Cruce Tectum

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

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Location: Dorr, Michigan

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Fourth Sunday of Easter (B)

April 26, 2015
Text: John 10:11-18

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            Does God actually care about the nitty-gritty details of my life?  Or, in the grand scheme of things, am I so insignificant that God cannot be bothered in the midst of all His running of the universe to help me find my keys, give me the strength to endure another day at my lackluster job, and relieve the pain in my joints?  Should I even pray about these things?  What about the things I consider to be larger concerns?  Cancer?  A struggling marriage?  Rebellious children?  Are these things worth my bothering God?  The devil would like you to believe that God doesn’t care about any of that.  The world can’t even agree if there is a god somewhere out there, much less if he or she or it cares about you.  And your flesh?  You have an extraordinary handicap when it comes to faith.  Apart from the Holy Spirit, you are incapable of believing in Christ.  You can’t even make a beginning.  What do we confess in the Catechism?  I believe that I cannot believe… “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.”  It is a miracle of the Spirit that I even believe in Christ.  So it must be just as miraculous if I am to believe the God who became a Man, Jesus Christ, cares for my daily struggles and heartaches, my joys and sorrows, or that He even takes notice. 
            Here is what the Gospel says, the Gospel by which the Holy Spirit calls you to believe: “I am the good shepherd,” says Jesus.  “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14-15; ESV).  He knows you by name!  What does that say about His care for you?  Every individual sheep in His fold is of immediate concern to Him.  This is why Jesus chooses the shepherd/sheep imagery to describe His relationship to His Church and to each of His sheep individually.  A good shepherd always knows each one of his sheep intimately.  He knows their characteristics and their eccentricities.  He knows when his sheep are sick or injured.  And he knows the dangers that face his sheep.  Hired hands, shepherding assistants who are only doing a job, don’t consider the nitty-gritty details of the sheep and flock to be all that important.  They don’t love the sheep, like the shepherd does.  In fact, when danger comes upon the flock, the hired hand flees.  Better to lose your job than your life.  But for the shepherd, shepherding is his life.  The sheep are his life.  A threat to his sheep is a threat to him.  He loves his sheep.  He cares for his sheep.  He doesn’t just have a general knowledge of their needs or a general care for their welfare.  He knows them, each one.  He cares for them, each one.  When a sheep is lost, he goes and finds it.  When a sheep is injured, he binds its wounds.  When a predator is loose among the flock, a good shepherd will face even mortal danger to defend his sheep.  Remember King David when he was a boy out shepherding the flock, how he wrestled with lions and bears to save his sheep, preparing him for battle with Goliath and his work of shepherding the sheep of Israel.  “I am the good shepherd,” says Jesus.  First of all, note that He says “I AM.”  This is one of the “I AM” sayings in John.  Jesus is YHWH.  He is Almighty God, the God who runs the universe.  But then He immediately states what He is for us.  “I am the Good Shepherd, the One who knows His sheep by name, the One who cares intimately for His sheep, indeed, the One who lays down His life for the sheep.” 
            David’s Son follows in His father’s footsteps.  Jesus does mortal battle with the predators that threaten His sheep.  Not just lions and wolves and bears.  Not just robbers or even the stupidity of the sheep that we’ve talked about before: the sheep who don’t even know to run away when danger approaches, but lay down helpless; the sheep who soak up water into their wool as they drink and fall into the stream and drown; the sheep who will eat anything, even it it’s poison.  A shepherd has his job cut out for Him.  Much more so Jesus.  He defends us against giant predators like death, the devil and his demons, and the yawning jaws of hell.  He saves us from our own stupidity, our willing surrender to our enemies, our coming too close to the sins that drown us, our feeding on the poisonous weeds of hatred, lust, covetousness, selfishness.  He defends us against these, as He says, by laying down His life.  He defeats our enemies by submitting to them.  He is no hired hand.  He does not flee.  He confronts the danger head on.  Satan throws his worst at Him.  Hell claims Him for its own.  He embraces the death of the cross.  His feet trod the Calvary road.  He holds the spikes in the palms of His hands.  It all happens according to His will, according to His love for the sheep, for you.  He lays down His life.  He gives up the Ghost, the Holy One, who calls you by the Gospel. 
            And then He takes His life up again, just as He said He would. The enemies thought they won.  They gathered to feast on the sheep and little lambs of the Lord’s flock, now that Jesus had been safely neutralized.  There was one thing they didn’t count on.  When death swallowed the Lord, Jesus punched a hole right through the other side.  He walked through the valley of the shadow and came out of it alive.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  He won.  The enemies are defeated.  Satan is His captive.  Hell has no power over Him.  And it has no power over you.  And just as He came through death alive, so will you.  Because He will make it so.  The risen Christ will raise you from the dead.
            Jesus died, but Jesus lives, and He is still your Good Shepherd.  He gathers His sheep into the sheepfold of His Church, and here He tends them.  He gathers other lost lambs into His fold.  That is what He means by the “other sheep” He must bring, so that they listen to His voice (v. 16).  He means the Gentiles.  The Church is for Jews and Gentiles.  The Church is for all nations.  He makes of them, of us, one flock, and He is our one Shepherd.  And here in the Church He does for us all the wonderful things He describes in the 23rd Psalm.  He provides for your every need of body and soul, so that you are never in want.  He makes you lie down in the green pastures of His holy Word.  He leads you beside the quiet baptismal waters and restores your soul.  He leads you in the paths of righteousness: His righteousness given to you as a gift, your justification; for His Name’s sake, because He placed His Name on you in Baptism.  And you need not fear death, for you know that He is with you and will lead you through the valley of the shadow to Himself in heaven, and He will raise you on the Last Day.  He comforts you with His rod and staff: His Word, His cross, His pastors sent to distribute these things to you in His Name.  He prepares a Table before you, even here in the presence of your enemies, the Table of His true Body and Blood.  He anoints you with His Spirit.  Your cup overflows with the good things your Good Shepherd bestows upon you.  And, of course, the promise is that He will do this forever.  He will forever pour out upon you His goodness and mercy.  Because this fold, this flock, this Holy Christian Church, is your home.  This is where you gather with your brother and sister sheep, under the loving eye of your Good Shepherd, in the Kingdom of your Father who art in heaven.

