view the end result of Adam’s sinful rebellion, death, as his descendants laid dead in a valley of exceedingly dry bones. The LORD commanded Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones, to proclaim the Word of the LORD to the dead, dry bones. Ezekiel did so, and the bones came together, bone to bone, and sinews and flesh covered them, yet still there was not the breath of life in them. Then the LORD commanded Ezekiel to prophesy to the breath. Ezekiel did so, and the breath came into the flesh and blood bodies and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. Then the LORD commanded Ezekiel to prophesy to the, now living, men yet again saying, “Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people.” “And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live.” Thus, in the same way in which the LORD’s creation of man was not complete until the LORD breathed His Spirit into the man’s nostrils and Adam became a living being, so too the LORD has promised both to raise your flesh and blood body and to revitalize you with His life-giving Spirit.

Indeed, in order to keep His promise, it was necessary that God become a man. In the Incarnation, the Word of God assumed the flesh of man from the virgin Mary and became the New Adam. Jesus, the Second Adam, bore not the corruption of sin common to all men generated of man’s seed, for He was conceived, not by a man, but by God. Thus, already, in the Incarnation, the flesh of man experienced redemption as the LORD assumed it and it was not destroyed, just as the burning bush that Moses beheld contained the Angel of the LORD in fire and yet was not consumed. So it was that Jesus’ obedience under the Law counted as man’s obedience. But, still, there was the matter of the death of the body to be dealt with, so the God-Man Jesus submitted to suffering, crucifixion, and death as His Father willed, as a man, the innocent for the guilty, and then God raised Him from the dead. Why did God raise Jesus from the dead? He raised Jesus from the dead because He was innocent. He raised Him from the dead because He was obedient. He raised Him from the dead because He laid down His life willingly in love for God and for you His neighbor. And, God raised Jesus from the dead as the first fruits of those who fall asleep; for, now, that is what death is like, sleep from which you will awaken, that you may believe and live now in freedom and love and forever in eternity. Jesus’ death was because of who you were, but Jesus’ resurrection is to demonstrate who you are! You are sons and daughters of God in Him and through Him, and what you will be has not yet appeared; But when He appears, you will be like Him, for you will see Him as He is.

So, Thomas wasn’t really so much of a doubter as he has come to be called, but what Thomas was looking for was the whole man Jesus. Show me the body! That’s what Thomas needed to see. Thomas was no Gnostic; He wasn’t going to be satisfied with a disembodied spirit for a Lord. “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails,” he said, “and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.”Unless I can see Jesus with my eyes, and touch Him with my hands; unless I behold Him in flesh and blood and spirit, I will not, I cannot believe. If Jesus’ body and spirit are not reunited and alive, then death is not undone, my faith is futile and I am still in my sin, I am dead. Now, surely you can relate to Thomas. I know I can! The motto of our skeptical and cynical age is “I’ll believe it when I see it.” The other disciples had the advantage of having Jesus appear before them and show them His wounds, and His presence amongst them brought them peace and joy. But, Thomas wasn’t there, He didn’t make it to church that first Sunday and He missed out on Jesus’ real presence! Of course it was difficult for him to believe, maybe even impossible. Thomas needed to see the body in order to believe that Jesus was raised, just as He had said. And, you need to see Jesus’ body too! You need to hear with your ears, see with your eyes, touch with your hands, and taste with your tongues, and so Jesus comes to you in His Divine Service, through His Word and through His Means of Grace to bring you His peace.

