Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Dorr, Michigan

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Sixth Sunday of Easter (C)

May 1, 2016
Text: Rev. 21:9-14, 21-27; John 16:23-33

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            In the beginning, on Day One, when God created the heavens and the earth, “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep” (Gen. 1:2; ESV).  But then God spoke.  “Let there be light,” He said, “and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good” (vv. 3-4).  God speaks and there is light.  Where God’s Word is, there the darkness is dispelled.  Jesus is the Word made flesh (John 1:14).  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (v. 1).  “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (vv. 4-5).  Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, the Light no darkness can overcome.  Jesus Christ is the Life of the world.  He is the Creative and Almighty Word of God.  He is God.  Where Jesus is, the light prevails over the darkness.  Evil is overcome.  Sins are forgiven.  The prince of darkness is expelled.  Death gives way to life.
            Our reading from Revelation is about the final triumph of light over darkness.  Now, we know this struggle well.  In this world, in this flesh, the darkness seems to be winning.  Children are afraid of the dark, and truth be told, adults are, too.  Why?  Because darkness veils what is unknown.  The darkness blinds us to both good and bad.  We cannot see to attain the good.  We cannot see to avoid the bad.  There is danger in the darkness.  And what is true of the physical darkness is also true of the spiritual darkness.  Spiritual darkness is the stuff of sin, death, and the devil.  Because we are fallen creatures who have stumbled into the darkness, we cannot see to attain the things that are good, the Commandments of God, the things of light.  Nor can we see to avoid the things that are bad and downright dangerous and deadly, sin and all its perils.  It does not help that the devil appears to us as an angel of light, that he tricks us into thinking the good things are bad and the bad things are good, and he has perfect command over the things of darkness, the demons and the hidden perils and traps he has laid.  And the things of darkness have a home-field advantage.  They know their own turf.  We are blind, and we know nothing.  And so we need God to speak.  And when He does, His Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps. 119:105).  It exposes all that is not good, every wickedness and evil.  It exposes the devil and his wicked hoards and drives them away.  It exposes our sin to the light of Jesus’ redeeming work, so that all is forgiven.  It exposes death as defeated in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  And it lights the way through the valley of the shadow into the radiant Kingdom of our God.
            St. John writes of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, “there will be no night there” (Rev. 21:25).  That means the stuff of darkness will be at an end forever.  Right now this is something we can only know by faith, not by sight, for our eyes see the darkness all around.  But this is the Promise.  No more darkness.  Only light.  What will it be like to live in such a place?  There will be no danger.  No more can death threaten or the devil rage.  There will be no sin.  No longer will the darkness find shelter in your flesh, for you will be full of light, the light of Christ.  And everything will reflect the radiance of the glory of God and of the Lamb.  That is how St. John describes the Holy City, Jerusalem.  “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb,” says the angel as he carries John to a great, high mountain (vv. 9-10).  We met this Bride last week, and we learned she is the Church, she is you, washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb and clothed in the dazzling white of Jesus’ righteousness.  She’s beautiful.  John searches for words to describe Her radiance, but all earthly words fall short.  The best he can do is compare Her to a rare jewel, like a jasper… but not quite like a jasper, either, because She’s clear as crystal.  And so free from the darkness is She that, as the light of the glory of God shines upon Her, She not only reflects that light, but the light radiates through Her and from within Her.  Now, St. John describes Her as both a woman and a city.  Hard to comprehend, I know, but it’s the best he can do with our fallen, earthly language.  Notice, the gates (there are twelve of them, a number that always designates the Church) are guarded by angels (v. 12).  Protection.  The City is secure.  She is safe.  You are safe.  And on the gates are written the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel.  For this is the New Israel.  The Holy Church is built on the Patriarchs and Prophets of the Old Testament, and the believers who lived before our Lord’s Advent are just as much members of the Bride as the New Testament believers, and they have a place in this City, a country, a home.  And the wall of the City (again, security, safety) has twelve foundations, and on them are written the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (v. 14).  St. Paul says something very similar about the Church on earth when he writes that She is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the corner stone” (Eph. 2:20).  You see, the Church in heaven and on earth is built upon Her crucified and risen Lord and the Scriptures He has given through the Apostles (the New Testament) and the Prophets (the Old Testament).  And so New and Old Testament believers are joined together in one glorious City, one New Israel, one holy Christian Church of all times and places gathered before God and the Lamb.
            Now, two things are lacking in this City, but they will not be missed, for their absence is due to the glorious Promise of God’s personal and intimate presence with His people.  There is no temple.  No need.  For the temple is the place of sacrifice, but the sacrifice for our sins was made once and for all by our Lord Jesus on the cross.  And the temple is the place where God promised to dwell with His people, but now He dwells with them forever, face to face.  God is their Temple.  Jesus is their Temple.  There is also no external source of light.  The City has no need of sun or moon to shine on Her, “for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Rev. 21:23).  The source of all light is God Himself, and Jesus Christ, our Redeemer.  Incidentally, this explains the light God created in the beginning.  There was no sun, moon, or stars until day four, but there was light in the very beginning, when God spoke.  So there is not such a separation between created light and the light of the Holy City in our text.  The source of all light is God, and Jesus means what He says when He declares, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).  So you should not worship the sun or the moon, but the Giver of the light.  And whenever the sun rises at dawn or you turn on your lamps at night, this is cause for doxology, praise of your Creator who gives you light, who redeemed you and sanctifies you, the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 
            Now we dwell where darkness is still a reality.  But God speaks, and His speaking is the gift by which the Holy Spirit enlightens us, which is to say, brings us to faith in Christ and keeps us in it.  And though we still live in a dark world, and though our flesh is still darkness, this light of God’s Word works the same way it did in the beginning and will in the end.  That is to say, as a New Creation in Christ, bathed in the Light, the Light entering you by your ears and by your mouth and flowing in your heart and through your veins, you reflect the Light of Christ and His light radiates from within you.  And so it brings light into the world.  Jesus said to His disciples and He says to you, “You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14).  Jesus, of course, is the Light of the world, and because you are in Jesus, you are the light of the world.  For you bear Jesus.  You are in Jesus.  Jesus is in you.  His light radiates from within you to enlighten others as you love your neighbor, serve your neighbor, sacrifice for your neighbor, and speak Christ to your neighbor.  Ah, yes, you speak Christ, which is to say, God speaks His Word, and the lights come on for your neighbor, just as the light burns in you.  And it’s all gift from the Creator who speaks, “Let there be light,” and there is light. 

            And where there is light, there can be no darkness.  Light is a substance.  Darkness is an absence.  Where the light fills a place, there is no longer an absence but a fullness.  And so the stuff of darkness cannot dwell in the New Jerusalem.  “(N)othing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false” (Rev. 21:27), those who love the darkness and shun the light and do not want the forgiveness and life of Christ.  But then there are those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (v. 27).  That’s you.  That is you who see clearly now in the Light by which the Spirit enlightens you, the Light that is Christ and His Word.  You were blind and groping around in the darkness.  But now you see.  By God’s grace, you see that Jesus Christ has restored you to the Father and made you God’s own child.  You see that Jesus is the way to eternal life and a real home in a real place, the New Jerusalem, a place of safety and abundance and light.  You see that Jesus died to cast away all darkness.  You see that He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.             