            And since that is the case, don’t you think it’s true that your Good Shepherd cares for all the other things that concern you: Your health, your marriage, your kids?  Your family, your job, and even those elusive car keys?  “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).  Don’t you know that “even the hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matt. 10:30)?  The Lord cares.  Your Good Shepherd loves you.  He wants you to pour out these things to Him in prayer.  He hears.  He will answer.  He will deliver you.  In His way, of course, in His time, according to His wisdom and will.  But even the suffering He gives you to endure is for your good.  Fear not.  Jesus never abandons His sheep.  He died for you.  He lives for you.  He tends you.  Jesus cares for you.  This is the charge He received from the Father (John 10:18), to be the Good Shepherd of His sheep.  He is faithful.  He will do it.  He does it all for you.  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 19, 2015

Third Sunday of Easter

Third Sunday of Easter (B)

April 19, 2015
Text: Luke 24:36-49

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            This morning we get St. Luke’s account of our Lord’s Easter evening appearance to the disciples.  It is probably the same event we witnessed from St. John’s perspective last week (John 20:19-23).  Jesus appears in the midst of His disciples and greets them with the all-important Absolution: “Peace to you!” (Luke 24:36; ESV).  “Shalom” is how we would say it in Hebrew.  Peace, health, wellness, safety, fullness, fulfillment, completion, tranquility, rest; these are all included in the meaning of that word, “shalom.”  And this is what Jesus delivers when He forgives your sins.  You are at peace with God, and so you can have peace in your heart and mind and soul, and peace with one another.  You are ultimately well, safe, fulfilled, complete, and at rest in the salvation of the Lord.  This is, as we noted last week, precisely what is needed by disciples who are locked away in fear; who have just endured the crucifixion of their Teacher and Lord, and worse, now have heard from women and angels and several of their own number that Christ Jesus is risen from the dead.  That’s a pretty unsettling notion when you get right down to it.  Just think about your dearly departed loved one suddenly walking through the door, or like Jesus, appearing out of nowhere.  You’d be overjoyed, for sure, but also scared to death.  The disciples are startled and frightened.  They think He is a ghost (v. 37).  They think He is out to get them!  And that is why what He does next is so important for the disciples in that room, and for you in this one.
            He shows them His wounds.  “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?  See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.  Touch me, and see.  For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (vv. 38-39).  This is no spiritual coming back from the dead.  This is a real Body, a real Body with real wounds, wounds that killed Him, but behold, He lives.  This is the Crucified.  This is the real Lord Jesus standing before their very eyes, speaking to them, bidding them touch Him, showing them His hands and His feet.  “Go ahead, poke around.  They’re real.  I’m real.”  It’s all real.  A real death for the real sins of real sinners.  A real resurrection of the real Lord Jesus for real life forever with God.  Just to prove it, He asks for something to eat.  Ghosts don’t eat.  They give Him a piece of broiled fish, and He takes it and eats it before them.  He takes and eats real food, even as He turns the tables on you, giving you the real food of His true Body and Blood, that you might really live and not die.
            It is profoundly important that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is a real, bodily resurrection.  Otherwise this is all for naught.  We are still in our sins and doomed to die.  If Jesus is not bodily risen from the dead, He’s a worthless Savior.  After all, you are a real sinner with real sins that need real forgiveness.  You have real problems in a world that is really fallen and a flesh that is just as real and just as fallen.  Abstract higher powers, spiritual sentiments, and good moral teachings don’t really help you.  Imagine you’re in a horrendous car accident and the first responders try to comfort you by telling you, “Don’t worry, I’m sure there’s someone or something out there watching out for you who will rescue you.  We’re all sending good thoughts your way for your help and healing.  And as far as those life threatening injuries, we’d just like to remind you that you should really heal up and be whole, because that’s just the right thing to do.”  None of those things make any sense in this context, do they?  You need real help, tangible help, physical rescue.  But that’s the abstract higher power-ism, spiritual sentimental-ism, moralism that passes for Christianity here in America.  You’ve probably bought some of their books and thought they were great because they touched your heart.  Repent.  Because you need real, tangible help from a real Savior who can rescue you from your mortal peril of body and soul in death and hell.  Jesus comes to you with His wounds, in a real Body, to rescue you from all the real things that hurt you.  Nothing theoretical, abstract, or meaningless about your Savior.  He’s God, to be sure, but He’s God who is a man!  For us men and for our salvation.  He is the Word that became flesh and made His dwelling among us (John 1:14).  He gets His real hands really dirty with your real sin and death.  Indeed, He saves your soul.  But He also saves your body.  And when He raises you from the dead, He’ll raise you body and soul. 
            He is a Body and Blood, wounded but living, tangibly present, taking and eating kind of Savior.  That is the Jesus who fulfills all that is written of Him in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms (in other words, the whole Old Testament).  That is the Jesus who opens up your mind to understand the Scriptures, that all these things are real, that they had to take place, that the Christ had to really suffer and really rise from the dead on the Third Day.  That is the content of all Christian preaching: The real, bodily death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, “that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:47).  That is the “For you” of Christian preaching.  Repentance and forgiveness of sins.  Repent of your sins, your fear, your doubt, your denial of Christ, your living in opposition to His holy will given for your good in the Ten Commandments.  Repent of your “spiritualizing” the real things of Jesus.  And know that Christ’s blood and death wipes all that away.  Your sins are forgiven.  And He is risen from the dead.  You will not die.  You will not be abandoned to the devil and hell.  Christ’s life is your life.  You are baptized into Christ.  That is your new reality.  Jesus sends the Promise of His Father upon you, namely, the Holy Spirit, the Power from on high with which you are clothed in Holy Baptism.  By this Spirit He opens your mind to understand the Scriptures, and He calls you to take and eat, real food for your body and your soul, His true Body and Blood, for the forgiveness of all your sins. 
            Your salvation is no theoretical hypothesis, sentimental hope, or pious wish.  It is as real as the risen Body of the Lord.  When you are alone with the Lord, there are two human bodies present in the room, yours and His.  When you speak to Him in prayer, you are speaking to a Man.  He is a Man with a Body, and so He can actually help.  He is a Man who can actually save.  When we confess that we receive the true Body and Blood of Jesus in the Sacrament, we mean just what we say, because that is what Jesus says.  This is My Body.  This is My Blood.  If it isn’t really that, He’s lying.  But Jesus does not lie.  It is what He says, and it is for you, for the forgiveness of sins, and it is real.  Jesus shows His disciples the wounds.  Jesus puts His wounded, risen Body in your mouth and says, “Take and eat.”  It’s all true.  It’s all real.  Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your heart?

