Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

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).

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Palm Sunday/ Sunday of the Passion

Palm Sunday/ Sunday of the Passion (C)

March 20, 2016
Text: John 12:12-19; Luke 22:1-23:56

            Hosanna is a Hebrew word that means “Save us!”  We use it as an exclamation of praise, and it is certainly that and was used that way in the Scriptures.  But it is first of all a prayer, and it is a prayer for our most basic need.  Salvation.  The word is directly related to the name “Joshua,” our Lord’s Hebrew Name, Yeshua, “YHWH saves.”  Hosanna, we pray.  And when any Christian prays that prayer, God in heaven hears and answers.  He answers with Jesus.  He sends His Son.  God comes down.  In the flesh.  He comes to save.  “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:13; ESV).  So the people cried, praying Psalm 118, as the Lord Jesus entered Jerusalem on a colt, fulfilling the Scripture recorded by the Prophet Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech. 9:9).  “Hosanna,” the people cry, “save us!”  God responds by sending His salvation in the person of Jesus, whose Name means “The LORD saves.”  Hosanna.  Yeshua.  Prayer and response.  Jesus is always God’s answer to our prayer.
            Hosanna.  Save us.  This is what King Solomon prayed for at the dedication of the Temple.[1]  Solomon prayed that God would always hear the prayers of those who pray toward the place of which God promises, “My name shall be there” (1 Kings 8:29).  In the Old Testament this was the Temple in Jerusalem, the dwelling place of the Ark of the Covenant with its mercy seat (the throne of God!), and the place of Sacrifice.  These things pointed forward to Jesus, the One who “comes in the name of the Lord,” who is Himself the mercy seat and the sacrifice.  Solomon prayed that God would hear all who pray toward the Temple in their many and various afflictions, and that for the sake of His Name He would rescue, release, forgive, save.  That is, after all, the pattern of our God.  He heard the cries of His people in Egyptian bondage.  He sent Moses to speak in His Name, and He Himself led the people out of their slavery, through the Red Sea and the wilderness and into the Promised Land.  He led them with His own presence in the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night.  He dwelt with His people.  His glory descended on the Tabernacle.  He met with Moses face to face.  Make no mistake.  This is Jesus.  The LORD heard the prayers of His people, Hosanna, save us.  His answer is Jesus. 
            You wouldn’t know this from the English translation, but again and again in the Psalms and throughout the Hebrew Scriptures God’s people pray some form of the word from which we get “Hosanna.”  It is translated “save.”  Save me.  Save us.  Save the king.  Simply: Save.  In other words, again and again the people of God pray the Name “Jesus.”  Isn’t that amazing?  And God answers, finally, and decisively, by sending Jesus.  Hosanna.  Save us.  Jesus.  The LORD saves. 
            So it is no accident that the people cry “Hosanna,” as our Lord rides into Jerusalem to accomplish His saving work.  In addressing that word, that prayer, to Him, they are confessing Him to be the Messiah!  They are confessing Him to be God’s answer to their prayers.  Now, to be sure, they may not understand just what it entails that Jesus is the answer to their Hosannas.  We know that many were expecting Messiah to claim the Kingship of Israel in such a way as to deliver the nation from the tyranny of the Romans.  Others wanted healing miracles and bread in abundance.  And lest we forget, this crowd has assembled because Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead.  We all want a King who can do that.  But Jesus is not a politician, and even though He can actually deliver on His promises, and does that very thing, His Kingdom is not of this world.  The great mystery of it all is this: God’s answer to our Palm Sunday prayer is the Passion of our Lord.  God’s answer to our Hosanna is God dead on the cross.  That is the relationship between what we did at the beginning of the service with our palms and procession of joyful singing, and what we did shortly after as we solemnly heard the account of our Lord’s suffering and death for us in its entirety from the Gospel according to St. Luke.  Hosanna, we pray.  Save us.  The Lord does it, by suffering and bleeding and dying.  This is not what anyone expected.  But it is how the Lord accomplishes our salvation.  Jesus reigns from the cross.  Jesus saves us on the cross.  Our prayer is answered on the cross.  This is what Holy Week is all about.
            And what of us now?  The cross was nearly 2000 years ago, and still we have reason to cry, “Hosanna!  Save us!”  There are the sins that beset us, the relationships we have broken, the loneliness, the shame, the despair that can set in deep down in our souls.  There is cancer.  There is war.  There are out of control presidential elections, which are always “the most important election of our lifetime.”  There is deep anxiety because we know that things are not right.  We need saving.  And if the cross is God’s answer, we need help if we are to see how.  A distant God who died for you two millennia ago, but has no contact with you now, is not a real Savior.  But that is not our God.  Remember that God answers our Hosanna by coming.  He comes down.  Jesus comes.  That is how He delivers the salvation of the cross.  He comes to you, in the flesh, just as surely as He came into the womb of the Virgin Mary, just as surely as His hands and feet were nailed to the tree and His sacred, kingly head crowned with thorns.  He comes to you in water and words and bread and wine, delivering the gifts of His salvation.  It is His voice you hear, forgiving your sins.  It is His Blood with which you are washed in the font.  It is His Body you eat and His Blood you drink, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  This is the medicine that heals you, body and soul.  His flesh is the bread of life in abundance.  He is the King who redeems you from the tyranny of sin, of death, and of the devil.  He is risen from the dead, and He will call you out of the grave on the Last Day, just as He called Lazarus.  And you will never die again.  He promises.  And He delivers.  Hosanna is a prayer for all occasions.  We always need His saving.  And He always saves.  “Hosanna,” we pray.  “Jesus,” God answers. 
            It is right, then, that the prayer, “Hosanna, save us,” has also become an exclamation of praise.  For His saving us is an accomplished fact in Christ crucified and risen from the dead.  You will see it when He comes again in glory.  Oh, how we long for that Day.  Come, Lord Jesus.  Hosanna.  Come, and save us.  He will.  He is coming soon.  In the meantime, He does not leave us on our own.  We sing the song of the Palm Sunday crowd every time we come to the altar.  We sing the Sanctus: “Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest… blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord” (LSB 195).  We pray “Hosanna,” and what does He do?  He comes down and feeds us with His Body and Blood.  He forgives our sins.  He saves us.  “Hosanna,” we pray.  God’s answer is Jesus.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.           

