Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Timelessness of Eternity

Fourth Sunday of Easter
Jubilate
April 17, 2016
What do you think heaven is going to be like? We know heaven is perfect, but what will it feel like? What will you do for all eternity? Will you get bored? Will you be aware that you are in heaven forever? Will it seem like it’s taking a long time? Can eternity take a long time?

Heaven is what God wants for you for eternity but it’s impossible to comprehend eternity. You can only think in terms of time. You know when events begin and when they end. Sometimes they fly by, sometimes they drag on. If someone tells you not to think in terms of time, you can’t do it. You are bound by time. You cannot remove yourself from time. The closest to it is being asleep or in a coma. But even so, when you wake up you are aware that time has elapsed. Time continues when you are not in a conscious state.

God, however, is not bound by time. He is eternal. He has no beginning and no end. Things don’t go slow for Him or take a long time. He is outside of time. He created it.

But He did something remarkable, perhaps even strange. He placed Himself into time. He bound Himself to it. He became a man, a human being. He was born in a specific moment in time. He lived in a particular era of history; He lived for a certain amount of years. He who is not bound by time was now having to wait 365 days to turn a year older.

We know God did this to save us. But did He have to save us in this way? Why would God submit Himself to what we endure in this life? He’s God, He can do anything. What moved Him to bind Himself to time?

Jesus shows us with His words to the disciples in the Gospel reading. He told them He would be leaving them. But then He would return to them. They had no idea what He was talking about. They were trying to figure it out.

He was referring to the fact that He would be going to the cross where He would die. He would be leaving them. But then He would come back to life and so He would be with them again. This is what He was talking about. They didn’t get it. And they continued to not get it until He rose from the dead.

He said they would fall into deep sorrow. They wouldn’t come out of it until they saw Him again and they would rejoice in seeing Him alive. They weren’t getting it when He was telling them, but afterward they would remember that He had told them beforehand. And that was a comfort to them.

But the apostle John was not writing this down out of historical interest. The apostle John was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write this down for you. What Jesus told His disciples has meaning for you. It applies to you because what He said to the disciples shows you why God saved us in the way He did, humbling Himself to become a human being, to be bound by time, to suffer and die.

He is showing you how He uses time to save you. Jesus wasn’t just telling His disciples what would happen. He was saying that He would be leaving them in a little while. And then it would be a little while when He would return to them.

When you are experiencing sorrow it doesn’t seem like a little while. It seems like it won’t end. Jesus uses the example of a woman giving birth. She’s not thinking that this is a brief moment of difficulty. She must endure it because her baby is not coming right away.

But Jesus’ words are what determines what is. When Jesus was gone the disciples despaired in sorrow. But in the light of eternity it truly was a little while.

And now you experience a similar thing to the disciples. Jesus went away from them when He died, but then He returned to them when He rose. But then He left again, ascending into heaven. The disciples were left without Him but then He returned. You are left without Him and it seems anything but a little while until He returns to you.

And you know why this is? No, it’s not because two thousand years since Jesus ascended is a really long time. You are bound by time. You are viewing what Jesus says through your limited understanding. You need to see time from His perspective, not yours. You need to view your life the way He views your life, not in a way that makes sense to you. You need to see your life not as your own but as what God has given you to live and to see yourself not as who you are but who you are in Christ.

As a Christian you are not bound by time. You are not waiting around for God to save you. You aren’t in a holding pattern until God brings you to heaven. As a Christian you have eternal life. That’s life outside of time. It’s without end. It is life with God whether you are awake or asleep. You are not in a state of grace one moment and then apart from Christ the next if you have an evil thought. You are either in Christ or you’re not. If you’re in Christ you have eternal life, not salvation that will be given at some future point.

Jesus speaks of a little while because there is no long while with Him. Time is at His disposal. You can’t make time do what you want. You have only so much of it and it’s the same as what everybody else has. But Jesus? He uses time, something He is not bound by, to bring eternity to you. Since you cannot bring yourself out of time, He comes to you, in your life, in time, to give you eternal life. You now have life that is timeless, it is not here and then not, not flying by or dragging on interminably. It is life with God in Christ, forever.

Now, if you’re thinking, Okay, I have eternal life but I’m still here, aren’t I? I still have to set an alarm clock and be at meetings and appointments on time, don’t I? If I tell my boss that I have eternal life and so am not bound by time, he’ll tell me that if I’m late again I’ll be fired. Right?

Yes. You live in time and you should. God has given this to you to do. Having eternal life doesn’t remove you from your life here; your time, your vocations, your duties and responsibilities. The beauty of God giving you eternal life now is that it frees you up. And what Peter says about that in the Epistle reading is, Live as people who are free. You are a Christian, live like one. Don’t use your being freedom to just live as everyone else does, where they are constricted by time and cannot see beyond it.

Live, as Peter says, as one who freely gives of your time, because you are not subjugated to it. It’s not your time. You have eternal life! What is using your time to help someone when you’re tempted to think that you’ll be inconvenienced. Jesus freed you up from such a shortsighted and constricting view. You are freed up to help others. To serve them. To give of yourself to them. Your time, your resources. What are these in eternity? They are nothing more than as Jesus describes, a little while.