            Christ is risen from the dead.  It is His true Body by which He deals with you.  And here is why it matters.  Here is why you need not fear or doubt.  He will raise you in the same way.  Your resurrection on the Last Day will be as real as His.  Real body.  Real heaven and real earth, the true Promised Land (really, Land!).  And by the way, real food.  You won’t need to eat in the resurrection, but you will eat.  And unlike our experience in this fallen world, where the best food is the worst for you, and too much of a good thing can kill you, the food of the resurrection will be choice meat and vintage wine (Is. 25:6), milk and honey (Song of Sol. 5:1), the fruit of the tree of life for the healing of the nations (Rev. 22:2).  It will all be good for you.  You will eat and be satisfied.  Real food for your real body.  How do I know?  Jesus took the fish and ate it before them.  And the Table set before us this morning is but a foretaste of the Royal Wedding Feast to come, the Marriage Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom, which has no end.  It is the Feast of Shalom: peace, health, wellness, safety, fullness, fulfillment, completion, tranquility, rest.  “Peace to you,” Jesus says.  Shalom.  He is really in your midst to announce a real peace.  And He bids you come to the Table for the real Food He sets before you.  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 12, 2015

Second Sunday of Easter

Second Sunday of Easter (B)

April 12, 2015
Text: John 20:19-31

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            “I just want a little peace.”  You’ve said it more than once.  You think it all the time.  Peace and quiet.  Peace of mind and heart.  Peace in your marriage and your family.  Peace for a nation divided.  Peace in a scary world full of violence.  Why is there so much turmoil on every front, on every level of your life?  Why is peace so hard to find?  The lack of peace, which varies in intensity from this time to that, from situation to situation, is actually a symptom of an even greater need.  What you really need is peace of conscience, which is to say, what you really need is peace with God.  The conscience is a vestige of God’s image in man.  Your conscience is the Law of God written on your heart (Rom. 2:15).  Those feelings of guilt, the emotional burdens you carry, your anxiety caused by the lack of peace all around you, these are actually the accusations of the Law that you have broken.  You know you are a sinner.  You know your sin separates you from God.  You know that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23).  And you know that the death of a sinner ends in hell.  Now, you don’t consciously think through these things most of the time.  In fact, if you can help it, you avoid thinking about these things at all.  But that doesn’t change the truth.  What you need first and foremost, what you need above all else, is peace with God.  And that is the peace Jesus announces to you in the Holy Gospel this morning: “Peace be with you” (John 20:19; ESV). 
            The disciples need the Lord’s peace on the evening of that first Easter.  The doors are locked where the disciples are for fear: Fear of the Jews, fear of the Romans, fear that Jesus is dead, fear that they have wasted the last three years of their life, fear that the women and some of their own number have seen angels and maybe even the risen Lord, fear that their doubts and their abandonment of the Lord in His hour of need can never be forgiven.  In the midst of this fear, the risen Lord Jesus stands among them.  You see, it is not that He has to come in from the outside, somehow gain entry through the locked door, or sneak in through the window.  What the disciples do not realize is that He has been with them, in their midst, the whole time.  Ever since His resurrection from the dead, our Lord Jesus always and fully uses His divine powers.  He is everywhere, in His risen and glorified Body, as God and Man.  He is with you now, and with you always.  And He is with His disciples in the locked-up room, with them in the midst of their fear.  Only now, suddenly, He is with them visibly and tangibly.  And He speaks audibly.  His Words are extraordinarily important.  “Peace be with you.”  It is a Holy Absolution.  It is as if He is saying, “For all your fears, all your doubts, all your failure to listen to Me and learn My teaching, all your locking yourself away and hiding, indeed, for abandoning Me in My hour of suffering… Peace.  Your sins are forgiven.  You have peace with Me.  You have peace with God.  Let your heart now be at peace.  Let My peace take possession of you whole.  For mine is the hard-won peace of the cross, the peace of the empty tomb and resurrection from the dead.  And this, My peace, I now give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