[1] He does not use the word “Hosanna,” but here he connects God’s salvation and His Name.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Fifth Sunday in Lent (C)

March 13, 2016
Text: Luke 20:9-20

            What wondrous love is this, O my soul?  What wondrous, reckless, extravagant love is this?  The owner of the vineyard sends his slave to collect the fruit of the vine from the tenants.  And what do those tenants do?  They beat the slave.  They cast him out.  They reject him, and in rejecting him, they reject the owner who sent him.  They reject the owner’s ownership over the vineyard, and so deny his right to the fruit.  They send the slave away empty handed.  The vineyard is Israel.  The Owner is God, who sends His slaves, the prophets, to gather from Israel the fruits of faith in YHWH, fear, love, and trust in the one true God, and fervent love toward one another.  The tenants are the religious leaders of Israel, the unfaithful kings and priests, the false prophets, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the chief priests, and the Jews who reject the preaching of the prophets.  These tenants beat the prophets, stone them, kill them, and utterly reject the preaching.  And in rejecting the prophets and their preaching, they reject the God who sent them.  What will the owner of the vineyard do?  We know what we would do.  And we’re almost rooting for God to do it.  Kill those wicked tenants!  Obliterate them!  Rain down fire from heaven to consume them!  Let’s have another Sodom and Gomorrah! 
            But what wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!  The LORD sends more slaves.  He sends more prophets.  In spite of what happens to the first, He sends another, and the tenants also beat him and treat him shamefully, and send him away empty handed.  Surely the LORD’s patience has worn thin.  Surely this time He will judge these wretches and give them what they deserve.  But no!  He sends another!  And this one they wound and cast out!  Prophet after prophet, slave after slave.  Elijah is hunted by Jezebel.  Isaiah is sawn in two.  They drag Jeremiah forcibly to Egypt, precisely where he warned God’s people not to go.  And Zechariah, son of Barachiah, they kill between the altar and the Temple.  Still, the LORD sends His prophets, the last of whom is John, and we know what happens to him.  Off with his head, the price for preaching against the adultery of a king, and the reward for the lewd dance of Herodias’ daughter.  Now, surely, the LORD must act!  Surely His patience has an end!  It is time for justice!  It is time for vengeance!
            But what wondrous love is this!  What madness, O my soul!  “What shall I do?” says our Father who art in heaven.  I know what I will do.  “I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him” (Luke 20:13; ESV).  What wondrous love is this?  What insanity, to think that if they so treated the slaves, they will respect the Son!  Surely God knows what will happen.  Surely God knows they will reject Him, beat Him, cast Him out and kill Him!  Yes.  God knows it.  And this is the wondrous love of our God for Israel, for the wicked tenants, for you.  He sends the Son for that very purpose.  The tenants believe that in killing the Son, the inheritance will be theirs.  The great irony of it is, in killing the Son, the inheritance is ours.  “And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him” (v. 15).  And they led Him outside the city and crucified Him between two thieves. 
            What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!  St. Paul tells us what kind of love this is in his great love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13.  This love is patient.  This love is kind.  We see this in the sending of slave after slave.  We see this in the sending of the Son.  This love… It does not envy or boast.  It is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way, and it is not irritable or resentful.  It does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  This love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (vv. 4-7).  We read this chapter as if it somehow describes our love for one another.  We read it at weddings as a great love poem about the love of husband and wife.  