In a moment of time Jesus took in Himself the sin if the world. In that moment there was no time, Jesus brought eternity to earth. In Him God was reconciling the world to Himself. When you are reconciled to God, there is no time, only eternity. Time is momentary. Eternity is forever.

That’s why you need to stop thinking of God and what He does for you in terms of time. In a moment of time you were Baptized and you were no longer bound by time as you were brought into eternal life with God, you were and are now in Christ, who is above time. When He gives you His body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar, it is in a moment of time but there is no time. You are feasting with the angels and the archangels and the whole company of heaven. This is the Eternal Feast, the Feast of the Lamb. It has no ending; you are brought into this eternal Feast as you commune at this altar.

Heaven is not a place. It does not start and go on for a period of time. Heaven is being with God, without time, forever. He gives you heaven, eternity, in Jesus. He gives you Jesus right here, in this place, in this moment, at this altar. No time, no ending, just eternity. Amen.

SDG

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Life in His Name

Second Sunday of Easter
Quasimodo Geniti
April 3, 2016
John tells us the goal. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” Because Jesus has been raised it is possible for us to have life. You could do pretty well without believing in Jesus. And many people do. But you would not have life in His name. You would not have life that far exceeds life as you know it. And even so, doing pretty well in this life is good only for this life. Life apart from Christ is life in eternal torment.

John wrote so that you may have life. What he wrote, as he said, were the signs Jesus did. Even during Jesus’ ministry, John says many people did not believe in Him, even though they saw the signs He was doing. Signs are simply miraculous actions. They point to something greater. The disciples did not believe that Jesus was actually alive after dying until they saw Him. But now they believed and had true life in Him.

You don’t see Him, though. He does not appear suddenly to you as He did with the disciples. How do you believe in Him if you haven’t seen Him? Have you ever thought about that? Why is it that you believe in Jesus exactly as the disciples did even though they had the benefit of seeing Him face to face? Perhaps you think you don’t. Maybe you think it’s harder for you than for them. Maybe you have doubts. Maybe you wish it were easier to believe and if He showed you signs like He did then things would be better for you.

But John wrote so that you may have life. He wrote that you may believe. Is there a difference to the life you have versus them? Is your belief, while similar to theirs, on a different level than theirs?

According to what John has written, they are the same. Life in Christ is life in Christ. Belief in Him is belief in Him. Whether you see Him or not. But Jesus actually chides Thomas for believing because he saw Him. He said that all those who believe without seeing Him are blessed.

And that is you. The disciples must have been ashamed of themselves afterward for not believing in Him. If you have doubts, or your faith is not as strong as you wish it were, don’t worry, you’re in good company. And you’re actually in even better company since Jesus said you are blessed if you believe in Him without having seen Him.

And if you think about it, everything you believe from the Bible is that way. You believe God is one God in three persons even though you can’t begin to explain it and it’s impossible to understand. You believe that this is not all there is to life but that God will bring you to heaven forever. You believe Jesus raised people from the dead and that He Himself rose from the dead.

You even believe bizarre things like Him saving you in Baptism and forgiving you in the Lord’s Supper, and that He does these things because you cannot do them yourself. At all.

It’s no wonder you have doubts at times. All of this sounds too nonsensical and preposterous to be true.  We can readily understand why the disciples doubted before they saw Jesus actually alive. Tell people you were saved in Baptism and most will think you hold to imaginary tales. Tell them that you believe that Jesus actually is present in Holy Communion, His actual body and actual blood, and they will feel sorry for you that you believe in such nonsensical and preposterous things.

But think about it this way. If John says that he wrote these things so that you would believe and so that believing you would have life in His name, well, what is to prevent Jesus from continuing to do amazing things today? If He can step out of the tomb after laying in it lifelessly, He can certainly forgive you of your sins through the simple declaration of it from His called and ordained servant of the Word.

Of all of the miraculous signs Jesus accomplished, all the healings, delivering people from demons, raising people from the dead, perhaps it’s most amazing of all that He gave authority to a bunch of disciples who did not believe He had accomplished what He said He would in rising from the grave. These eleven men who had been cowering in fear were now given a mandate by Jesus to forgive the sins of those who repented and withhold forgiveness from those who would not repent.

When Jesus has done so much by His own hand, why would He now use ordinary men, who doubted just like we do, to forgive the sins of people? The same could be asked of the other things you believe. Why would Jesus, who did so much by His own action, use ordinary water to bring about new life for you? Why would He take simple bread and wine and give to you in and with that bread and wine His very body and blood for your forgiveness?

The answer is faith. He calls upon you to have faith just as He did the disciples. None of them believed. They heard the message from the women who saw His empty tomb. Some of them went themselves to the tomb and saw it empty. They still didn’t believe. Not until Jesus appeared to them did they believe. As we know well, Thomas wasn’t there on that occasion and he didn’t believe the word of every single other disciple. His demands were strict. I must see. I must touch. I must handle with my own hands.