            Then Jesus does a very important thing for you, there in that room behind the locked doors.  He ordains the Apostles to speak His peace on His behalf through the whole world.  And that speaking is to create the very reality it announces.  Jesus institutes the Holy Ministry for the preaching of the Gospel, for the proclamation of peace.  “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you,” He says to His Apostles (v. 21), and the very word “apostle” means one who is sent as an official representative with all the authority of the one who sent him in the matter for which he is sent.  So when an Apostle speaks peace, Jesus speaks peace.  And so also those who stand in the apostolic Office of the Ministry.  When a pastor speaks peace, Jesus speaks peace.  This is especially important for what Jesus does and says next: Jesus “breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld’” (vv. 22-23).  Our Lord gives pastors to His Church to forgive sins in Jesus’ Name.  When the pastor forgives your sins in the stead and by the command of Jesus, you can believe it.  For it is valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.  For He has, and He does.  The Absolution is His.  And this Absolution gives peace: Objective peace with God, for God has nothing against you anymore; subjective peace in your heart, for you know you have a gracious heavenly Father who loves you and wants you for His own.  And He will work all things for your good, and for your salvation.
            The apostles are ordained to speak the peace of the crucified and risen Christ to the world.  But Thomas was not with them.  Thomas does not believe their preaching.  And so Thomas has no peace.  Only doubt.  You know the story.  “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (v. 25).  Seeing is believing, we always say, and Thomas would agree.  But that is not how it works in Jesus’ Kingdom.  In Jesus’ Kingdom, hearing is believing.  You do not come to faith in the risen Jesus by seeing Him.  That is why, even though He is just as substantially with you in this room this morning as He was with the disciples in the locked room so long ago, He is hidden.  He does not appear to the naked eye.  He appears to you in His Word.  You see Him with your ears.  He appears in the preaching that He has been crucified for your sins, and that He is risen from the dead.  He appears in the announcement that all your sins are forgiven in the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  He appears in His proclamation that the water in the font is a sin-cleansing bath that gives you new birth and new life, that the bread and wine on the altar are His own Body and Blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  By that Word, He breathes on you, and you receive the Holy Spirit.  You hear Him, and hearing is believing.  Thomas resists that.  He does not believe the preaching.  Could it be that Thomas’ doubt is the fruit of fear?  So Jesus does for Thomas what He had done for the other Ten one week before.  The substantially present, though hidden, Lord Jesus stands visibly in their midst.  He comes right into the midst of the fear and doubt, to dispel it.  There is only one medicine for this deadly disease.  Absolution: The peace of Jesus Christ.  “Peace be with you,” He says (v. 26), and then He shows Thomas His hands and His side, for the peace of the risen Lord Jesus flows from the mortal wounds He received for our sins.  Thomas falls on his knees and confesses: “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28).  Finally, Thomas believes the preaching.  And now Thomas is ordained to preach that peace to the world.