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Fifth Sunday of Easter (C)

April 24, 2016
Text: Rev. 21:1-7; John 16:12-22

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            The Christian Church is the Bride of Christ.  We are obsessed with brides.  Even in a culture that despises marriage and the holiness of the body, brides are big business.  Because every girl dreams of her fairy tale wedding, her white dress, the Church decked out for the occasion, her father walking her down the aisle, the ring, the romance… and hopefully for the Christian bride, the witness given in the preaching of the Word, the hymns, the liturgy, and the bride and groom themselves serving as living icons of Christ and His Bride, the Church.  We spend unimaginable amounts of money on these occasions because we want to make our little girls’ dreams come true.  I’m not sure that’s the way to go, and if I had it all to do over again, I would have done our wedding differently.  I’m convinced you can do it a lot cheaper, enjoy it way more, and give more glory to Christ.  But that’s material for another sermon, or perhaps a beer with the father of the bride.  The point is, we idealize the bride.  There are magazines and expos and big bridal businesses.  It’s the stuff of movies and music and books and our most glamorous fantasies.  Because we all know that moment is coming when we will rise and turn toward the bride marching down the aisle, and for that moment, she will be the most beautiful woman on earth.
            The Church is the Bride of Christ.  St. John sees her, the holy city, New Jerusalem, “coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2; ESV).  Now, the Church, of course, is a body made up of many members.  That is to say, the Church is not a building or a denomination, but all believers in Jesus Christ.  Dr. Luther says, “Thank God, a seven-year-old child knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd [John 10:11-16]” (SA III:XII:2; McCain, p. 283).  So the Church is people, the Baptized, believers in Christ, forgiven sinners, you.  But now, this brings up a significant question.  If the Church is you, and your neighbor next to you, and even that old so and so three pews up from you… If the Church is this collection of sinners you know to sin, constantly, in thought, word, and deed, against their families, against their neighbors, against you… If the Church includes even a dirty rotten scoundrel like you know yourself to be deep down inside your heart… How is it that the Church is described as a beautiful Bride?  Robed in white?  Radiant?  Regal?  Spotless and without blemish?  Is this not Gomer, the prostitute, the unfaithful bride of the prophet Hosea, conceiving children in adultery, she who symbolizes faithless Israel in her marriage to God?  Is she not dressed in the gaudy rags of a harlot?  Does she not run away from her husband and make him pay the wages of her sin to redeem her?  Oh yes, this Church is her.  This Church is Gomer.  You are Gomer.  And why is it that the Lord Jesus takes this filthy woman as His own?  Surely there cannot be anything about her that attracts Him.  No, certainly not.  He only has eyes for holiness, righteousness, and purity.  How does this then happen that Gomer, this Church full of sinners and sin, comes down from heaven with the splendor of a Bride adorned for her husband, received into the embrace of her Bridegroom, Jesus?
            St. Paul tells us, in a wonderful vignette from Ephesians.  Christ loves the Church such that He gives Himself up for her (Eph. 5:25).  He is nailed to the cross for her, suffers, bleeds, and dies for her.  This is the price for her transgressions, for your sins.  His blood, His death, and hell on a Friday afternoon.  And why does He do it?  To make her loveable.  Jesus’ love fashions the object of His love.  He sanctifies her (v. 26), which is a fancy Church word for saying He makes her holy.  He cleanses her, washes away her sin and filth, her guilt and shame, and all the infection and disease that go along with her unfaithfulness.  He gives her a bath in the font, by water and His Word.  Now she is spotless (v. 27).  He presents her to Himself “in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”  St. Paul says husbands ought to do this very same thing with their own brides, sacrificing themselves, giving themselves into death if necessary, covering any fault in their beloved with charity and forgiveness.  Because that is what Christ does for every one of us.  Male or female, young or old, married or single, He sheds His blood for us, cleans us up, and dresses us in the white robe of His own righteousness.  That is what Baptism is, and Baptism’s continuation in Holy Absolution.  It is a remarkable thing.  Gomer no more.  Forgiven sinner.  The former things have passed away.  Holy Bride of Jesus Christ.  “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5).  That includes you.  You are new.  You are holy.  You are loved. 
            Jesus cares for His Bride.  It is quite beautiful, His doting over her.  He dwells with her.  He is faithful to her.  He says to her, “I am your God, and you are my people.”  He dries the tears from her eyes.  No more death.  No more crying.  No more pain.  He takes it all away.  He comforts her.  And He gives her all good things.  Now, think about this in relation to our Holy Gospel.  Jesus is gathered with His Church in the upper room.  It is the night in which He was betrayed.  And He tells the disciples that there is a time of sadness.  The Bridegroom will be taken from the Bride for a time.  The world will rejoice, but the Bride will weep and lament.  This will be for a little while, Jesus says.  “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me” (John 16:16).  To put it another way, He says, “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (v. 20).  He is referring to His death and resurrection.  His death makes the Church sorrowful and afraid.  The Bridegroom is taken away from her for a time.  She does not see Him for a little while.  Not as He is.  Not as the Victor over sin and death.  Not as the Savior.  She sees Him dead on a cross.  She sees Him buried in a tomb.  But all at once, her sorrow is turned to joy.  The tomb is empty.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  And now she sees Him.  The disciples see Him literally, with their eyes.  They are the witnesses of the resurrection.  And we see Him with our ears in His Word and with our mouths in the Holy Supper.  And we rejoice.  Our mourning is turned into dancing (Ps. 30:11).  We leap for joy (Luke 6:23).  We sing to the LORD a new song, for He has done marvelous things (Ps. 98:1).  For the former things have passed away.  They died with Christ: death and sin and hell and all that goes with it.  By the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, He has made all things new.  And He bestows them on you.
            You, also, have your “little while,” don’t you?  The times you suffer.  The times you hurt.  And you wonder if Jesus has forsaken you, if your Bridegroom has left you destitute.  Nevertheless, what does He promise?  He will wipe away your tears.  He will turn your sorrow, the very thing causing you pain, into joy.  He will work your afflictions for good.  He will raise you from the dead.  Now, your Bridegroom has never yet broken a promise.  The proof of it is the empty tomb.  He said He would rise on the third day, and He did.  So you can count on Him in your “little while.”  The joy He will give is not worth comparing to the affliction you suffer now.  It is like a woman giving birth, who has sorrow because her hour has come.  But when the baby is delivered, she forgets her anguish for joy that a new, precious human being has come into the world (John 16:21).  So it will be for you in that Day.  And what is this time between our Lord’s ascension into heaven and His coming again on the Last Day but a “little while” in which the Church has her sorrows and her suffering even in the midst of the joy of the resurrection.  It is a “little while,” but it is coming to an end.  “Surely I am coming soon,” says the Lord.  “Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus!” responds the Bride (Rev. 22:20). 