When Jesus appeared to them again, and thankfully Thomas was there this time, Jesus took Thomas up on his demands. Touch here, Thomas. See Me, feel Me. Do not continue in unbelief but believe. He now saw Jesus and as with all the other disciples he believed. All his demands went out the window. He was no longer intent on examining the wounds of Christ, His pierced hands, the wound in His side. Thomas saw Him, and Jesus exhorted him to believe. It is exactly what Thomas did. “My Lord and my God!” He knew the Lord he had doubted was indeed the one who rose from the grave and was therefore his Lord and his God.

So here’s what it means for you to have life in His name. You trust that God gives you everything you need for your ultimate good. The way He does it is through His Son. Eternal life is life in the name of Christ. Jesus is the one who suffered and died and conquered the grave. He invites you to believe even as He did to Thomas. Don’t wonder where your help comes from, it comes from your Lord and God. You are Baptized. He brought you into His death and resurrection in those waters. Don’t fear that you have sinned beyond the pale and fallen so far that there’s no hope, you eat and drink the very body and blood of Christ. If you are taking Him into your being then you have something greater than could ever be if He were standing right in front of you.

When the one God has called preachers to preach the Gospel hear it as if God Himself is speaking to you. When God sends His servant to absolve you of your sins know that it is your Lord Himself forgiving you. The pronouncement of heaven is that you are a citizen of heaven, only here on this earth for a while.

You have life in His name. This means you don’t live to yourself. If you doubt or falter, lay it on Him. He can take it. If you sin, confess your sins to your pastor, you will receive forgiveness. You live in Christ; you know this because you were Baptized into Christ. You are strong even, and especially, in your weakness, because you are strengthened in body and soul by the very body and blood of your Lord and your God. Don’t live in your sins, repent of them. Confess them. Hear the pronouncement of forgiveness and go in the joy of being in Christ.

You have life in His name, you don’t live to yourself. You have compassion on others even as your Lord has compassion on you, even as He had compassion on those disciples who just wouldn’t believe and were afraid. You are ready to forgive others even as you have been forgiven by your Lord. You rejoice in the opportunity to serve others in their need, even as your Lord serves you in your need. You are not your own. You do not simply live and have a pretty good life. You have eternal life. You have life in the name of Christ.

Believe it! It’s true! Amen.

SDG

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Real Question About Death

The Resurrection of Our Lord
Easter Day
March 27, 2016
We’re glad it’s here, aren’t we? We have gone through six weeks of Lent. We have meditated on and pondered the suffering and death of Jesus this past week in Holy Week. But today it’s all about rejoicing! It’s Easter! Celebration is the order of the day. Today is not about somber reflection but exultation in the risen Lord.

The Gospel reading today shows us this. The angel says there’s no need to be afraid. Jesus is not here, He has been raised.

At the same time, there’s something the angel brings up that almost seems out of place. He brings up the crucifixion. He doesn’t just say that Jesus was dead but now He’s alive. He brings up to the women that they are seeking Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified one. There’s something about Jesus suffering and dying on the cross that is resonant with the proclamation and the fact of the Resurrection.

The apostle Paul says in 1Corinthians 1 that we preach Christ crucified. This is in the same letter where he goes on for a whole chapter laying out the necessity of Jesus rising from the dead and what comes from that. Namely, our resurrection from death.

The angel stands at the tomb. The women have come there expecting to see the dead body of Jesus. They had seen Him die on the cross. They had seen Him being placed in the tomb. Now that they have returned the angel shows them that the one they are seeking is the one who was crucified. He is the one who had been laying here, dead. But He isn’t here any longer because He has been raised. The crucified one is the living one. In Galatians 3 Paul passionately defends the Gospel against those who seek salvation apart from Jesus, saying, “Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.”

In fact, when it comes to proclaiming the Gospel and resting on the only certainty there is for salvation, Paul exclaims later on in chapter 6, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” The apostles, after Jesus ascended into heaven, did not stop talking about the crucifixion of Christ. It was part and parcel of their Gospel proclamation. In Acts 4 Peter says, “Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.” This lines up almost word for word with the declaration of the angel at the tomb of Jesus.

The resurrection of Jesus does not erase His crucifixion. It cements its power. The Roman Empire devised this punishment to make a statement. There’s no greater deterrent to crimes against the state than a brutal, public shaming and torturing of criminals. The Roman historian Cicero called it a cruel and disgusting penalty. The Jewish historian Josephus called it the worst of deaths. Jesus willingly and humbly endured this even though He was blameless. This worst of deaths has become His glory.

There’s a reason for this. There’s a reason the angel didn’t just say that Jesus was alive. There’s a reason the apostles continued to proclaim and the Church continues to proclaim Jesus as the Crucified One. It is because His death was not simply a crucifixion. It was a death that dealt with the real question about death. What Jesus did on the cross was not simply die a horrific death. He suffered something far worse than death. In the Collect of the Day which we prayed earlier we see that God the Father, through His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, has overcome death and opened the gate of everlasting life to us.

