Cruce Tectum

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

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Fifth Sunday of Easter (C)

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

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

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

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