            And so, here she comes, this Bride now redeemed, cleansed, and made holy by the Lord.  Remember this during the “little while” of this life when all you can see are the warts and filthy rags of Gomer, the fighting within, the persecution from without, the weakness and sin of sinners, and of your own sinful flesh.  The Church will break your heart.  There will be things done in this congregation, in this denomination, by your fellow Christians throughout the world, that you will not like, that will hurt you and bring tears to your eyes.  Remember, though, what the reality is, which you can only know by faith, not by sight.  This mess is holy to the Lord.  It is precious in His sight.  He has redeemed it.  He shed His blood for it.  And He does not leave the Church in the mess of her own making.  He cleanses her, and dresses her in the radiant white of His holiness.  No bride should ever wear anything but white, no matter what mistakes she’s made.  She is holy in Jesus.  Her sins are forgiven.  You are holy in Jesus.  Your sins are forgiven.  Jesus loves you.  You are precious to Him.  And as is true with brides and bridegrooms, all that is yours He has taken upon Himself and paid in full on the cross.  All that is His is yours, bestowed upon you as pure gift.  Including His victory over death.  For He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.    

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Fourth Sunday of Easter (C)

April 17, 2016
Text: Rev. 7:9-17; John 10:22-30

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            St. John is given to see with his own eyes the great multitude of saints gathered before the throne of God and of the Lamb in heaven.  They are from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.  They are clothed in the white robes of holiness and purity, the righteousness of Christ given to them as a gift in Baptism where they washed their robes in the Blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ.  They hold palm branches in their hands, the symbol of victory, for our Lord Jesus Christ has accomplished that for which He rode into Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday.  He was crowned as our King, a coronation of thorns, clothed in royal purple, lifted up and enthroned on the cross.  “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews,” Pilate wrote on the inscription above His sacred head (John 19:19; ESV).  Our Lord died there, nailed to the tree.  The Lamb of God was sacrificed for the sins of the world.  Behold, the price of your transgressions.  But He did not stay dead.  On the Third Day He rose again, just as He said He would.  Mission accomplished.  Sins forgiven.  The Father’s wrath appeased.  Mankind restored.  Hell vanquished.  The serpent crushed.  Death has no more claim.  So the saints gather before God’s throne, before the Lamb who was slain, who still bears the wounds, but who stands.  And they stand, these dear saints.  They died, but they stand with palms of victory, and they sing.  Who are these?  These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.  The great tribulation is now, in this life, where the flesh and sin still afflict us, where death casts the illusion that he is in charge, where Satan reigns as prince of this world.  It is all a lie.  But it is what we see, now, with our eyes.  St. John gives us to see with our ears the saints marching out of this tribulation, through the cleansing water of Baptism in Jesus’ Blood, into heaven, before the throne.  These are the saints who have died in Christ.  And this is very comforting.  For there is Peter.  There is Paul.  There stand our first parents, Adam and Eve, and there is King David and Bathsheba, James and John and Mary Magdalene.  There is Martin Luther and there is my dad.  There are your loved ones who died in Christ.  Clothed in white.  Waving their palms.  Worshiping and singing.  And you will be in that number.  In fact, you already are, you on this side of the veil, they on that.  We cannot see each other, but here we are, all together, the Church on earth and the Church in heaven, one holy, Christian, and Apostolic Church.  And there is the Lamb in the center.  They see Him standing.  We see Him by faith under the bread and wine.
            This Lamb is our Good Shepherd.  He leads us in the paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake, the Name He placed upon us in Baptism.  And He guides us through the valley of the shadow of death by the comfort of His rod and staff, His Holy Word by which He tends us.  We need fear no evil.  Death cannot have us, because Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  He leads us to Himself in heaven, and on the Last Day, He will raise us bodily from the dead.  Now, to say that we are sheep is not a compliment.  This is not to say that we’re cute and cuddly.  It is to say that we are stubborn and stupid.  We follow the flock wherever it goes (isn’t that just like us to follow the fads of the world no matter how silly or downright dangerous!), and if we get separated from the flock, we are in mortal danger from robbers and predators (false teachers and demons).  We’ll gobble up anything set in front of us whether it’s good for us or not.  That is why Christianity means big business for books and music and movies, because if you label something Christian, here come the sheep.  When sheep are in danger from a predator, they lay down.  When sheep get too close to the water when they are drinking, their wool soaks it up like a great sponge and drags the sheep in and drowns them.  This is not a compliment when Jesus calls us sheep.  This is why we need shepherds and sheep dogs.  But sheep do have one thing going for them.  They know the voice of their shepherd.  When a group of shepherds tend their flocks together, the sheep get all mixed up with each other.  But when the shepherds begin to call their flocks in for the night, an amazing thing happens.  Each sheep goes to its own shepherd.  The sheep know their shepherd’s voice.  They will not follow another.  And so it is with us.  Jesus is our Good Shepherd.  And He’s given us a gift.  He has given us to know His voice as He calls to us in His Word.  And when He calls, we follow.  “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28). 
            It is a great thing to have Jesus as our Shepherd.  He leads us into the sheepfold of His Church where He cares for us and keeps us safe.  He gives us rest in green pastures and leads us beside still waters, where we can eat and drink of the abundance of His Word in peace and security.  He restores our souls in Holy Absolution and again, leads us in the paths of righteousness by His holy Word, right through death and into heaven and the resurrection.  And He prepares a Table before us, to sustain us, the holy Altar set with His Body and Blood.  He anoints us with His Spirit.  Our cup overflows.  And so, goodness and mercy follow us all the days of our life… this life, here, in the great tribulation, and on into eternity where we dwell in the house of the LORD forever. 
            That is what He does for us here and now.  But then He calls us out.  That is what happens when a Christian dies.  Jesus calls.  Time to cross over to the other side of the veil.  Time to be gathered in where you are safe forever, to pass from the Church Militant to the Church Triumphant, from the Kingdom of Grace (the Church on earth) to the Kingdom of Glory (the Church in heaven).  And the angels usher you to Jesus’ side.  Old Adam is dead forever.  And there you are, clothed in a white robe (as you already are in Baptism, clothed with Christ’s righteousness), with a palm branch in your hand.  And you sing the New Song of heaven.  And what does Jesus do for you there?  He is still your Good Shepherd: “the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd” (Rev. 7:17).  He will make sure you hunger and thirst no more.  He will shelter you so that the sun does not strike you nor any scorching heat.  He will guide you to springs of living water.  That is to say, the old things of the tribulation are over.  There is no more sadness and suffering.  Only good things now.  And God will wipe away every tear from your eyes.  You will be consoled.  You will be comforted.  You will be at rest.  And Christ will give you joy. 
            And that is why we don’t have to fear death.  For the Christian, it is really birth into fuller life.  In heaven, we see Jesus, the Lamb, our Good Shepherd, and we sing.  But there is still more to come.  A new heavens and a new earth and the resurrection of our bodies to live forever with Jesus.  This is the key to surviving the great tribulation.  You know there is a happy ending.  Now is the time of difficulty and conflict.  Now is the time when you already possess eternal life, but you do not yet see it.  So you suffer.  But you know the reality that awaits you just on the other side.  You know your Lord is working all things together here for your good and your salvation, to bring you there.  St. John receives the vision and writes it down, so that you can see it now with your ears.  And you can know for certain that this is the glorious reality that awaits you.  Christ Jesus is risen from the dead and He has burst a gaping hole through the confines of the tomb.  Death cannot and will not hold you.  Nothing can snatch you out of His hand.  Christ has made you His own and given you life forever.  He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.      