There are some people who do not fear death. Some people see it as a release from this life. Some fear it and go to extraordinary measures to prevent it. But there’s a reason Jesus went through what He did, suffering as He did, being crucified. Jesus did not suffer on the cross to prevent us from physical death. The real question about death is answered in what we prayed for in the Collect: “Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of our Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by Your life-giving Spirit.” The end of this life is not that we will die. It is that the death that awaits us is the death of sin.

This is why Jesus is forever the Crucified One. It is why He is extolled even now in heaven and for all eternity as the Lamb who was slain, as we see from the book of Revelation. When John the Baptist paved the way for Jesus he pointed to Him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” In the Epistle reading Paul says, “For Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed.”

The great victory of the Resurrection is not that you won’t die. It is that He has conquered the death of sin. In Christ you have life eternal even though you will die. In John 11 Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live.” Because Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life, those who believe in Him, even though they die, will live because they are raised from the death of sin by the life-giving Spirit of God.

This was the confidence Job had in his Lord. In the Old Testament reading he said, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” He knew he would die some day. But he knew it was not the end. He knew dying in his sin would separate him from his Lord. But his Lord lived. His Lord was his Redeemer. Even after he would die and his skin would waste away, he would be raised. He would see his Lord in the flesh.

The Lord who was crucified is the risen Lord. The Lord who was raised is the Crucified One. He is the Paschal Lamb who was sacrificed. He bore the sin of the world. This prompts Paul to say in the Epistle reading, “Let us celebrate the festival.” Before we will partake of this festival, the very Supper of our Lord, our prayer in the Communion liturgy will be, “And most especially are we bound to praise You on this day for the glorious resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ, the very Paschal Lamb, who was sacrificed for us and bore the sins of the world. By His dying He has destroyed death, and by His rising again He has restored to us everlasting life.”

These words point to the central act of what Jesus has accomplished in His crucifixion: He was sacrificed for us and bore the sins of the world. There is no sin that escaped the action of Christ in bearing sin. There is nothing you have done or could do that can undo what Christ accomplished in His suffering and death. It was in that action He accomplished salvation for the world.

When the women heard the proclamation of the angel that Jesus the Crucified One was now living they were met with a new reality. Nothing in life or death matters if you are left in your sin. If you reject what Christ has already accomplished for you, you will die and not just end up in the grave. You will be separated from God forever and suffer far greater than anything you could imagine in this life.

He doesn’t want that for you. That is why Jesus was forsaken in your place. He died in your place. He lives and because He lives you live. Free from sin. Free from death. In your flesh you will see God, the Lamb who was slain, the Crucified One, the Risen Lord. Amen.

SDG

Friday, March 25, 2016

How Does God See Us?

Good Friday
The Annunciation of Our Lord
March 25, 2016
If you look at this day from an outside perspective it looks odd. Why would we observe a day in which we are saying that it is good that God died? Why would the meaning of it, that salvation has been accomplished, be expressed in such a somber, and even dreary, fashion? And since we already know that Jesus rose from the dead, why is it necessary to observe His crucifixion?

These aren’t just the questions of people looking at Christianity from the outside. Even to us Good Friday seems a bit curious. Christmas we get. Easter we get. Pentecost, all the other great celebrations of the Church Year. But why do we need to focus on the event in which Jesus ends up lifeless on a cross and taken down to be buried? Is there something about it that we would lose if we just skipped it?

We can answer this by looking at how God sees us. How does God view us, in light of the fact that we are fallen, sinful creatures? We don’t even get past the First Commandment before we sin against Him. How does the holy God see us when we are not as we ought to be, when we look to other things for our good?

The answer is Good Friday. Maybe this is why this day seems so odd, so different. On no other day do we get a clearer picture of what God has in mind for us. In His holiness He must do the only thing that is just, which is damn us to hell. But in His mercy, He does something radically different. He forgives us. He takes the condemnation we rightly deserve and pours it on His Son. His Son bears all of our sin.

This is how He sees us. He sees us as people He loves so much that He will not leave us to our own way but rather save us. He sees us as ones whom He created and will go to any length to restore us, even giving His own Son for us.

The crucifixion of Jesus brings to fruition God’s action of sending His Son to us. Jesus, fully God and one with the Father, became a man, a human being, just as you and I are. This is called the incarnation, God becoming flesh. We confess in the Nicene Creed, “who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man.” This year the day Good Friday falls on is actually the date in the Church Year we observe the incarnation of our Lord, March 25. It is known as the Annunciation of Our Lord, and is the day observing the annunciation, the announcement, of the angel to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive and give birth to a Son.

This conception would be miraculous, of the Holy Sprit. The child born to her would the Son of God. He would be the Savior of the world. He would be conceived and born in order to suffer and die. How God sees us is seen in His sending His Son to be born of the Virgin and to be forsaken on the cross. How God sees us is shown in Him sending the angel Gabriel to a simple woman who was not yet married and so unable to become pregnant if she were to be faithful to God’s holy commandments. And yet this one woman was the vessel which bore another individual, He being the only one who would bear the sin of every person who ever lived.