But could this ever be a description of you?  Are you capable of this love?  Really?  Always patient and kind?  Never boastful or rude?  Never insisting on your own way?  Bearing and enduring all things?  My wife and I, we love each other deeply, and she’s a pretty wonderful lady.  But I hope it doesn’t scandalize you to know that we are sometimes impatient with one another, and rude.  And when we have a disagreement, it is because each of us is insisting on his or her own way.  And my children, I love them fiercely, and they love me.  But we daily, and multiple times each day, have this discussion about which one of us will get our way.  If you insist that isn’t true of you, I hate to call you out like this, but let me be frank: You’re a liar.  Repent.  1 Corinthians 13 is not describing you!  You could never love like that.  1 Corinthians 13 is describing Jesus and His love for you.  And what wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!  This love is agape, self-giving love, the love that sacrifices itself for the beloved, expecting nothing for itself in return, the love that loves even though the beloved is unlovable and hostile and kills the Lover in His love.  This is the love that swallows up your sin and your rejection of Jesus.  This is the love that suffers your punishment in your place, your death, your condemnation, your hell.  This is the love that, even as the nails are pounded into His flesh, prays: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).  He’s not just praying for the soldiers, or Pilate, or the Jews.  He is praying for you.  “What wondrous love is this That caused the Lord of bliss To bear the dreadful curse for my soul” (LSB 543:1)?  It is love so deep, so broad, so high, beyond all thought and fantasy (544:1).  It is love unknown, love that takes frail flesh to die for you (430:1).
            And note this very carefully.  There is nothing and no one who can separate you from this love but you.  It is only in the rejection of this Son who died for you and who is risen from the dead, that you be cast out of the vineyard and be destroyed.  To be sure, there is a Judgment.  And it is coming soon.  A foreshadowing of this Judgment has already taken place.  The Israel of the flesh has lost the vineyard.  Jerusalem was sacked and the Temple destroyed in AD 70.  The vineyard, the Church, has been given to others, to Gentiles and Jews who believe in Jesus and receive His death for their salvation.  And the reason is simply this: The LORD came to Israel, and Israel rejected her LORD.  He came to her in love, and she killed Him for it. 
            Still, the LORD sends His slaves.  He sent the Apostles.  He sends His pastors.  He sends them to tend the vineyard, to preach the Gospel and nourish it with the Sacraments and collect its fruits of faith and love.  Christ is the Vine.  You are the branches.  As you remain in Him and He in you (via the Word and Sacraments), you bear much fruit.  Apart from Him you can do nothing (John 15:5).  So He sends His slaves to keep you in Him, and to graft in more branches to the Vine by preaching.  It is all by grace.  It is all the wondrous, reckless, extravagant love of our God.  Now is the time of grace.  Now is the time of the Church.  The LORD sends slave after slave, preacher after preacher, and many are rejected, beaten, killed, and sent away empty handed.  You know that persecution is a very real thing throughout the world.  And it is always a danger, even here.  It could happen any time.  And what happens when the Gospel is rejected and the preachers are sent away empty?  The vineyard is given to others.  The Middle East was the heart and center of early Christianity.  Now look at it.  Germany was the birthplace of the Reformation.  The West and Christianity were, for a long time, synonymous terms.  Now the cathedrals of Europe sit empty.  And what of the United States?  It remains to be seen.  But as our churches decline, Christianity is exploding in Africa, where many pay with their blood to be baptized and hear the Gospel.  Still, the LORD sends His slaves to every continent (there is even a Catholic priest who lives on Antarctica and tends a Church for whoever happens to be there).  The LORD sends His Gospel to the ends of the earth.