            And oh, how the world needs that peace!  Oh, how you need that peace!  You need the peace that flows form Jesus’ wounds.  Your sins were nailed to the cross in the Body of Jesus.  They are all forgiven.  Christ Jesus is risen from the dead.  You have peace with God.  Your conscience can be at rest.  You need no longer fear.  None of the problems that plague your life, your family, the nation, the world, can ultimately harm you.  For, as St. Paul writes, “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate [you] from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).  Your peace comes from the wounds, from the crucified and risen Body and Blood of the Lord.  And so, as you come to the Lord’s altar to eat and drink at His Supper, Jesus says to you what He said to the apostles in our text: “The peace of the Lord be with you always.”  Then, after your hunger and thirst have been satisfied, He bids you “Depart + in peace.”  You can and you do, for you have been bodied and blooded with the Body and Blood of Jesus.  You do not see Him with the naked eye, as did the Apostles and Thomas.  Still, He appears to you, right in your midst, hidden in the Supper.  You know this by His Word.  You see Him with your ears.  And hearing is believing.  The world cannot give you peace, but Jesus does.  Let not your heart be troubled.  The risen Lord Jesus stands in your midst this morning to calm your fears and forgive your sins.  Peace, beloved, peace.  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 05, 2015

The Resurrection of Our Lord

The Resurrection of Our Lord: Easter Sunrise

April 5, 2015
Text: John 20:1-18

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!