If Good Friday seems odd, it’s only because the whole thing seems surreal. God becoming a human being. God living on this earth, the world He created, among the people He created. Being hungry, getting tired, subject to temptation. Being God Almighty and yet scorned, rejected, or simply ignored. And finally falsely condemned to death. It’s not really what you would think would make up a religion.

But Good Friday is the day of the great Reversal. It is the day where God upends any notion we have that everything is okay with us. It shows us that sin is a blight in the world and it leads to death. But the great thing is that it shows us how God sees us. In the reversal, God has mercy on us instead of judgment. He gives forgiveness instead of wrath. The prayer of the Church on Good Friday is encapsulated in the Collect of the Day: “Almighty God, graciously behold this Your family for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed and delivered into the hands of sinful men to suffer death upon the cross.”

It is through our Lord Jesus Christ willingly being betrayed and delivered to death on a cross that leads God the Father to graciously behold us as His Family. How God sees us is made known in what He was doing on Good Friday. In the Epistle Paul says “in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” This is how God sees us, as reconciled to Him on account of Christ. Paul goes on to say of Jesus, “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

He became sin in our place. We, in the great reversal, are without sin. We are forgiven. In the Old Testament reading Isaiah proclaims eloquently the great sacrifice and act of love of God toward us in Christ:

      He was pierced for our transgressions;
      He was crushed for our iniquities;
                  upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
      and with His wounds we are healed.
                   All we like sheep have gone astray;
      we have turned—every one—to his own way;
                  and the Lord has laid on Him
      the iniquity of us all.

On Good Friday God looked upon all humankind, the very people He created, and then He looked at His Son. His Son was holy, pure, blameless. And yet, His eternal love moved Him to place on His Son our sins, as the Old Testament reading says, “He bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.”

In the crowning act of Good Friday, Jesus spoke words of triumph before His final breath left Him, as we heard in the Passion Account from the Gospel According to John. Having born the sin of the world, having borne the chastisement that has brought us peace, He proclaimed, “It is finished.” Salvation, accomplished. Reconciliation with God, done. Sinners, forgiven.

This is what God thinks of us. It is how He sees us. If you are ever in doubt, look to the cross. If you ever wonder what God thinks of you, how He sees you, what He desires for you, look to the one He sent to show you how He sees you. Christ is the one who accomplished salvation, and because He has, God forever sees you as His beloved sons and daughters, graciously beholding His Family. Amen.

SDG

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Fruits of Our Lord’s Redemption Are Manifest in Us

Maundy Thursday
March 24, 2016
With these words in the Collect for Maundy Thursday we are shown what the Lord’s Supper is: “O Lord, in this wondrous Sacrament You have left us a remembrance of Your passion.” What makes the Lord’s Supper a wondrous Sacrament? In giving us His Supper, how is it that He has left us a remembrance of His passion?

The wording of the Collect picks up on the language of the Old Testament reading: “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.” This memorial day, this feast to the Lord, was to be in celebration of the Lord’s deliverance of His people. He would strike down their enemies but preserve them. The angel of death would pass through the land of Egypt smiting the firstborn of each household. When he came to homes that had painted on the doorposts the blood of a lamb that was slaughtered, the angel would pass over that home. Celebrating this festival each year would bring remembrance to them that their God was the one who delivered them.

Fast-forward to Jesus celebrating this very festival with His disciples, as John tells us in the Gospel reading. Paul describes what happened in the Epistle reading: “The Lord Jesus on the night when He was betrayed took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, ‘This is My body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way also He took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’”

What Jesus did was take the memorial meal of the Passover and turn it into a memorial meal of His Passion. He instituted a new feast, the wondrous Sacrament of His body and blood. In the Passover, the Israelites were to eat the flesh of the lamb they slaughtered. In the Meal the Lord instituted they were to eat and drink the very body and blood of Jesus. No longer would a lamb’s flesh be slain, He was the Lamb of God who would be slain on the next day.

It’s no wonder Paul spoke of partaking of this Feast in the way he did. “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” When one partakes of the bread of this Meal and drinks of the cup of this Meal they are partaking of the very body and blood of the Lord Himself. He gives Himself to us in this wondrous Sacrament, and if we partake of it in an unworthy manner, we will be guilty of the Lord’s body and blood and eat and drink judgment on ourselves.

The Lord’s Supper is most definitely a great mystery. It is a wondrous Sacrament. It is beyond our ability to comprehend how in bread and wine our Lord gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink. But by faith given us by the Holy Spirit we don’t try to solve the mystery but rather, as Paul says in the Epistle reading, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” This proclamation springs not from rational understanding but rejoicing that what our Lord gave over on the cross is given to us in His Holy Supper.

On the cross His body was delivered into death. His blood was shed for our eternal redemption. That was the great miracle and mystery. But He continues the miracle and mystery in His Holy Supper. That is why we prayed as we did in the Collect, “Grant that we may so receive the sacred mystery of Your body and blood.” You can’t fully get a handle on a sacred mystery. We shouldn’t want to!