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Third Sunday of Easter

Third Sunday of Easter (C)

April 10, 2016
Text: Rev. 5:8-14; John 21:1-19

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            The risen Lord Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world (John 1:29).  This is the Lamb who was slain, who by His blood ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation (Rev. 5:9), yet He stands, He rules, He holds the scroll of God’s hidden counsel, and He receives the worship of heaven and earth, and even those under the earth, those in hell, who must acknowledge that Jesus is Lord (cf. Phil. 2:10-11).  In our reading from Revelation, St. John gives us a picture of what it looks like on the other side of the veil as we come together for the Divine Service, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.  As we gather around the altar, there is this whole other side we cannot see.  It is hidden from our eyes, but we know it is there.  The saints in heaven, our beloved ones who died in the faith of Jesus Christ, the Apostles, the Prophets, the Patriarchs, the holy angels, the countless host from all times and places, dear brothers and sisters as yet unknown to us.  And they sing with us.  They laud and magnify the glorious Name of the Lamb.  They are gathered around the throne and they see Him, our Lord Jesus Christ, standing before them, risen and living.  We are gathered around the altar on this side of the veil, and we see only bread and wine, but we know it is Him, the risen Jesus, with His Body and Blood.  It is the Lamb enthroned there on the altar, feeding us and forgiving our sins.  And there is this whole reality we cannot see as heaven and earth meet at the altar, but we know it by faith, because of what Jesus says.
            This scroll with its seven seals is a source of great anxiety for us.  It contains the hidden things, the stuff of our questions, what will come to pass in these latter days.  And in the chapters that follow our text, St. John gives us a little taste of the contents as the scroll is unsealed, seal by seal, and we must admit that the images revealed to us don’t look good on their face: Power and aggression, blood and violence, famine, death, and hell.  But don’t miss the comfort here in our text, before we even get to the opening of the seals.  It is the Lamb who holds the scroll.  It is Jesus.  And He is the One who opens the seals.  He has the control over them.  And that means that nothing happens apart from His will, and there is nothing that can happen outside of His direction and rule.  And you can trust what He will do in the things hidden under the seals, because He is the Lamb who was slain for you and who is risen for you and who has made you a Kingdom, Priests to our God who, in the end, shall reign on the earth (Rev. 5:10). 
            Now we live in the meantime, in this time between our Lord’s resurrection and His coming again in glory, and what else is there to do now in this in between time but to go fishing and to gather and be fed by Jesus?  Our Lord gives us this clue in the Holy Gospel.  The disciples of Jesus (that’s Peter and his companions, and it’s also you!) belong in the boat, which is to say, the holy Christian Church.  We’ve talked about how the Church is a boat.  That is why so much happens in boats in the Gospels and why the sanctuary here in the Church building is called the Nave, from which we get the word Navy.  The disciples of Jesus belong in the water, which is to say, your Baptism into Christ.  And the disciples are always to be about the business of fishing.  Now, we know that fishing is never just fishing in the Gospels.  When our Lord first called His disciples at the beginning of His earthly ministry, He gave them a miraculous catch of fish, and then promised them that, following Him, they would be fishers of men (Matt. 4:19).  So to say that we are to be fishing is to say that we are to do missions.  We are to evangelize, speak the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  We call many things missions and evangelism, because we are sloppy with our language, but strictly speaking evangelism is the speaking of the evangel, the Gospel, and the mission given to the Church is to baptize and teach (Matt. 28:19-20) and gather all nations around the altar.  That’s it.  No program is prescribed.  No sure-fire gimmicks are commanded.  Preach the Gospel.  Baptize.  Teach.  Gather around the altar.  And the pastors are to tend and feed the Lord’s lambs and sheep (John 21:15-17), forgive the sins of repentant sinners, and withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent (John 20:23). 
            So we are to be fishing with the net of the Gospel, and there is Jesus, standing on the shore, but notice that He is hidden from the eyes of the disciples.  They do not know it is the Lord.  Still, He is there.  And the disciples have fished all night, but caught nothing.  That often happens in the Church.  In spite of our best efforts, our faithful fishing and hard work, we just can’t seem to grow.  But where in the Scriptures does our Lord promise we will always have a miraculous haul of fish?  And is that really up to us?  Does the Lord command success measured by numbers?  Beloved, the Church has its ebb and flow.  We prefer the flow to the ebb, but even in the ebb, our Lord is doing His work.  The command is simply to fish.  Let the Lord worry about the rest.  And what happens when the Lord speaks?  Let down the nets again.  Keep fishing, He tells them.  Keep proclaiming the Gospel.  And at the Lord’s Word, there are so many fish… big ones, too!... that the disciples can’t haul it in.  The Lord grants success.  The Lord fills the nets.  Our job is simply to keep fishing.  Keep casting the Gospel.
            And when John recognizes it is Jesus there on the shore (which only happens after Jesus speaks, by the way… we only know Jesus by His Word), he tells Peter, and Peter jumps into the water.  Great joy, splashing around in His Baptism, eager to be with Jesus.  And the rest of the boat arrives, too.  The shore is not far off.  Jesus is never far away.  He is always with His Church.  Peter brings the net up on the shore, and the net is full of large fish, 153 of them, a curiously specific number, and I think it indicates that Jesus knows every one of His own who are brought to Him by the Gospel.  Now Jesus invites His disciples to come and have breakfast.  And the disciples gather around Him and He feeds them.  He takes the bread and He gives it to them.  Which is what happens for us here in the Church.  Jesus gathers us around Him and feeds us the morning meal.  He takes bread, which is His Body, and He gives it to us to eat.  And in this way He reveals Himself to us.  He restores us, as He restores Peter in our Holy Gospel.  He forgives our sins. 
            The Jesus who was on the shore by the Sea of Tiberias is the Jesus who is on the altar this morning, the Lamb who is on the throne, standing with His mortal wounds, holding the scroll.  And as His Gospel is proclaimed, as the nets are cast, as the Church eats the bread and drinks the cup and proclaims the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Cor. 11:26), He is gathering to Himself His ransomed ones “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9; ESV).  That is what He does with the preaching of the Apostles.  It begins with St. Peter and continues with St. Paul, who is sent to carry the Lord’s Name “before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15), and to suffer for the sake of that Name (v. 16).  The Gospel goes forth from Jerusalem to all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).  The preachers go forth to preach.  Missionaries, like Pastor Steven Mahlburg who was with us on Wednesday, are sent to places like Macau to preach the Gospel.  The people of God, you, are given as salt and light in the world to bear witness in your many and various vocations, as priests of your God and Father.  All of us are given to speak the Evangel, the Gospel.  And the goal is to gather the nations here, in the water, in the net, in the boat, to Jesus, where He forgives and feeds.  Which is to say, the goal is to get your family and friends and neighbors and others to come to Church with you.  But that’s up to the Lord, isn’t it?  You just keep fishing.  We, the disciples of Christ gathered together in the boat in this place, just keep casting the net.  And we gather around the Lamb and confess and sing and hear His Word and eat and drink.  That is what we are given to do.  And He holds the scroll in His hand.  The hand with the nail hole.  Which is to say, He holds the future and the hidden things of God.  And He holds eternity.  And He holds us.