            Mary weeps.  Outside the tomb, stooping to look inside, knowing the Lord Jesus is not there, she can no longer control her grief.  So great is her sadness, it does not even startle her that two angels in white are sitting where the Body of Jesus had lain, one at the head, and one at the feet.  Angels rarely go unnoticed when they appear visibly to humans.  The angels ask a question, but it is not as though they don’t know the answer.  They are calling Mary to reflection.  “Woman, why are you weeping?” (John 20:13; ESV).  Why?  “Because my Lord, my Hope, my Joy has died.  He is gone forever.  And now they have taken away His Body, whoever they are.”  Mary’s sadness blinds her.  Her ears are stopped.  Her mind is clouded.  She does not remember the Scriptures or the teaching of Jesus, “that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise” (Luke 24:7).  She cannot see the evidence all around her that the Lord’s Words are true: The empty tomb, the neatly folded grave cloths (grave robbers would never take the time to neatly fold the laundry!), the angels clothed in white!
            Of course, in one respect, her reaction is quite beautiful.  Behold her love and devotion to the Savior.  See how His absence grieves her.  She hangs her whole life on Christ.  Every hope, every dream, every desire, her very existence depends on Him.  And in this she serves as a model for us.  We do well to imitate her love and devotion.  But the fact remains that she is looking for a dead Savior.  And that is why she weeps.  There is a point behind the angels’ question.  Think Mary; think, O Christian: If this grave is empty, why do you weep?
            We weep when graves are full.  We aren’t used to them being empty.  Resurrection is foreign to our experience in this vale of tears.  And so we, like Mary, act as though Christ is not risen, as though His Words promising this very thing could not possibly be true, as though death could rob us of all hope, joy, and salvation.  We act as though the devil won, as though sin and death have not been defeated, as though Jesus Christ does not live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  And we act as though He will not come again to raise us, in our bodies, from the grave, to be with Him forever.  Repent.  Wipe away your tears of sorrow.  Let them be now tears of joy.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  The grave could not hold Him in.  His death has been accepted by the Father as payment for your sin.  You are forgiven.  You have eternal life.  All is not lost.  Not at all.  All is yours, for you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.  Christ is risen.  Jesus lives.
            Mary does not recognize Him at first.  For one thing, He is the last person she expects to see alive.  For another, His Body has been glorified.  He has shed every appearance of lowliness and humiliation, except for the scars that are the trophies of His victory.  He asks her the same searching question as the angels: “Woman, why are you weeping?  Whom are you seeking?” (John 20:15).  Mary thinks He is the gardener.  Maybe He moved the Body.  Still, she does not recognize Him.  Until He speaks her name.  “Mary” (v. 16).  Jesus had said, “I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me” (10:14).  “(H)e calls his own sheep by name… and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (vv. 3-4).  “Mary,” Jesus says, and now she knows Him.  She knows His voice.  She knows Him in His Word.  Her eyes and ears and mind are now open.  So it’s all true!  The Lord is risen, just as He said!  She clings to Him for all she is worth.  But for now she must let go.  Our risen Lord will ascend to our Father in heaven.  He will no longer be with us visibly, as He was in His earthly ministry.  But with us He shall be.  In His Name.  In His Word.  In His Body and Blood.  And now Mary has a job to do.  “Go to my brothers,” Jesus says (10:17).  He calls them brothers, all those who had deserted Him, all those who did not believe.  It is a Holy Absolution.  There are no grudges with Jesus.  All is forgiven, erased by the Blood of Christ.  Go to them, Mary, and tell them all that you have heard and seen.  That is the calling of every Christian.  “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’—and that he had said these things to her” (v. 18). 

            Mary’s story is your own.  Why do you weep, beloved?  Why your great sorrow?  Do you not know that Christ Jesus is risen from the dead?  Do you not know that that sets right all that is wrong in the world and in your life?  Hell is vanquished.  The serpent’s head is crushed.  Sin is ended.  Death is swallowed up by life.  All that is left is to wait out the “little while” between our Lord’s ascension and His coming again.  Then all the leftover symptoms of the fall; sickness and disease, injury and sadness, brokenness and tribulation, all of that will be done forever.  And God will wipe every tear from your eyes.  Jesus calls you by name in Holy Baptism.  You know His voice.  You recognize Him in His Word.  And so you follow Him to eternal life and joy.  It is not by accident that Mary mistakes Jesus for the gardener.  He is re-planting Eden.  Paradise is restored.  All that is wrong is made right again.  Jesus makes all things new.  He makes you new, too.  Rejoice.  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.         

