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.


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.


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.


Sunday, March 20, 2016

Partaking of the Resurrection of Your Lord

Palm Sunday
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.


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.


Sunday, March 13, 2016

Your Lord Is Merciful to You

Fifth Sunday in Lent
March 13, 2016
Imagine you are on trial. The charge against you is that you have not done enough to please God. And the prosecuting attorney says that even what you have done is not what God has expected of you.

How will you stand up? Will the judge be convinced of this perversion being promoted by this outrageous attorney?

Or will he see you for what you are, a Bible-believing, God-fearing Christian. You know you’re not perfect, of course. If your defense rested on that, the judge would see right through it. No, you have a much better defense. And who knows better than you do about how you stand up against the charges brought against you? You do, and that is why you are your own defense attorney.

You will present your case to the judge so that he will see the lies of the prosecuting attorney. The judge will even see that he is the one who should be brought up on charges.

Now that you have imagined this, consider that what has just been described; what you were just asked to imagine, is actually true. You are on trial. You do think the charges are outrageous. You do appeal to the judge on your own merit. You do think that you will be vindicated. And that is why you are so ready to defend yourself.

One thing we haven’t done, though, is identify the judge and the prosecuting attorney. The judge is God Himself. The prosecuting attorney is Jesus Himself. He has brought these charges against you and the holy God, His Father, agrees and finds you guilty.

Do not imagine this. It is what is the case with you. You are in fact on trial before God and unfortunately you have chosen to defend yourself. You don’t have a chance. God the holy judge finds you guilty as charged. If you dispute it or think you still will be able to vindicate yourself, you will only further condemn yourself.

One of the imaginations we like to dream up is that things really aren’t this way. Living this life seems anything but being on trial. It seems anything but God being against you in the courtroom. It seems anything but your entire defense floating away like a mist.

Life just doesn’t seem that way, does it? We go along with our daily lives and there doesn’t seem to be imminent danger. It’s not like God has handed down a verdict and we’re hauled off to prison, let alone eternal condemnation. So we think that the courtroom scene that really is is really much more of an imaginary exercise.

This is one of the great challenges for us as Christians. How do we see what we so want the world to see? What do we wish that people saw? That they are born in sin and that in thought and action they sin. We want them to see their need, don’t we? We want them to wake up and see that they need to be saved from their sin and the guilt they have before God. Our heart goes out to them that they do not see that God in His holiness and justice condemns sinners. This is the great evangelistic task of the Church. We are to make known to people that there is salvation in one way and one way alone. And that one way is not through themselves.

Why is it so hard, then, for us to see that in ourselves? Why do we rest in the comfort of our own goodness? Why do we think that since we’re in, we are in good with God and He’s good with us as we are? Why do we see our sin as mistakes we make and not what separates us from Him? Why do we think of grace as excusing a host of thoughts and actions that aren’t so bad as to merit hell? Why do we become impatient with God? Why are we impatient with others, even those we love the most? Why do we say things about others that we would never say to their face? Why do we not hunger and thirst for the Word of God but eat up our time with entertainment or work or laziness?

You have the opportunity now to stand in this courtroom with a defense attorney who will actually defend you, rather than depending on yourself to excuse yourself. There is time for you to repent of your sin and amend what you have done wrong. Once you die the verdict will be handed down and the gavel struck. You must see yourself as you wish those who do not know Christ to see themselves.

Those people in the Gospel reading look like the bad guys, don’t they. We look at them and think, They just don’t get it. They are refusing to see that Jesus is not just a man, He is God in the flesh. They rejected Him and put their trust in their heritage, in their own works, in themselves. Instead of seeing that God had come to save them in Jesus, they wanted to take comfort in their own worthiness.

But don’t we see? This is written for us. This is written to show us that we are them. We reject Jesus by sinning and thinking that we’re not all that bad. We do not completely trust in Him when we think to any degree that we are not deserving of hell. This is why Jesus was so insistent on judging them, it was the only way to open their eyes. Don’t do as they did and defend yourself. Throw yourself at the mercy of the court.

In other words, repent. Don’t just see your sin as stuff you really shouldn’t be doing. See it for what it is. It is what condemns you to hell, and God the judge will do just that. But if you hear Jesus’ word, as He says in the Gospel reading, and keep it, then you are of God. An amazing thing happens as you are on trial. The prosecuting attorney steps into your place and stands guilty as charged. The judge who was standing in judgment against you instead grants you mercy.