            What wondrous love is this, O my soul!  Jesus is the embodiment of God’s love for you.  “Love to the loveless shown That they might lovely be” (LSB 430:1).  This love takes what is unlovable, sinners like you and me, and re-creates us into the object of His love.  By His blood and death.  By His suffering and cross.  That you and I may be His own and live under Him in His Kingdom, in His vineyard.  What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul?  It is Jesus on the cross, Jesus risen from the dead, Jesus in the font and in the pulpit and in your ear, Jesus on the altar with His true Body and Blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of sins, and placed on your tongue.  It is Jesus, the Love of God incarnate, who gives Himself for you.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.      

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Fourth Sunday in Lent (C)

March 6, 2016
Text: Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

            Two groups of people, two different kinds of hearers with two dramatically different reactions, serve as the original audience for this parable.  On the one hand, there are “the tax collectors and sinners” who are “drawing near to hear” Jesus (Luke 15:1; ESV).  On the other hand, there are “the Pharisees and scribes,” the religious elite, who grumble precisely because Jesus “receives sinners and eats with them” (v. 2).  Now, there is great irony at play within these two groups.  The despised sinners, rejected by polite society and abandoned to hell by respectable religious people, these are the ones who come to Jesus and hang on every Word of His preaching.  The religious leaders, the Pharisees and scribes, the “good Christian folk” who demand the respect of everyone, these refuse to give Jesus the time of day.  They will not hear His preaching.  They will not receive Him as a colleague, much less their Messiah and Lord.  These pious leaders of Israel reject Jesus.  And they reject Him for doing the very thing He was sent by the Father to do.  They reject Him for receiving sinners and eating with them. 
            So our Lord tells a parable.  Two sons, two dramatically different relationships with their father… or, maybe not so different, as we’ll see.  On the one hand, there is the younger son.  He wants his inheritance, and he wants it now.  For this son to demand his inheritance from the father is to tell his father he wishes he would hurry up and die.  Imagine the hurt of the father, the ache for this son who has turned against him and wishes him dead.  And the amazing thing is, he gives the rascal what he wants.  He divides up the inheritance.  And notice here, too, the older son also benefits from the younger son’s audacity.  The older son also gets his share.  The younger son gathers together all he has, his newfound fortune, and journeys into a far country, squandering his property in reckless living.  We can only imagine what that entails.  On the other hand, there is this older son.  He stays with his father.  But remember, lest you think this older son the responsible, selfless hero, he has received his inheritance, too.  Everything that the younger son did not take.  So, good for him that he stays and takes care of his own property.  Good for him that he does not squander it in reckless living.  How selfless is it, though, to stay and take care of your own interests?  Can you really claim that this makes you righteous?
            Now consider, in contrast to the two sons, the one father and his unimaginable compassion.  To divide the inheritance in the first place is essentially to declare himself dead for the sake of his sons.  This brings new meaning to the idea of loving your children to death.  But the father does any number of unbelievable things in the parable.  This parable is most often called “The Prodigal Son,” but perhaps it should be called “The Prodigal Father.”  Prodigal simply means reckless and wasteful.  And this is as good a description of the father’s love as it is of the son’s behavior.  Notice where the father is while his younger son is away in a far country.  He is every day watching and waiting, praying and worrying, straining his eyes down the long road into town, hoping against all hope that his wandering son will come home again… you know, the son that wished him dead.  And one day he sees, a long way off, a lone, gaunt figure stumbling down the road.  And he knows.  It is the son.  And here is where the father’s love makes him do the most ridiculous, prodigal things.  In his “compassion,” (the Greek word here basically means “feeling it in his bowels”) he hikes up his robes and runs.  Now, in our culture, some people run for fun, as silly as that is.  Not so in the ancient world.  No self-respecting man, much less of pillar of the community like this father, would run.  That would be demeaning.  To hike up your robes is like showing off your underwear.  It is embarrassing.  It is shameful.  But love knows no shame.  The father runs to the rebellious son, and before a word can be spoken, he embraces him and kisses him, a reckless show of love and affection, especially for a son who has disowned his father.  The son, remember, had resolved to work his way into the father’s house as a servant.  When he was hungry, tending pigs (unclean animals good Jewish boys should avoid!), longing to eat their slop, he thought maybe he could go home and work his sin off at the farm.  He even has a speech prepared.  And he gets part of the way through it when he meets his father.  He confesses his sin.  “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (v. 21).  But the father cuts him off.  There will be no promises of working off sin, as if you can work off the sin of wishing your father dead.  Here in the father’s house, there will only be forgiveness, restoration, and joy.  Put the best robe on him.  Put a ring on his finger.  Put shoes on his feast.  And kill the fatted calf.  Let’s eat and celebrate.  For there has been a death and resurrection.  This son was lost, but now he is found. 
