Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Fourth Sunday of Easter (C)

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

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


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