Friday, April 03, 2015

Good Friday Tre Ore

Good Friday Tre Ore

Our Savior Lutheran Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan
April 3, 2015

Text: Luke 23:32-38 (ESV): “Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!’ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’”

            The work of a priest is to represent the congregation before God in sacrifice and prayer.  The High Priest in particular was to come before God with sacrifices of atonement.  On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the High Priest alone would enter the Holy of Holies, always with the blood of the sacrifice, which He offered for his own sins and those of the people (Heb. 9:7).  The High Priest would sprinkle the blood on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant.  Thus the blood would come between the people and the Commandments contained in the Ark, the Commandments the people had broken.  The blood was vital.  For “under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22).  The priest represents the people, confessing their sins, making the sacrifice of atonement, pleading the blood of the sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. 
            Jesus is our great High Priest.  He comes before God as our representative, making the once-for-all, perfect, sin-atoning sacrifice of His Body on the cross.  His is the Sacrifice to which all the other sacrifices pointed.  They were but a shadow of the things to come in Christ, the Savior.  He comes before His Father with His own precious blood.  Of course, He has no sin His own for which to offer sacrifice.  He is unlike other high priests in this regard.  He is the sinless Son of God.  But He offers the sacrifice for us.  And on the basis of this sacrifice, Jesus prays for us.  Jesus prays for you.  In His Office as High Priest, Jesus prays: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
            The prayer is not just for the soldiers as they pierce His sacred flesh, though it is for them, too.  The prayer is not just for Pilate, who condemned Him, or the Jews, who handed Him over, or Judas, who betrayed Him.  Nor is it only for the disciples who deserted Him in His hour of need.  It is for all of the above, and for all sinners of all times, all who by their sins crucified the Lord of glory.  And this is a great comfort.  Jesus prays this prayer for you.  He is your priest.  All of this that He suffers, He suffers for you, to make atonement for your sins.  And so, when He prays “Father, forgive them,” He is praying that the Father forgive you and restore you to Himself, that He be your Father and you be His dear children.
            As our Lord is lifted up on the cross over the place called “The Skull” (v. 33), Golgotha in Aramaic, Calvary in Latin, crucified between two criminals, one on His right, and one of His left, Jesus prays for you.  And it is a picture of what the crucified and risen Christ always prays for you now that He sits at the right hand of the Father, making intercession for you.  He prays, “Father, forgive them.”  He prays by the Blood of His sacrifice.  He is crowned with thorns for all your sins of the mind: your bitterness and resentment, your hatred and malice, your worry and anxiety.  His hands receive the spikes for the guilt of yours, taking what does not belong to you, striking your brother in anger, touching what is forbidden you, clinging to all that is worthless and transient.  His feet are fastened to the wood for all the times your feet have carried you where you should not go, carried you away from your home, from your spouse, from your family… carried you away from Christ and His Church.  He thirsts to atone for every lie, boast, bitter word, or juicy piece of gossip that has passed through your lips.  His eyes are blurred by sweat and blood for your every lustful glance, every hurtful stare, every salacious website or movie or book.  His ears are polluted with the mockery and jeering of the religious leaders and bystanders for every time you’ve leant your ear to the lies of the old slippery serpent, the unbelieving world, and your own sinful nature.  His side is pierced, He is speared through the heart, for every evil thought that proceeds from your own: “murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19).  In body and soul, He suffers the hell that you deserve in body and soul as a born enemy of God, a son of Adam, a daughter of Eve.  He suffers your sentence.  He dies your death.  That His death be yours, and that your sins be forgiven.  He is your substitute.  He is your representative before the Father.  He is your High Priest.  He makes the sacrifice.  He prays the prayer.  “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” 
            And the Father says “Yes” to Jesus’ prayer.  He hears and He answers.  How could He do otherwise for His beloved Son, with whom He is well-pleased?  He accepts the sacrifice.  There is forgiveness in the Blood.  There is life in the Blood.  Easter is coming.  Christ Jesus is risen from the dead.  The Father forgives you for Jesus’ sake.
            And now everything is new.  Jesus, your High Priest, has ordained you a priest for your neighbor.  Now you represent your neighbor before God in sacrifice and prayer.  You love your neighbor.  You sacrifice for your neighbor.  You shed your blood, if necessary, for your neighbor.  And you pray for your neighbor.  To be sure, you make intercession for your neighbor’s needs of body and soul.  But chiefly you pray this prayer: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  You pray this prayer for your neighbor’s sins against God.  You pray this prayer for your neighbor’s sins against you.  Because the Father has forgiven you for Jesus’ sake.  You actually say it this way: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  That is a priestly petition, and it flows from the cross of our High Priest, our Lord Jesus Christ. 

            Jesus is our High Priest.  The sacrifice has been made, the Commandments covered in the Blood of the Atonement.  The Holy of Holies is open to you.  Jesus prays for you.  And you have peace with God and eternal life.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.