When two people fall in love, do they want to dissect everything about their relationship, break all the details down, so that they have a solid, rational understanding of the love they share? Or do they rather see that the benefits of their love exceed comprehending it rationally? Love is given and received, not dissected apart. The sacred mystery of our Lord’s body and blood is something, as we prayed in the Collect, that we receive. It is not something we bring about. Our Lord brings it about. He gives, we receive. He gives His body to eat and blood to drink, we eat and drink.

He not only is the host, He is the servant. He not only welcomes us to His Table, He serves us. John says in the Gospel reading that Jesus got up from the table and put a towel around Himself and began washing His disciples’ feet. This task was not the task of the host. It was the task of the slave. In girding Himself with a towel He was showing that He is the master who doesn’t lord it over us but rather serves us. He came not to be served but to serve.

He began washing their feet, which is a yucky job. They didn’t wear socks and shoes in those days. And they didn’t walk around on pavement all day either. The walkways were dusty and dirty and who knows what kind of mess was worked into the dirt from various animals. It was definitely a slave’s job. But this is exactly what Jesus came to do. He came to serve. He came to wash us clean.

Peter, often getting ahead of himself, saw the indignity of this and began correcting Jesus. Jesus, on the other hand, ever patient, told him that he didn’t understand what was going on now but that he would in time. Yeah, that was true, Peter didn’t understand it, and he didn’t want to. “Lord, you will never wash my feet!” Jesus expressed to him that it was the only way. Only Jesus, the Lord, could serve them in the way they truly needed. And so Jesus said, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in Me.” Well, in that case, Peter realized, I want as much washing from Jesus as I can get! “Lord, not only my feet, but also my head and my hands!”

But Jesus was not doing this simply to clean their feet. He was there to serve. To cleanse them of their sin. Foot washing wouldn’t do that. His Holy Supper would. That is why He has given us this wondrous Sacrament. In giving us His body and blood we are cleansed throughout, in body and soul.

And even so, with Christ it’s never enough just to give and leave it at that. There’s always more to the mystery and the wonder. We prayed in the Collect that our Lord would grant that we may so receive the sacred mystery of His body and blood, that the fruits of His redemption may continually be manifest in us. There is the redemption and then there is also what results from that—the fruits of the redemption. He doesn’t simply redeem us, the fruits of His redemption are made known through us.

Jesus bent down and washed His disciples’ feet. If He, their Lord and master, served them in such a way, then they too would serve others. Jesus does not come to us to wash our feet. But He does come to us in bread and wine. In doing so He gives us the sacred and wondrous redemption He brought about on the cross. And in redeeming us He brings about fruit in us which is a blessings to others.

We cannot give as our Lord gives, even in our good intentions we are tainted in sin. But God, having given us His Son in His Holy Meal, will produce in us the fruits of His redemption. He serves us so that we serve others. We are forgiven so that we forgive others. As we pray in the Post-Communion Collect, we give thanks to our Lord who has refreshed us through this salutary gift, and implore Him that of His mercy He would strengthen us through the same in faith toward Him and in fervent love toward one another. Amen.

SDG

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Partaking of the Resurrection of Your Lord

Palm Sunday
Palmarum
Sunday of the Passion
March 20, 2016
Palm Sunday stands at the head of Holy Week. As Jesus entered into Jerusalem, we enter into this week where we encounter the most remarkable events of Christianity. When Jesus entered Jerusalem He knew exactly why He was. He knew what would happen to Him. I seriously doubt anyone there laying down their coats and palm branches understood the gravity of Jesus entering the holy city as a king. They hailed Him as such, but the Collect we prayed a little while ago speaks of His great humility and patience. The prophecy from Zechariah which Matthew quoted in the Gospel reading speaks of Jesus as coming in humility.

And even though Jesus didn’t prohibit their cries in hailing Him as the one coming in the name of the Lord, He knew that He wasn’t the one they were looking for. He knew that come Thursday night all would desert Him. He was well aware that on Friday He would be hanging on the cross alone, taking upon Himself all the sin of the world. Palm Sunday was the kind of glory they were excited about. Jesus had His eyes set on the cross.

And if we are going to pray and take it seriously what we are praying for, then we will see Palm Sunday for what it is. It is the gateway into humility and patience. It stands at the head of suffering and trial. These are not the things we would think to rejoice in, but if we see through the expectations of the people and look instead into what Jesus was bringing about we will see that there is indeed something to rejoice in. Even though it means suffering and humility, patience and trial.

When we see exactly what Jesus was doing and how He was bringing it about, we learn to pray. And the prayer we pray today, a week from Easter, is that God would mercifully grant that we may follow the example of His Son, our Savior Jesus Christ’s great humility and patience and be made partakers of His resurrection. Being made partakers of His resurrection is something worth rejoicing in, but it does not happen apart from following the example our Savior’s great humility and patience.

That is why those crowds on Palm Sunday would have done well to stick with Jesus all the way to the end. To see Him as He was being arrested, and mocked, and beaten, hanging on a cross as the one who has come in the name of the Lord. And even knowing that in His death all was not lost but was rather the path He chose and that God would bring about the greatest good in raising Him from the grave. There is no resurrection apart from death. When we pray to be made partakers of the resurrection of our Lord we are praying that we follow Him into suffering and death.