            This is a beautiful picture St. John paints for us this morning, of the hidden reality of the Divine Service.  This is what is going on around us right now, in which we are taking part.  Oh, how blind we are.  But the Lord gives us eyes of faith to believe it in spite of all appearances.  Every now and then it hits me, and I imagine what it must look like (and this is just imagination, as opposed to the glorious vision our Lord gives St. John)… I imagine the sight as we bow before the Body and Blood of the Lord and sing the Sanctus with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.  I imagine the rustle and flutter of the seraph wings as they likewise bow and cover their faces and feet in humility, and the Cherubim who attend the throne of the Lord.  And here we are gathered on one side of the veil, mouths open to receive from the Lord.  And there they are on the other side, the glorious ones who now rest from their labors.  And there is Jesus, right where He promises to be, on the mercy seat, on the throne, on the altar, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Do you ever ask yourself on Sunday morning if you really need to come to Church?  Do you recognize, now, how foolish that question is, when this is going on?  Christ have mercy on us.  We are so blind.  Here is heaven.  Right here.  Here is the Savior.  Right here.  Really.  In the flesh.  For you.  “Come and have breakfast,” Jesus says (John 21:12).  Come and eat.  For this is the Feast of victory for our God.  For He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.         

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Second Sunday of Easter

Second Sunday of Easter (C)

April 3, 2016
Text: Rev. 1:4-18; John 20:19-31

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            The risen Lord Jesus Christ stands in the midst of His Church, and He holds the pastors of His Church in His nail pierced right hand.  That is the point of our reading from Revelation.  Our Second Reading throughout the Easter season will be from the Revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ given to St. John, and that will be the focus of our meditations, particularly as these readings relate to the Holy Gospel appointed for the day.  Because the Book of Revelation belongs to the genre of apocalyptic literature, the imagery can be confusing and even scary, and unfortunately has been widely misinterpreted and exploited by false teachers.  And as a result, we lose out on this very important comfort our Lord gives to us as we live in these last days.  This is tragic, and it need not be.  The Jesus of Revelation is not a different Jesus than the Savior we know and love from the Gospels.  And He has not given us the Book of Revelation to scare us or confuse us.  He has given it for our consolation and the strengthening of our faith.
            And so, just a brief explanation of some of the imagery and symbolism from our reading. Note how John begins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Well, not in those words, exactly.  He does it in reverse order.  We receive grace and peace from the Seven Spirits, or perhaps better translated, the Seven-fold Spirit, an allusion to Isaiah 7:2: “And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” (ESV).  And from Jesus Christ, our Prophet (the faithful witness), priest (the Sacrifice who has been raised from the dead), and King (the ruler of the kings on earth), who makes us a Kingdom and Priests to His God and Father.  Holy Spirit, Son, and Father.  That is how John begins.  And now our eyes are focused on Jesus, the Savior.  That is why this Revelation is given.  That we look to Jesus, and Jesus only, in these gray and latter days.  He is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet.  We would say, “The A and the Z,” “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8).  This man, Jesus, is the eternal and almighty God, the very Son of the Father, who was in the beginning with God and who is God, and who is coming again to judge the living and the dead.
            Now, St. John has this vision as he is in exile on the island of Patmos.  Tradition says that John was the only Apostle who did not die a martyr’s death.  Instead, he lived a martyr’s life.  And he receives this Revelation when he is “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” (v. 10).  That is to say, he is at worship.  He is at the Divine Service on Sunday, the Lord’s Day, the Day Jesus rose from the dead, just like us this morning.  And he is told to write to the seven churches in Asia minor, modern day Turkey, of which tradition tells us he is the Bishop.  And what does he see?  Jesus is in the midst of the seven lampstands, which are the seven churches.  He is clothed with a royal golden sash, because He rules and He has won the victory over His enemies.  His hair is white, the color of holiness, and reminding us that He is eternal.  His eyes are like fire, because they see all things.  They see past the fake veneer of holiness and goodness we construct over our lives.  They see past all the things we think are obstacles to our Lord’s vision.  And when Jesus looks upon us, He purifies us.  His Law burns us and kills our old Adam.  His Gospel brings us new life, so that a new creation emerges and arises, like a phoenix rising from the flames.  His feet are like burnished bronze.  They shine, they are pure, they are immovable.  And His voice is like that of many waters.  Majestic.  Loud.  You can’t miss it.  And I wonder if there is an allusion here to the many preachers who are speaking for Him all over the world and across the generations.  These pastors, the seven stars, are in His right hand, and they speak what comes from His mouth, the sharp two-edged sword, the Law and the Gospel, the Word that kills and makes alive: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).  And John is in His right hand, too.  Jesus lays His right hand on John (Rev. 1:17), and what does He say there, in the midst of His Church, with the pastors in His hand?  He says, “Fear not” (v. 17).  In spite of all that is happening to the Church: the persecution from without, the fighting within, the unfaithfulness of some, and your own sins… Fear not.  In spite of all that is happening in the world: earthquakes and famines, wars and rumors of wars, natural catastrophes and nuclear armed terrorists… Fear not.  In spite of what goes on in your body and life: exile on Patmos, a martyr’s death, cancer, betrayal.  Fear no more.  For “I am the first and the last, and the living one.  I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (vv. 17-18; emphasis added).  You don’t need to fear, because Jesus died for you, and Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  He lives.  He reigns.  And He has rescued you from death and hell.  You have eternal life. 
            This is what He said as He stood in the midst of His disciples that first Lord’s Day, the first Easter evening, and again a week later, on the Eighth Day, both times the disciples locked away in hiding “for fear of the Jews” (John 20:19; emphasis added).  Three times in our Holy Gospel, He says “Peace be with you” (vv. 19, 21, 26).  In other words, “Fear not.”  Your sins are forgiven.  Your denying me.  Your running away.  Your hiding.  Your fearing.  All your sins.  They are forgiven.  For I died, and I am risen from the dead.  Behold, the wounds.  Go ahead, Thomas.  Poke around in them.  Poke your finger into my hands.  Thrust your hand into my side.  Be absolved.  Be comforted.  Believe.  And now, standing in the midst of His Church gathered there behind locked doors, holding His beloved Apostles, the first Christian pastors in His pierced hands, He breathes His Holy Spirit upon them and sends them to be His spokesmen.  Called and ordained by Jesus Himself, they are to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, and withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.  And their Absolution (and the withholding of it) will be as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.  For they speak for Him.  And so it will be until the end of time.  The voice of many waters will announce His Gospel through the Christian pastors He holds in His hand to the Christian congregations in whose midst He is present, with His Word, with His forgiveness, with His true Body and Blood, given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of all of your sins. 
            Therefore, Church of God, rejoice.  St. John paints a picture for you in his Revelation of what is happening among you at this very moment.  Jesus stands in your midst.  The real Jesus.  The One who died on the cross 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem.  The One who is risen from the dead and lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  And He holds even this pastor in His hand.  I can’t begin to tell you how comforting that is.  But you know.  He holds you, too.  Here He is, just as surely as He was with the Apostles in the locked room.  The only difference is, He hasn’t appeared to us as He appeared to them.  He is right in our midst, directing all things in heaven and on earth and in each one of our lives for our good and for our salvation.  He knows your pain.  He knows your heartaches and your sorrows, your doubts and your afflictions.  He knows your sin.  And He forgives you.  He sent this pastor to be His mouthpiece for that very reason.  He breathes His Spirit upon you, the Seven-fold Spirit of God.  He does this in the Word.  His breath comes from my mouth in the preaching and gives you new life.  And that you know this… that you have a tangible sign, He feeds you with His risen and living Body and Blood.  That is what He does as He stands amidst the lampstands, the congregations.  He does His Jesus thing.  He washes.  He forgives.  He speaks.  He feeds.  He is with you in a very real way.