You are vindicated, but it is by the very opposite means in which you were hoping for vindication. You stand before God not on trial but as the son or daughter of your Heavenly Father who loves you. You stand before Him not as one who is trying to convince Him of what He ought to do for you but as one who offers only your sin, your guilt, and your unworthiness. You face Him with your head held high, however, because you ask not for anything but simply mercy. You ask Him to forgive your sin. To remove your guilt. To wipe out your condemnation.

The prayer of the Psalmist in the Introit today is, Vindicate me, O God. It is crucial we see this as the plea for mercy. We are vindicated, not because of ourselves, but because of Christ. We are given mercy because of God Himself, in the flesh, receiving our punishment, our guilt. The Epistle reading makes it abundantly clear, that our standing before God has absolutely nothing to do with us, but only one thing: Jesus saving us “by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”

Even before Jesus was born, God planned how He would bring about His mercy. When Abraham was commanded by God in the Old Testament reading to sacrifice His own son Isaac, he obeyed him. Isaac was puzzled as they walked toward the altar with everything needed for the sacrifice except the animal itself for the sacrifice. Abraham spoke of the same work of God as the author of Hebrews in the Epistle reading: “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”

We know He has. It was His only Son. It was Jesus. It was the one who said of Abraham that he would rejoice to see His day; and he did see it and he was glad. It was the one who said, “Before Abraham was, I am.” It was the one who has had mercy on you, not bringing charges against you, but suffering in your place what you ought to suffer. You are vindicated. You will not taste death. You will live forever. And even now you will be forgiven, for in bread and wine you will be given the very sacrificed body and shed blood of Christ for your nourishment. Amen.


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Absolution—simple, yet profound

Midweek in Lent4
March 9, 2016
When you ponder the Gospel, as we have during this Lent, you see more and more how simple it is. And you see more and more how profound it is. God has accomplished salvation in His Son. His suffering, death, and resurrection was what it took. We saw last week that in a simple way He delivers that salvation to us, in Baptism.

It is profound, though, that the Gospel is freely given. That Christ has done it all means that we have done none of it. We are saved because of what He has done. The Baptism we have received was all His work, even as His suffering, dying, and rising was all His work.

Baptism alone would be enough for us. When you are Baptized you are saved. Really, you have it all in Baptism. And yet, God is not content in giving us just what we need. He wants to bless us abundantly. He wants to forgive us again and again, since as the Baptized children of God we often do not live like it.

There is a very simple thing children must learn and it seems anything but simple. At the moment it seems like the hardest thing in the world. When a child has done something wrong and the parent teaches that child to say I’m sorry, the child might sooner want to eat broccoli. But once they learn this they come to find out that it is necessary. If you never learn to be sorry you will never learn what it means to be forgiven. You may feel good at the moment that you’ve gotten away with something, but your conscience will hold on to what you have done and there won’t be release from it.

So, in one sense, confession of sins is simple. We acknowledge our sin. We confess it, recognizing that we are sorry that we have sinned. But confession of sins is also profound in that being sorry isn’t enough. Another thing a child ought to learn is that being sorry for doing something wrong also means making an effort to not do it again. Confessing our sin means being sorry for it as well as repenting of it.

Repentance goes beyond simply being sorry for sin to turning from that sin. Repentance means you seek to amend what you have done wrong. You can be sorry all you want and still not be willing to change your ways. That’s not repentance.

So confession of sins is simple and profound. Fortunately, by God’s grace we not only are called to account of our sin but also are given a new heart and mind to see that we need to repent. Simply put, that we are able to repent is by the pure grace of God. Our sinful nature certainly doesn’t want to turn away from sin. That is why we sin in the first place. But in His grace God shows us that turning away from sin leads to something greater than the sin we thought so enticing.

And that is the main thing in the confession of sins. It is Absolution. Absolution is the absolving of sins. It is forgiveness. It is not holding sin against us. When we confess our sins God wants nothing more than to forgive us of our sins. If you confessed your sins but weren’t forgiven, you would be no better off than if you hadn’t confessed your sins. God brings us to repentance so that we may be forgiven.

Absolution is simple. It is God’s pronouncement to us that He forgives us. He does not hold our sin and guilt against us. When He forgives us He sees us as ones who have not sinned but as ones who are holy because of His holy Son, who is our Savior. Absolution assures you that what you know of your Baptism is true. You are a child of God because He raised you to new life in Baptism and will sustain you in that new life in absolving you of your sins.