This prayer is what Paul calls for in the Epistle reading. He says,

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The key here is Paul’s words, “which is yours in Christ Jesus.” How we follow the example of Jesus, how we have the mind of Christ among ourselves, is that it is ours in Him. That is why we pray God to mercifully grant this to us. We certainly aren’t ready for suffering and trial. We aren’t gung-ho about humility and patience. It is Christ who chose this path willingly and we have this mind among ourselves by virtue of Baptism.

In Baptism you entered into that descent into death, being joined with Christ in a death like His. And having gone through that descent you were raised up in a resurrection like His. You were raised up to a new mind, in which you see suffering as cause for rejoicing because you are joining in with Christ so that you may be raised up ever higher, partaking of His resurrection. You can never know what resurrection fully means for you until you know what it means that you must die to your sin. You must have the mind of Christ in yourself. You must see the example of His great humility and patience as something you embrace.

Otherwise you are living in your sin. You must die to your sin. You must repent of your sin so that it is dead to you and you are dead to it. Christ has no sin but in humility He became a servant, taking your sin into Himself and to death in His own. When you were Baptized you were joined into that death and therefore joined into the death of your sin. All of this was accomplished by Him. That you have died to your sin and have been raised to eternal life is a gift, given to you by grace.

This is how we know that it is all of Christ. God the Father sent Him to where we are and He orchestrated salvation for us. Knowing what would come about in the closing days of Holy Week, Jesus and His disciples went to the Mount of Olives. There He sent two disciples to the nearby village where immediately they would find a donkey tied up. Their task was simple, untie it and bring it to Him. What would happen if anyone said anything to them? It wasn’t their donkey, what should they do then? Jesus told them to say, simply, “The Lord has need of it,” and immediately they would send the donkey with them.

Did Jesus know the owner of the donkey? Did Jesus know the disciples would meet resistance, or was He simply prepared for the possibility? We don’t know how the details shake out, but we do know that Jesus was orchestrating this whole thing. Jesus had come to bring about salvation and He was going to bring it about in His way. His way had already been made known in the Scriptures.

Matthew says of Jesus’ actions in sending the disciples for the donkey, “This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet, ‘Rejoice, daughter of Zion. Behold, your King is coming to you, humble and riding on a donkey.’” This signified what kind of king He was. He was a humble King. He was a King who was coming to bring about salvation. His great humility and patience was simply the expression of His love for sinners.

The disciples did according to what Jesus had commanded them. This was not rocket science. All the disciples had to do was go get a donkey. And yet, the commands of the Lord are what brings about His will. They brought the donkey to Him and He sat on it. People laid their coats and palm branches on the road. The crowds were going ahead of Him and following Him and exclaiming, “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.”

There’s no question it was a glorious day. The King was riding into Jerusalem to be the King. The one who was coming in the name of the Lord was coming to bring about the Lord’s salvation. But what all those people didn’t realize is that the true glory of that day was the glory of the King who was coming humbly, as a servant. He was bringing about a salvation in which there would be no doubt that it was accomplished because He would accomplish it completely. He would do it Himself.

And because He would, we would partake in His resurrection. He has and we do. Amen.

SDG

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Lord’s Supper—simple, yet profound

Midweek in Lent5
March 16, 2016
In a few days Holy Week will begin. The season of Lent has us pondering the Passion of Our Lord for six weeks in preparation for Holy Week and our celebration of Easter. Nowhere is the Gospel more simply shown than in Holy Week and Easter. And nowhere is the Gospel more profoundly expressed than in Holy Week and Easter.

For six weeks we have seen how the Gospel is both simple and profound. Jesus died for the sin of the world. Salvation is in Him, it’s simple. But the nature of the Gospel as simple in now way means it is simplistic. It is, rather, profound, God making known our need through the Law, making known how He meets our need in the Gospel, granting us the invitation to pray to Him in all our needs, blessing us eternally in Baptism, and nurturing us in Absolution.

God can never just give us simple Gospel. He must abundantly give. That’s why He gives His Gospel—forgiveness, life, and salvation—in His Sacraments as well as the proclamation. The Gospel is the same, whether given through Baptism, Absolution, proclamation, or the Lord’s Supper. But we gain abundant blessings through receiving the Gospel in these various ways. We have seen how this happens in Baptism and Absolution. As we come to the close of our look at the Gospel in its simplicity and its profoundness, it is appropriate that we conclude with the Sacrament of the Altar.

In this Sacrament, in which our Lord gives us His body and blood, we see the utter simplicity by which our Lord works and the amazing profoundness of His work of forgiving us. While for eternal salvation nothing more is needed than simple faith in the simple Gospel, everything given by God, beginning in Baptism, continuing in Absolution and proclamation, comes to fulfillment in the Lord’s Supper.