            You do not see Him now, but you will.  “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him.  Even so.  Amen” (Rev. 1:7).  The unbelievers will wail because they know their Judgment has come.  He holds off that Day in mercy, that more may come to believe in Him.  Even so, the Church prays, “Come, Lord Jesus.  Come quickly.”  For we long to see with our own eyes what we know is already true.  The risen Lord Jesus stands in the midst of His Church.  He is with us.  He forgives us.  He pours out His gifts upon us.  And in spite of all appearances, our enemies, sin, death, and the devil, lie vanquished at His beautiful, pierced feet.  For this reason He died.  But, He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.        

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter Sunrise

The Resurrection of Our Lord: Easter Sunrise

March 27, 2016
Text: John 20:1-18

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            “(F)or as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead” (John 20:9; ESV).  How did they miss this?  It’s not as though He hadn’t told them.  Multiple times, in fact. Just a few days before, He had said to them in the upper room: “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me… Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.  You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16:16, 20).  Earlier, in the Gospel according to St. Luke, Jesus is even more explicit: “For [the Son of Man] will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon.  And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise” (Luke 18:32-33).  In each of the Gospels Jesus announces His death and resurrection multiple times before it happens, and still the disciples don’t understand.  Now Peter and John stand there at the empty tomb, the linens and graves cloths neatly folded on the vacant bench, and they still don’t understand.  John believes.  Perhaps Peter, too.  But they don’t understand.  They don’t get it.  It still doesn’t make sense to them how their Master who was dead is no longer in the tomb, but made good on His Word by rising, as He said.
            But we aren’t much better than Peter and John, are we?  We do have the benefit of hindsight and the testimony of the eyewitnesses: the women, the Apostles, James, and over five hundred brothers at one time.  There is even St. Paul who met the risen Christ along the Damascus road.  But for all this, how seriously do we take it, really?  Do we really understand what an earth-shaking, cosmic event has taken place?  Do we really understand what this means for us and for our salvation?  Does it even occur to us that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead changes everything for our life and our daily existence?
            Two impossible things happened in Holy Week.  God died.  God can’t die.  But He did, on the cross, in the flesh of Jesus Christ.  And a Man rose from the dead.  Dead men don’t rise.  But this Man did, who was crucified and buried, the Man who is God and our Savior, Jesus Christ.  And this turns everything on its head.  Because God died, you who were dead in your trespasses and sins don’t have to suffer the deadly wages you’ve earned.  God died, so you live.  And because the Man, Jesus, rose from the dead, death lays bleeding and dying at the threshold of His empty tomb.  He will raise you from the dead.  Bodily… as He is bodily risen.  And He’ll raise your loved ones who have died in Christ.  In fact, He’ll raise all the dead when He comes to Judge, and all believers will live with Him forever in our bodies on that Day.  For you see, because these two impossible things happened in Holy Week: God died and the Man, Jesus, rose from the dead, there has now come to pass a third impossible thing: Sinners, you, are declared righteous before God.  Your sins are forgiven.  All of them.  Jesus paid for them on the cross.  And God loves you as His own child.  Well, that changes everything, doesn’t it?  Now you live each day from this perspective: Christ Jesus is risen from the dead.  My sins are forgiven.  I have eternal life.  He will raise me from the dead.  There is nothing, finally, that can harm me.  God loves me.  I belong to Him.
            Now, this is impossible to understand, because humanly speaking these things are impossible from the start.  But thanks be to God, faith is not the same thing as understanding.  John does not understand as he stoops there inside the tomb.  But he believes.  Mary does not understand.  She thinks the gardener has taken Him away.  Even when two angels greet her, still she does not get it.  But then Jesus speaks her name, “Mary,” and all at once she believes what she cannot understand.  He is risen, as He said.  She believes and she announces the Good News to the disciples. 
            And you?  You don’t understand this any better than Peter or John or Mary.  But you believe it.  In fact, you believe it because the same thing happened to you that caused Mary to believe.  Jesus spoke your name.  For her, it happened in the garden.  For you, it happened at the font.  There Jesus named you His own, a child of the heavenly Father, and placed the Name of God on you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  There He washed you and brought you into His fold and inoculated you against death and hell.  For there, His death became your own.  You died with Him in Baptism.  And there, His resurrection became your own.  You have eternal life now, because you are baptized into Christ.  You live with Him and in Him.  Your life is now hidden with Christ in God, and will be revealed in all its fullness on the Last Day.  When you die, your soul will go to heaven to be with Jesus.  And when He comes again and raises the dead, He will raise you in your body.  And you’ll live with Him forever. 

            That is the new reality in the risen Christ.  The Bible calls it the new creation.  “‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’  ‘O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?’  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:54-57).  You don’t have to understand it.  But believe it.  For this victory is yours.  He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.          

Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday Tenebrae

Good Friday Tenebrae: Golgotha: A Place of Simple Love[1]
March 25, 2016

Text: Luke 23:44-49 (ESV): It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, pinto your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. 47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” 48 And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. 49 And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.