Even as it is simple, Absolution is profound. In the same way that God brought you into His eternal Kingdom through water that was connected with His Word, so He wipes away your sins through the action of His called and ordained servant absolving you of your sins. The word of your Lord is spoken by His servant and you hear it. What you are hearing is your Lord speaking forgiveness to you. This is what Jesus instructed His apostles to do in John 20, after His resurrection: whoever’s sins you forgive, they are forgiven; whoever’s sins you do not forgive, they are not forgiven.

Those who confess and repent are forgiven. Those who do not are not. It’s not that God does not want to forgive some people. It’s that if they refuse the forgiveness they are left in their sins. God will not force His forgiveness on those who want to live in unrepentance. Jesus died for everyone, paid for all of their sins, but there are many people who simply don’t want that forgiveness.

For those who do, who see that their sin and guilt will finally overcome them; who see that without the forgiveness of God they will never rid themselves of their sin and guilt; who see that with God there is abundant mercy, He gives exactly that. He separates our sins from us as far as the east is from the west. This is the prayer of the Psalmist and it is our prayer as well.

The profound nature of Absolution is seen in the living out of our daily Christian lives. Absolution is not just a moment when the forgiveness of sins is declared to us. It is the natural living out of Baptism. In Baptism you were forgiven of all of your sins. You were Baptized once but you still live in this fallen world. Your sinful flesh still wraps itself around you. You still sin. That’s why it’s imperative that you never forget your Baptism. Live in your Baptism. Daily die and rise to new life.

When you are Absolved you are being raised to new life. Your confessing of your sin plunges you into death and God reaches down and lifts you out of that death by absolving you, forgiving your sin.

Just as Baptism was an external act, something done to you from outside of yourself, so is Absolution. In Baptism the pastor spoke the Word of God and applied the water to you. In Absolution the pastor speaks the Word of God to you as well, applying it to you. When you confess your sins to the pastor you are confessing them to God. The spoken word of Absolution comes from outside of you and is spoken to directly to you. You are forgiven. God has forgiven you as the words declare it.

This is certain. Each Christian can and should forgive those who sin against them. If someone has sinned against you and seeks your forgiveness, you are obligated to forgive them. How could you withhold forgiveness from them when our Lord Himself died for all of their sins? So each Christian has the power and obligation to forgive those who have sinned against them.

And we ought to seek forgiveness from those we sin against. We should not just pray and ask God to forgive us. We should confess our sin to the person we have harmed and ask their forgiveness. When others forgive us they are not holding that sin against us.

But we sin much more than only our sins against others. We sin in many ways and God wants us to know that He forgives us of those sins. This is why God has given His ordained servants the call to forgive the sins of His people. When you are burdened by your sins you are encouraged to confess them to the one who in the stead and by the command of his Lord Jesus Christ pronounces Absolution to you. We don’t always know if others truly forgive us, but we know that God’s Word is certain. When He says He forgives you, you are forgiven. Amen.


Sunday, March 6, 2016

Your Lord Provides for You in Body and Soul

Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 6, 2016
You should try this. Get out a pen and paper and write down the things you want. It doesn’t have to be a long list. Just write down things you want, whether you have them or not. Then make a list of the things you need. This might be a little harder. Of course, everyone needs food and water and shelter. So think along the lines of what you need for your day-to-day living. For your home, your work, and other things you’re involved in.

Now take a look at the things on your list and imagine they were all taken away. What would you do? What would you pray to God for? Or would you wonder if it were even worth it to pray to Him? If you have nothing left, is God even still with you?

It’s hard to imagine this because usually people don’t lose everything. But it’s worth thinking about because if you believe God is the true God then you need to believe it no matter what. What this means is that all the things you don’t have and all the things that you lose still do not throw you into doubt of God’s faithfulness to you. If God loves you then He loves you whether you’re in need or in plenty.

If we’re honest, we usually think of God’s faithfulness to us as His blessing us with those things that are on our lists of what we want and need. If He gives those things to us then He is our God. If things are going well for us then He is blessing us and He is doing what He as God is supposed to do.

That’s what the people in the Gospel reading thought. They weren’t dumb. They saw that Jesus was providing miraculously and they thought, This is what we want. This is what we need. So they followed Him. They were looking for more.

Did Jesus get frustrated with them for seeking the things of this world? No, He gave them to them. He fed them. After listening to Him He didn’t say, That’s all you need. You don’t need the things of this world, only the spiritual and eternal things. He knew they needed food. He provided for them in what they needed.