Just as the Lord came to earth in a simple way, being born of a virgin, coming as a baby, so when He comes to us here and now it is in simplicity, in ordinary bread and wine. Our Lord came to us personally in simple water in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Even now, we see that just as He used ordinary water, He uses ordinary bread and wine to come to us. And in the simple speaking of words as the pastor pronounces Absolution, we are forgiven our sins. So in the Lord’s Supper the Word of Christ is spoken and we are forgiven. And we hear the Word of God proclaimed, our Lord continuing to come to us through the proclamation. In the Lord’s Supper, as well, there is a proclamation, of the death of the Lord for the forgiveness of sins.

And yet, simple as it was, our Lord coming as a baby, it was profound, God residing on earth in the flesh. Who can comprehend this? The creator of the heavens and the earth was cuddled up in His mother’s arms. The Savior of the world was being fed and nurtured by His mother. In Baptism there’s not simply water being applied to the person being Baptized, there is a deep profoundness happening in that Sacrament. The one being Baptized is brought to death in their sinful flesh and raised up to new and eternal life, raised up in Christ’s resurrection. When the words of the pastor of Absolution and proclamation strike the ear of the Christian, not only is the mind taking in what is said, but the words strike the heart as well. The Christian hearing those words is not simply reminded of God’s love but is actually being forgiven by the Holy Spirit working through those words.

These actions of God show how much we need forgiveness. As we live, we are forgiven. But we get weak. We struggle. We forget, we fail, we continue to sin. We sometimes don’t trust God completely. We might think that all we need is to be forgiven and then we’re good to go. But we’re not good to go. We don’t always live as if we’re forgiven. We don’t always live as if all we need is what God gives to us, no matter whether it seems we have all we need or not.

Our God is always more ready to give than we to receive. He always gives in abundant mercy, more than we are ready to ask. In our need, in our weakness, in our struggle against temptation and sin, He gives us a meal. To strengthen us, to nourish us, to forgive us. This simple meal, bread and wine, the Word of Christ, is given to us to forgive us. Yet this simple meal is so profound that we could never understand what is going on according to reason. When we are receiving the bread and wine we are also receiving much more. The body and blood of Christ is the true gift in the Sacrament.

When you get Christ you get it all. And there is no greater way to get Christ than to get Him straight into your mouth. How Jesus’ body and blood are actually present in this simple bread and wine we leave to Him. We simply cannot understand it. It is given to us simply to believe Him and rejoice in Him coming to us in such an amazing way. When you are weary and heavy-laden, He will give you rest. He will give you Himself, His body given for you; His blood shed for you.

When Mary conceived in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit, a journey began. God was now in the flesh. That little person inside Mary’s womb began to form cells and nerves and veins. Flesh began to form. Blood began to course through His veins. In nine months He was born and those little toes wiggled, the little mouth breathed, the little eyes began the process of seeing around His little world clearly.

As a baby Jesus wasn’t aware of what would happen to the flesh that wrapped around His skeleton and organs. He did not know what was in store for the blood that was flowing inside of Himself. No, that came later on when He grew in wisdom and stature. As an adult He was fully aware of who He was, why He had been born, and what He would do. He knew He was God in the flesh and that He would offer that very flesh on the cross as the sacrifice for the sin of the world. He understood fully that His blood would flow out of His body as a pleasing sacrifice to His Father for sinful humankind.

It’s hard to wrap your mind around God being born. It’s even harder to come to terms with God dying. We do not comprehend as well how a person can return to life after being dead. But Jesus is God and He has power over death. The living, resurrected Lord is no longer subject to death. There is no more need for sacrifice. He has accomplished the perfect sacrifice. It is finished, He said.

And yet, He does something amazing. Profound. Almost like He did the first time when He was born of Mary. He does not shed His physical body. Jesus ascended into heaven in bodily form. He will return in the same way He left. In heaven He is worshiped as the Lamb who was slain. His joy and His glory is not to be just the spiritual God. His profound joy and glory is to continue to be in the flesh. And to continue to come to us in the flesh. To give His very body born of Mary and given on the cross to us in His Holy Supper. To give His blood that began coursing through His veins when He was in the womb and that was poured out on the cross to us in His Holy Meal.

It is so simple. God Himself coming in flesh and blood, giving Himself to us to eat and drink. But the profoundness of this defies reason and we must simply rejoice in the glory of it all. It is glory not found in confining God to a simplistic understanding that He loves us, but rather confining Him to the way in which He has promised He would come to us. He has promised to come to us in the bread and wine that are consecrated by His very words that He spoke on the night in which He was betrayed. He took bread and broke it, and gave it to His disciples and said, “Take, eat, this is My body, given for you.” And He took the cup, and having given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Take, drink, this cup is the New Testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.”

You need the Gospel. You need forgiveness. You need strength. You need rest. This is what God is all about. Giving you these things in the Gospel. It is rather quite simple. We should never make it harder than what it is. In fact, we shouldn’t make it hard at all. Because it isn’t. It is the opposite. It is the simplest thing in the world. He accomplished your salvation, He forgives you, and He will bring you to heaven. There is nothing you can or should do. He works repentance in you and forgives you. And in His Sacraments He gives you more forgiveness. He strengthens you more and more. The simple and profound love of God given to you in His Son through Word, water, and bread and wine. Amen.

SDG