            The older son was out in the fields while all this was taking place.  He hears the music and dancing.  A servant fills him in on the details.  And he is angry.  Not that his brother is back.  Perhaps not even that his father has been merciful.  But a party?  Really?  For this wretch?  Full restoration to his place in the family?  And the fatted calf… There are only two reasons you would slaughter the fatted calf: If the King is coming, or if the older son is getting married.  The older son knows he’s not getting married, and as far as he knows, the King has not come for a visit.  But this worthless rebel of a younger son has come home, and the father treats him like royalty.  Forget it.  I’m not going in.  Well, here is more reckless, prodigal love on the part of the father.  He goes out to his son.  Never would this happen.  When your son is being a snot, you don’t cater to his tantrum, especially not in the ancient world.  But the father goes out to him, and he begs.  Come in.  Celebrate.  All that is mine is yours.  This feast is for you, too.  And your brother has been restored.  It is a time for joy. 
            So, two sons, one father, one unimaginable, reckless, prodigal compassion for his rebellious sons.  The father, of course, is God.  More specifically, he is Jesus.  And the prodigal son is the tax collectors and sinners Jesus receives and with whom he eats.  The older son is the Pharisees and scribes.  In His prodigal love, Jesus gives Himself into death for both groups, for the forgiveness of their rebellion, and that they might have the inheritance of the Kingdom.  How Jesus loves sinners who disown Him and abuse His gifts.  He longs to receive them back into His embrace and claim them as His own.  He longs to put the best robe on them, the robe of Holy Baptism; the ring of faith to mark them members of His holy Bride, the Church; and as shoes for their feet putting on the readiness of the Gospel of peace (Eph. 6:15).  And how Jesus loves sinners who don’t know they are sinners; who think they are faithful, pious, good Christian folk; who in their self-righteousness fail to recognize that they need the same prodigal grace and love of Jesus that the “really bad” sinners need.  He longs to bring both into the Feast, where He is both Host and Meal.  Jesus is the King who comes and the elder Son who has arrived for His wedding.  And He is the Fatted Calf who is slaughtered and served on the altar for the celebration.  And He wants everyone to come in and sing and dance and partake and rejoice.  Tax collectors, prostitutes, rebellious sons, and Pharisees.  He wants them all.  He died for them all.  He lives for them all.  The bowels of His prodigal love ache for all.  He aches, He suffers, He longs for you.
            Yes, the parable, finally, is about you.  And about Jesus’ prodigal love for you.  The cross it the ultimate prodigal act of love that makes you His own.  He died to give you the inheritance, which is His Kingdom and Salvation.  Are you the younger son, who has wasted this inheritance in reckless living?  Are you a sinner, and you know it?  You cannot work your way into God’s favor.  Nothing you do can restore you to His House.  But thanks be to God, you don’t have to work your way out of the mess, nor are you rejected.  Jesus hikes up His skirts and runs to you to receive you back to Himself and wrap you back in your baptismal robes.  On the other hand, are you the older son who has always come to Church, Sunday after Sunday, doing what is expected of you, dressing, speaking, and voting the right way, giving your offering, and sometimes having a hard time recognizing your own sin in comparison with the prodigal?  Are you offended that you’re in the company of tax collectors and prostitutes and really bad sinners?  Repent.  And rejoice.  Jesus comes out to you in your self-righteous rebellion and He begs.  He sends his servants, the Christian pastors, to bid you come to the Feast.  And He Himself comes out to you.  All that He has is yours.  Come into the Feast.  Eat with the sinners.  Be the sinner that you are, and so be forgiven.  Come, sing and dance and eat.

            For this is the place of death and resurrection.  Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  And you are baptized into Christ.  Whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, wherever you’ve been, in Christ, you are no longer dead, but alive.  You are no longer lost, but found.  And the angels in heaven rejoice.  And we on earth rejoice as the Lord gathers us sinners around the Fatted Calf, the Body and Blood of the Lord, given and shed for you and for all for the forgiveness of all of our sins.  The Father pours out His compassion on you.  The Son has been slaughtered, that you may eat and celebrate and be fully restored.  The Spirit calls you to come and eat, for the Feast is now ready.  Jesus sinners doth receive.  There is a place at His Table for you.  The Lord receives you and eats with you and feeds you with Himself.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.