When Satan had tempted Jesus to provide for Himself bread, Jesus quoted the Scriptures, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by the very Word of God. The simple truth is, Jesus ate food. He needed sleep. He made use of shelter. He wore clothing and took care of His temporal needs. Just because our ultimate needs are met with the Word of God doesn’t mean we should ignore our needs of this life. Just because we live by the very Word of God doesn’t mean we live only by the Word of God. We are given many blessings of this life by God, as Jesus shows in the Gospel reading.

But actually, even the temporal and physical things God gives us are by His Word. It was by speaking that God brought all things into existence. Him blessing us with the eternal things we need and the temporal things we need are not either/or, they’re both/and. God blesses us in body and soul. There’s a reason Jesus gave us the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Give us this day our daily bread. And of course that is followed by the next petition, And forgive us our trespasses.

All this sounds simple enough, but it’s not that simple played out in real life, is it? God provides for us and wants to bless us but sometimes we’re in need. Sometimes things we need are taken away. Sometimes we’re caught up in the things we want, even seeing them as things we need. How is it that God blesses us and provides for us when we’re in need?

There’s a one-word answer, and it sounds trite. But it’s true. It’s absolutely the one thing we need no matter what happens to us, no matter what we have or don’t have. It’s the basic Sunday School answer: Jesus. Our Lord shows He is the answer to all that we need when He shows us that what He gives to us is Himself.

When John tells us that Jesus was about to do something that He knew He was going to bring about miraculously, he could have just told us that Jesus fed thousands of people with a few loaves and two fish. But inspired by the Holy Spirit, John connects this with what Jesus was yet to do; and a far more miraculous blessing He would bring about.

John says that Jesus fed these people when the Passover was near. On its own, this detail might not be anything more than a time marker. But we know what Jesus did at the Passover on the night in which He was betrayed. He took bread and broke it, and giving thanks, He gave it to His disciples and said, Take eat, this is My body, given for you.

John likes to call Jesus’ miraculous actions signs. They are actions that point to something greater. It’s hard to imagine something greater than Jesus feeding thousands of people with a little bread and fish. But we know Jesus did the greatest thing of all, He fed the world with Himself. He says later on in John 6, My flesh is true food and My blood is true drink. Jesus Himself is the true food for the life of the world.

When Jesus was feeding the masses in our Gospel reading He alone knew that He would be giving thanks at a later Passover in which the bread and wine given would be His very own body and blood. This is why He escaped the crowd when they wanted to seize Him to make Him their king. The only king He would be was the one who would lay down His life for the sin of the world.

If you make a list of things you need and things you want and then you see that your life doesn’t match up with those things, know that you don’t need to take Jesus by force as the people in the Gospel reading tried to do. You don’t need to try to make Him your King, He already is. He already gives you everything you need. You know this because He gives you Himself. He provides you in body and soul because here in this Meal you have something even greater than the meal He provided in feeding thousands of people with bread and fish. Here in this meal He gives you Himself, His body and His blood, given and shed for you for your forgiveness. No matter what you are going through or what you need, He gives you everything you need by giving you Himself.

When you know that He feeds you often with Himself for the forgiveness of your sins then you can see how He blesses you in so many ways. He gives you people in your life who help you in your need. He gives you things like food and shelter and money and other material blessings for your basic needs. If you are ever lacking in even basic things, instead of wondering if God is providing for you or not, know that He works even through trials you go through to bless you and strengthen you. If you limit your requests to God of the temporal things you need you are missing out on the amazing array of blessings He wants to give you.

Oftentimes it’s when we’re in need that we see how much we really need God. Oftentimes it’s when we have what we want that we think we don’t need Him as much as we ought to. The world and our sinful nature, not to mention Satan, would like us to think that if we’re in need then God must be holding out on us. How can He possibly make us believe He is providing for us if we are in need? That’s why we must rely on the Word of God rather than listening to Satan and the voice of our sinful nature and the voice of the world. We must stand fast on what God tells us despite what things seem.

If God has delivered over His very own Son, how much more will He give us all things? If Jesus trusted His Heavenly Father when He was being forsaken by His very own Father, how much more can we see that our Heavenly Father loves us so much to save us by His love for us in His Son?

He will provide. He will give you what you need. He will keep you in body and soul to life eternal. He will keep giving you His Son in and with bread and wine in a meal that is far greater than any miracle, far greater in blessing than anything you could ever put on a list of things you need in this life.

You see, when you get Christ, you get it all. Amen.