            Martin Luther said, “The cross alone is our theology.”  There are preachers aplenty who would direct your weary soul to God.  They all have their methods.  Some have published books.  Some have popular television programs.  Some tell you they have the magic fix for all that ails you.  But there is one sure way you can tell a true preacher from a shyster.  Does he direct you to the cross, or away from it?  Is the God he proclaims a bloody, crucified man?  Or a benevolent spirit in the sky?  “(W)e preach Christ crucified,” writes St. Paul (1 Cor. 1:23).  The cross alone is our theology.  Because it is only the God who dies who is able to save us from our sins.
            There is no question where the Evangelist, St. Luke, directs us for our salvation.  He takes us right to the cross.  Creation itself testifies that this is the central event in all of history, the pivotal moment in the relationship of God to humanity.  There was darkness over the whole land from the sixth hour to the ninth as God in the flesh hangs upon the cross drinking the cup of God’s wrath to its very dregs for the forgiveness of our sins.  The Temple bears visual witness to the new reality when God’s anger is assuaged.  The curtain dividing the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies is torn in two from top to bottom.  Heaven is open, and man has access to God through the riven flesh of Christ.  And finally there is the centurion.  Seeing these things, beholding our Lord in His great compassion, hearing His gracious Words, witnessing His saving death for us, he praises God by praising Jesus.  “Certainly this man was innocent!” he says (Luke 23:47).  Actually, “innocent” is a bad translation.  Better: “Certainly this man was righteous!”  That is to say, the sinless Son of God has died for sinners, that sinners be declared righteous, justified, and go free.  Sins paid in full.  Reconciled with God.  Heaven is open.  We are justified.  The cross alone is our theology. 
            Luke takes us right up to the foot of the cross to behold with the centurion our salvation in the simple love of Jesus.  Jesus takes this place of death, destruction, and condemnation… Golgotha, the place of a skull… and makes it a place of life and love and restoration to God. 
            Have you ever tried to get God to work in your life?  “You’ve followed all sorts of rules.  Your bookshelf has one too many books on how to have a happy marriage and you’ve stopped saying your prayers” before bed (Places of the Passion).  You’re burnt out.  You’re “simply tired of the struggle… worn out by the complexity… and deep down afraid maybe God isn’t there,” maybe He isn’t for you.  “Listen to Luke.  Luke speaks tonight for all who have ever been lost in a religious system,” who have been promised that if you just follow these ten simple steps or say this magic prayer or forward this email to 10 friends then you’ll be extra-specially blessed and live your best life now.  Your spouse will adore you, your kids will obey you, and your boss will throw money and power at you.  And it never works.  No matter how hard you try, you never get it right.  This is still a fallen world, and you are still a sinner.  And any preacher who tells you it can be different if you just believe enough, work hard enough, or do this, that, and the other thing enough, is a fraud!  And he hasn’t led you to the cross.  For all his “Jesus” talk, he hasn’t directed you to Christ crucified for your sins.  He’s directed you to you!  But you are the problem!  You are the sinner in need of saving.  You can’t save you.  But Jesus can.  And He has.  The cross alone is our theology.
            Now, this is not to deny Easter and the centrality of Christ’s resurrection.  We know where this is going and we know that death is not where this ends.  The fact of the matter is, we wouldn’t be here tonight and we wouldn’t call this Friday “Good” if Jesus had not risen from the dead.  If this was just a death and it ended there, this would all be meaningless and morbid.  That we wear jewelry and hang wall decorations depicting a capital punishment would be absurd.  The resurrection fills the death of Christ with all its divine significance.  The resurrection proves that this man is who He says He is, the very Son of God, and He does what He says He does, namely, takes away the sin of the world.  The resurrection is the Father’s declaration that the sacrifice has been accepted.  Our sin is at an end.  We are not condemned.  Jesus has saved us.  God loves us.  There are no more steps to take.  All is finished now.  Believe it, and it is yours.  Fully redeemed.  Fully restored.  Eternal life.  You have it in Jesus.
            And if a preacher points you anywhere else, especially if he points you to yourself, run.  There is death in the pot!  We preach Christ crucified, the Bread from heaven who gives Himself for the life of the world.  The cross alone is our theology.  In the death of Christ, we live.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.                    

[1] Based on the Maundy Thursday sermon from Places of the Passion (St. Louis: Concordia, 2015).

Good Friday Tre Ore

Good Friday Tre Ore

Our Savior Lutheran Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan
March 25, 2016

Text: John 19:28 (ESV): “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’

            Our Lord suffers our most profound human need.  He thirsts.  When do you suppose He had last been given anything to drink?  The wine of the Passover the night before?  And so much has happened since then.  Like the wringing out of a sponge, He sweat great drops of blood in the garden.  Betrayed.  Arrested.  Bound.  Led from here to there to stand for trial.  Beaten.  Scourged.  Crowned with thorns.  Made to carry His own cross to the place of a skull.  Nailed to the wood.  Hands and feet.  Blood gushing forth.  Lifted up for three hours in the hot sun.  Three more hours in the darkness to complete His sin-atoning work.  Gracious Words nonetheless proceeding from His parched and cracked lips.  No Lazarus to dip his finger in water and cool His tongue.  He who gives living water pants for just a sip.  Our Lord knows what it means to thirst. 
            He thirsts to do His Father’s will.  He thirsts for us and for our salvation.  And the only thing that will slake His thirst is to pour Himself out as a drink offering on the altar of our redemption.  “(M)y soul thirsts for you like a parched land” (Ps. 143:6), He prays to His Father.  “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Ps. 42:1-2).   “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’” (John 19:28; emphasis added).  “I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched,” Jesus prays in Psalm 69 (v. 3).  “My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.”  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” Jesus says, “for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6).  Our Lord Jesus will not be satisfied until our sins are atoned and His righteousness is bestowed upon us as a gift.
            We are thirsty people, you and I, and there is only one drink that satisfies.  It is that which pours forth out of the wounds of our Savior.  With joy, He would have us draw water from these wells of salvation (Is. 12:3), His hands, His feet, His side.  But what do we do?  We look anywhere and everywhere else for a cool draught to satisfy our souls.  We think that money will fill us.  Just a little more.  It’s not quite enough yet.  It’s never quite enough.  But it will be with just a little more.  We think the pleasures of the flesh will slake us.  Not satisfied with our own cistern given by God, our eyes wander, our hearts lust, our members are used for unrighteousness, and still we are empty.  Food, alcohol, narcotics, the stuff of addiction only leaves one emptier and emptier, thirstier and thirstier.  And at some point it must dawn on us.  Why do we run after all these things?  Because we thirst.  And we fear, love, and trust in these things to satisfy our thirst above our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  In other words, these things have become our idols, that to which we look for our good.  We know that an idol is nothing, Paul says, and yet he reminds us there is demonic power behind the empty idol, and “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons” (1 Cor. 10:21).  These idols will not slake your thirst.  They will only drive you from the cup of blessing which we bless, our participation in the Lord’s blood.  Beloved in the Lord, repent.
            In His thirst for you, Jesus drinks the cup of God’s wrath over your sin to its very dregs, that the cup of blessing might be yours.  This is the God, this Man on the cross, who bids you “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters” (Is. 55:1).  This water is without price.  It is freely given, with wine and milk and the choicest of fair.  The Lord has purchased it with His blood and thirst and pain.  Why, then, do you spend your money on that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy (v. 2)?  Do you not believe Him?  Do you not believe He can fill you?  This is the God who gave wells to our fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  This is the God who gave water in the desert: “all drank the same spiritual drink.  For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:4).  This is the God who met the Samaritan woman at the well and promised her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water… whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:10, 14).  The living water that Jesus pours out on us and in us is His Holy Spirit, who wells up in the saving faith that receives eternal life and overflows in love for the neighbor. 

            Oh, how we need this water.  We thirst.  And we pray with the Samaritan woman, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty” (v. 15).  Jesus answers, “Yes.”  And for this reason He thirsts.  And for this reason He dies.  He bows His head and gives up His Spirit, the Holy One whom He breathes into His people.  His side is pierced by the soldier’s lance and out flow the blood and water, that from chalice and font we might drink His righteousness, and it will be enough.  We will be satisfied.  “For there are three that testify,” writes St. John: “the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree… Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:7-8, 12).  Whoever has the Son no longer thirsts.  Whoever does not have the Son of God will drink only the swill of this world and suffer eternal thirst where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.  But that will not be you.  Because you have heard the voice of Jesus.  You drink deeply of His gifts.  “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink,” says Jesus.  “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37-38).  Jesus thirsts and pours Himself out for you on the cross, that you never be thirsty again.  Drink deeply this Holy Week, beloved, and rejoice.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.     