Thomas wasn’t there that first Sunday, but he was there the second, and, once again, Jesus came amongst His disciples with His real presence and He proclaimed peace. The peace that Jesus proclaimed was peace with God, that is, justification, restoration, and reconciliation with God. Jesus’ peace includes the forgiveness of sins, victory over death, and eternal life, now, and forever. Jesus gives His peace in His real presence amongst His people through His means of grace, the proclamation of the Gospel, Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Supper. Jesus invited Thomas to touch Him, to handle His flesh and His wounds that He might believe saying, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” And, Thomas did believe, and he confessed with his lips what he believed about Jesus in his heart, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus lovingly gave Thomas what He needed to believe; He gave Himself, His flesh and blood real presence to strengthen Thomas’ faith and to reassure and comfort His disciples. And, these Jesus still gives to you today that you may have His peace, peace that the world cannot give. But you receive so much more than even Thomas and Peter and the other Apostles and disciples, for, to you Jesus gives His resurrected and glorified flesh and blood to eat and to drink that He may live in you and you in Him in Holy Communion, even as He has given you His Spirit in Holy Baptism so that you were born again, a new life and a new man.

Quasimodo geniti – Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. The resurrection of Jesus is the power behind Holy Baptism. And, your baptism is the only death that will ever truly matter for you, for when you were baptized, you died; you died with Jesus and were buried. But, in your baptism you were also raised to new life, for you were baptized into Jesus’ resurrection, so that, in your baptism, you were truly born again to a new life that never ends. Thus, Easter is like unto your birthday, your new birth unto eternal life. Now what? So what? How then should you live? What should you do? Live as newborn infants, who long for the pure spiritual milk of God’s Word and Holy Sacraments, and by these, grow up into salvation just as you are nourished by food and drink and grow up to be a woman or a man – it is the natural thing that you were created to do.

Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Many interpret Jesus’ words to Thomas as a mild rebuke of his unbelief, and perhaps they are. However, we might also understand these words as encouragement for Thomas and the Apostles that, because of their eyewitness testimony, many others who did not have the blessing of seeing, hearing, and touching Jesus in the flesh and blood will, nonetheless, be blessed with faith. Further, after seeing, hearing, and touching His resurrected Lord in the flesh and blood, Thomas made a confession of faith that eclipsed even that of Peter who had confessed Jesus to be the Christ and Son of God; Thomas confessed upon seeing Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” Then, John concludes the story by writing, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His Name.”

There are three that testify to Jesus’ bodily resurrection and real presence: The Spirit of the Gospel, the Water of Holy Baptism, and the Blood of the Holy Supper. Jesus has given you these gifts of His real presence that you might see and hear and touch and taste and believe, and that believing, you may have life in His Name.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

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 to 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 heart faints within me!” Job made that confession of faith in His Redeemer and in His resurrection over 2000 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.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Good Friday Tenebrae Vespers



John 18:1 – 19:42; 2 Corinthians 5:14-21; Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12


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

You all know the story of Good Friday and of your Lord’s Passion pretty well. You hear it recounted year after year, and rightly so, for it is a central tenet of our Christian faith. You also hear it weekly, in part, in our Divine Service and in the Gospel rightly proclaimed. To be sure, the story of Christ’s Passion is emotionally provocative. It inspires sadness and remorse, pity and anguish, revulsion and anger. It moves, not a few, to tears. But, what lasting impact, I wonder, does it have upon you? Has it changed you for the better in any particular way?

This Good Friday, I encourage you to focus upon the effect that Jesus’ suffering and death has had upon you and how you live your life today and from now on. While your Lord suffered scourging, crucifixion, and death to redeem you from your sin and guilt, and that fact is the primary truth we remember this day, that is not the only thing that Jesus has done for you in His Passion. Indeed, Jesus’ death was not merely for you, so that you are the benefactor, which you surely are, but Jesus’ death was also as you. Likewise, Jesus’ resurrection was both for you and as you as well. This means that Jesus’ death and resurrection was your death and resurrection. Not only does it count for you, but it happened to you.

Jesus proclaimed this fact when He taught about serving others saying, “As you do to the least of my brothers, you do to me.” And, what our Lord proclaimed matter-of-factly, St. Paul has explained more theologically saying, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” Thus, when you serve your brother, sister, and neighbor in Christ, you serve your Lord Jesus in whom they are baptized, have died and have been raised from death. And, even when you serve your neighbor who does not believe in Christ, you still serve Christ who died for them and as them as well.

This Lenten season we prayed the Litany together throughout our midweek Vespers. In one petition of that great prayer we prayed, “By the mystery of Your holy incarnation; by Your holy nativity; By Your baptism, fasting, and temptation; by Your agony and bloody sweat; by Your cross and passion; by Your precious death and burial; By Your glorious resurrection and ascension; and by the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter: Help us, good Lord.” We appeal to God on account of these His works in His Son Jesus. In and through these, God became what we are. All that He did He did for you as you. All that He did you did in Him. And, what is true for you is true for your brother, your sister, your neighbor as well.

Thus St. Paul exhorts you saying, “The love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.” What does it mean to “regard no one according to the flesh” than to recognize that every person you know, will meet, or encounter, every person on this planet now, or ever has been or ever will be, is not merely a man, woman, or child, but each and every one of them – good or bad, rich or poor, likeable or unlikeable, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist, or any other – is an enfleshed soul created by God and redeemed by God in the incarnation, nativity, baptism, crucifixion and death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.

The rat race of your lives can easily lead you to have a pragmatic and utilitarian view of life and the world as you go to work, pay your bills and taxes, struggle to keep up your home, educate your children, and worry about things you cannot control in the world: disease, economic uncertainty, racial unrest, political strife, violence, death. That view might conclude: “Whatever works is good.” Jesus died to cleanse you from your sin and failure to keep the Law that enslaved you to futile and fruitless obedience with death being your only reward. Jesus rose from death to raise you to new life in Him that you might “be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.”

“If anyone is in Christ, He is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Christ’s death and resurrection are both for you and as you. In Christ, you are a new creation. But, do you know this? Do you feel this? Do you live this? This is no preaching of the Law telling you what you must do, but this is a proclamation of the Gospel telling you of the freedom you have and enjoy in Christ! Don’t place yourself back under the shackles of the Law. Don’t let Satan lie to you and deceive you so that you believe, feel, and live as though you are not free. The hallmark of living freely in Christ is not being enslaved to the Law and material, worldly, and fleshly desires, values, and goods. The fruit of living freely in Christ, the fruit of the Gospel and Spirit, is giving freely of what you have freely received: love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, charity, kindness, gentleness, patience, long-suffering, perseverance.

What all this means is that your life is not your own – and that’s a good thing! You have died and have been buried with Christ; likewise you have been raised with Christ. Christ’s life is your life, and your life is His. Christ died for you and as you that He might cleanse you from sin and guilt and free you from slavery and condemnation under the Law. If the Son has set you free, then you are free indeed! And, what He has done for you and as you He has done for all. Therefore, regard no one according to the flesh alone, but everyone as Christ – “When you did it to the least of these my brothers you did it to me.”

It is finished – all that was necessary to make you right with God, all that was necessary to redeem you from sin and death, all that was necessary to free you from slavery and condemnation under the Law is finished, completed, and fulfilled in Jesus’ death on Good Friday. Jesus took all of that upon Himself and He died for you and as you and was buried. However, He did not remain in that tomb, but He rose from the dead on the third day just as He had said. To remain in sin and death and worldly, fleshly, and material desires, pleasures, and pursuits is to remain in death and the tomb; it is to return to a rotting, stinking, filthy corpse. But, Jesus has died and has been raised that you might live for Him and as Him. And, while this new life is not always easy, Jesus promises to be with you through it all. When you give to others, you give with His gifts. When you forgive others, you forgive with His forgiveness. When you love others, you love with His love.

You are not the same. In Christ you have been reconciled with God; therefore, be reconciled with your brother, your sister, and your neighbor. You are a new creation in Christ, and so also your brother, your sister, and your neighbor. You are blessed to be a blessing. This is why we call this day good. Jesus’ death is for you and as you. Jesus’ resurrection is for you and as you. In Christ, you are a new creation. Glory be to God alone.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

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.

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.