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday: The Last Supper: A Place of Forgiveness[1]

March 24, 2016
Text: Luke 22:7-20

            What if they knew?  What if everyone here at Church knew the deepest, darkest secrets of your heart?  Perhaps it is some past sin or shame you’ve tried in vain to forget.  Perhaps it is an addiction or sinful habit you struggle with now.  Maybe it is simply the evil thoughts and feelings you harbor in the secret of your heart.  Imagine if we could read one another’s thoughts.  The thoughts you think about other people.  Your judgments.  Your uncharitable opinions.  Your irritation, your anger, your jealousies, your lust.  There is a reason we don’t speak these things out loud.  We would be horrified if others knew.  And even though we try to keep these things deeply hidden, even from ourselves, casting the illusion of righteousness and piety, from time to time it dawns on us in spite of ourselves: There is One who knows.  There is One who knows better than we, ourselves, know.  He knows our deepest, darkest secrets.  He knows our vilest sins.  God knows.  He knows all about you.  He knows you better than you know yourself.  He knows sin in you even you are unaware of.  “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3; ESV). 
            God knows.  But what does He do about it?  He sends His Son.  He sends His Son to suffer and bleed and die on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins.  That’s what this week is all about, this Holy Week, as we focus on our Lord’s Passion, a word that literally means suffering.  He sends His Son who conquers sin and death by rising from the dead, delivering us from the devil and the yawning jaws of hell.  That is what this Sunday is all about, the bodily resurrection of the Savior, guaranteeing our own bodily resurrection and eternal life.  God knows, and God acts.  He does something about it.  He rescues us.  He saves us.  And this God who knows all of our secrets, who knows our uncleanness, our bitterness, our hatred and rebellion… invites us to a meal.  He feeds us, the true Body and Blood of His Son Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine for us Christians to eat and to drink, given and shed for the forgiveness of all of our sins.  Tremendous!  What love.  What grace.  What unimaginable, incomprehensible devotion that God should invite us sinners to His Table, and feed us with Himself. 
            Judas had a secret.  Even as he reclines there in the upper room with Jesus and the disciples, celebrating the Passover.  Even as he, too, asks who it is who will betray Jesus.  He’s a phony.  He has already made arrangements.  And Jesus knows, too.  St. Luke weaves the narratives of Judas and Jesus together in such a way, that we can’t miss the contrast.  Judas prepares for Passover by going to the rulers to make a deal… to betray Jesus.  Jesus prepares for Passover by sending Peter and John ahead to secure a place where He may eat the Passover meal with His disciples.  And this is an amazing thing.  Knowing Judas will be present… knowing Peter will deny Him and the rest of the disciples will scatter when they strike the Shepherd… Jesus desires to eat the Passover with them.  Jesus delights in eating with tax collectors and sinners, with betrayers and deniers and cowards.  Don’t miss these beautiful words in our Holy Gospel: “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15; emphasis added).  Have you ever thought about this?  It is good that we receive the Supper often, not just because we need it (though we certainly do!), and not just because we desire it (sometimes our desires betray our lack of love), but because Jesus desires to gather with us around the Table and eat with us.  He desires Table fellowship with us (Peter Scaer).  Even us.  Even knowing our secrets and our sins and our half-hearted devotion.  Jesus wants you at His TableEven you.  Jesus wants to feed you with His Body and Blood and forgive your sins.  Jesus enters into the place of your secret sins, enters into you, your heart, your body, your mind, your soul, and makes it a place of His forgiveness and love and life.  You eat Him and drink Him, and He is in you, and you are in Him.
            So we gather, as He bids us, around the altar, our hearts laid open in Confession, our sins forgiven in Absolution applied personally to you by Jesus Himself this very night.  And the Feast commences, our Lord both Host and Food.  We do this in remembrance of Him.  It is not simply that we call Him to mind.  The Passover Seder was all about remembering the sacred history, how the angel of death slew the firstborn of all in Egypt but passed over the doors of the Israelites marked with the blood of the Lamb.  By participating in the Passover meal, eating the Passover lamb with the unleavened bread and bitter herbs and drinking the cups of wine, the Israelites of later generations participated in the saving events of the exodus.  And so it is with us on an even greater level.  We receive the Lord’s Supper as the fulfillment of the Passover, in remembrance of Jesus and His death and resurrection for us.  Which is to say, we eat Jesus, our Passover Lamb, under the bread.  His Blood marks the doorposts and lintels of our hearts as we drink it under the wine.  And the angel of death passes over.  We are not condemned.  We are forgiven and set free.  Free from our slavery to sin.  Free from the bondage of the devil.  Free from the sentence of death and hell.  And every time we come to the Lord’s Supper, it is a sermon to all present.  Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again.  And He comes now in His Supper.  “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Cor. 11:26). 
            Jesus remembers you as He proclaims you righteous and feeds you.  You remember Jesus and proclaim Him as you eat His Body and drink His Blood.  What is yours becomes His: Your sins, your death, your condemnation.  What is His becomes yours: His righteousness, His life, His glory.  He suffers your punishment and wins for you the victory of life.  “It’s hard to express the beauty of this wonder.  An artist once tried to capture it on a painting that would be used on an altar.  Around 1500, in Alsace, there was a monastery church of the Order of St. Anthony.  There Matthias Grunewald created what is now known as the Isenheim Altarpiece.”  This is worth Googling sometime so you can see it.  “It is a carved shrine, with two painted wings that open over a closed painting, like doors on a cabinet.  There are two views for which this altarpiece is remembered: one stands on the outside, when the wings are closed; the other stands on the inside, when the wings are opened.  When the wings are closed, the altarpiece shows the crucifixion.  This view could be described as gruesome.  Christ is hanging on the cross, His body discolored by a greenish hue.  His wounds are torn flesh covering an emaciated body.  When the wings are opened, however, there is a radically different view.  Here, the painting is of the resurrection.  Christ bursts forth from the tomb in an explosion of color.  His hands are raised in blessing.  Behind Him, in orange and startling yellow, a sun rises
against a brilliant blue sky.  His body is wrapped in swirls of clothing: yellow, white, red, and blue garments.  But most amazingly, the artist has placed rubies in His hands and His feet and His side.  The wounds of Jesus have been transformed by the artist.  They are precious jewels that shine with the brilliance of the resurrection.  In that simple act, this artist has captured the wonder of this night.  Christ’s body will bear scars.  These scars come from a punishment we will never know.  But after His resurrection, these scars will stay with Him.  Only they are jewels, for they tell the world of a perfect love” (Places of the Passion).  And they are given to you as a gift in bread and wine.
            Tonight the Savior invites you to His Table with wounded hands.  These wounds, these scars, are the marks of a God who truly knows you, knows your suffering, knows your sin, and knows intimately the punishment and death you deserve, because He suffered it.  But remember, these are the scars of a Savior who is risen from the dead.  He carries them still, as a testimony.  Yes, He knows.  He knows your deepest, darkest secrets.  And it is for this reason He was wounded.  Now He hides you in His wounds.  Now He knows you, not just as sinner, but as forgiven and beloved.  He knows you as redeemed.  He knows you as His own.  And He gathers you to His Table.  Rejoice.  Come, and eat.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.                                        

[1] Based on the Maundy Thursday sermon from Places of the Passion (St. Louis: Concordia, 2015).