Here’s something to make your heart sing, to soar even into heaven itself: The Lord Jesus has prepared a place for you, a place with Himself, a place in His Father’s House. He has made His God and Father your God and Father, and His Father’s House into your own house and home.
Not only that, but you know the Way there. You know the way home to the House of your God and Father, because Christ is the Way. Whatever confusion may yet becloud your mind, whatever doubts and fears may yet haunt your heart, the Lord Jesus has come to you in love, and He has revealed Himself to you. More than that, He has given Himself for you and to you.
The Son of God has come down from the Father in heaven. He has become true Man of flesh and blood, and He has gone down into the depths of sin and death. Yet, He is lifted up to the Glory of God in His death upon the Cross, in order to draw all men to Himself. And in His Resurrection and Ascension, He has returned to His Father, where He ever lives to intercede for you. He is your merciful and great High Priest, and in and with His prayers for you, in and with His crucified and risen Body, He raises you from death to life, and He brings you to the Father in peace and love.
He is such a great High Priest who is not unable to sympathize with you, but who has suffered and been tempted in every way that you are, yet without sin. He has not turned aside or departed from the Way set before Him by the Father, but in your place, on your behalf, He has persevered and prevailed for your Salvation. So it is that His Victory has become yours. It is credited to you, and it avails for you, unto the Resurrection and the Life everlasting.
You also share His priesthood as a member of His Body and Bride, the Church. For you share all things with Him who is your heavenly Bridegroom. As you have been united with Christ Jesus in His Cross and Resurrection by your Holy Baptism, and as you actually eat and drink the very Body and Blood of Christ, which have been sacrificed for you and for all — offered to God as an acceptable sacrifice and a sweet-smelling aroma — so are you also taken up into His priesthood.
Which is to say that you also now offer spiritual sacrifices which are acceptable to God. Indeed, you are an acceptable sacrifice. Your whole body and life are offered to God as a sacrifice in Christ Jesus. A living sacrifice, that is what your life is. Not for the propitiation of your sins. Not for the atonement of your sins. Not for your sins at all. There is no other sacrifice for sin than the one that Christ has offered once for all. All sins are forgiven by His holy and precious Blood.
But the priestly sacrifice that characterizes your new life in Christ is the sacrifice of faith, which looks to God for all good things, and calls upon His Name in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.
Your priestly sacrifice, your priestly life, is one of prayer and of song. And on this Sunday, in particular, you are called upon to sing. “Sing to the Lord a New Song,” the Psalmist says. At the Lamb’s High Feast we sing. Sing to the Lamb who was slain, and yet who lives forever. Sing with all the saints and angels in heaven and on earth, as they are privileged to sing with us in Christ.
Singing is closely connected to the priestly office, and to the priestly life. One of the things that King David did, in particular, was to assign a number of the Levites to the task of singing. To sing the Psalms. To sing around the Lord’s Altar and His Ark of the Covenant. To sing the praises of God, as when St. Peter says that you have been called out of darkness into Light, that you may show forth or proclaim the wonderful excellencies of God.
You sing because it is a way of giving thanks and praise to God. It is a way of exulting in the works and gifts of God. And you sing, Dr. Luther has said, because singing — especially singing the Gospel — chases the devil away and drives him out of your life, since he cannot stand to hear Christians sing the Gospel of Jesus. The devil cannot tolerate the singing of God’s praises.
You sing for yourself, and you sing for your neighbor. You sing to your children, and you sing for the person sitting next to you, whose heart may not want to sing because it is so sad. And when you lift your voice in singing, then you are serving as a priest along with Christ, caring for His Body, the Church — even as His Body and Bride, the Church, cares for you and all the children of God by singing His Word and faith to you and for you and with you.
This Song, this singing, is called forth in you by the Word of Christ. He speaks His Word. He sings His Word. A new and better Aslan is here, singing a new and better Land into being by His preaching of the Gospel. So does the Father sing to you by His Son. And so does the Spirit sing Christ into your very body and life through your ears with this New Song of the Gospel.
By and with the preaching of Christ, the Spirit sings the Song of faith into your heart. For as you hear the New Song of Christ Jesus, you also begin to sing along with Him to the Glory of His Name and for the good of your neighbors. By His Word and Holy Spirit, you sing to the Lord a New Song: The Song of Easter. The Song of the Resurrection. The Alleluia of faith, which exults in the Lord’s triumph over sin, death, the devil, and hell, even when everything is going wrong.
You are able to sing in the face of sin and death, in the midst of trial and temptation, and in spite of every kind of trouble, because the Gospel gives you the comfort of Christ and His Spirit. He forgives you all your sins, so that Satan cannot harm you. And even though death may hurt your body and rob you of your loved ones, it cannot snatch you away from Christ who loves you.
Whatever lies the devil may speak, whatever dark song the devil may sing, in this New Song of the Gospel you know the Love of God in Christ, which never ends, and from which you shall not be separated. By His Cross you are forgiven, and in His Resurrection and Ascension you have the freedom to live and to love and to serve with both courage and compassion.
You have the courage to do the job that God has given you, even if it is tedious, unappreciated, overlooked, and hard. And you have compassion for those who hurt you and speak ill of you.
Like St. Stephen, the faithful deacon and holy martyr, one of the most significant examples in all of Scripture. He performed works of mercy according to his office and vocation. He preached the Gospel. He served the Church. He laid down his life for the Name of Christ. And as he was being stoned to death, brought to his knees by those hard rocks, he looked to the Lord Jesus and prayed for those who were killing him, that God would not hold their sin against them. He forgave them.
You know people like that, too. Maybe your Mom. Maybe a big brother or sister. Maybe your Grandpa. Or maybe a coworker. People with courage to live and to work as faithful Christians wherever God has put them. People who demonstrate genuine strength with tender compassion.
As a Christian, you have that strength and courage, too. You have the faith to sing, and you have the freedom to love. You have the confidence and courage to confess Christ in the face of hostility and hatred. And you have the compassion to forgive those who trespass against you.
None of this by your own strength. These good works of faith and love do not originate from your sinful heart or fallen flesh. They are the free gifts of God in Christ, by the grace of His Gospel. As He is so tender and compassionate, and forgives you all of your sins, and uses His strength to save you, so do you also have such strength in Him, by His Word and Holy Spirit.
How is it, then — after being served by Christ, after hearing His Song and singing with Him — how is it that you are still so confused, so restless and afraid, and sometimes so angry, despairing, or impatient? Why is it that, even as the sweet Song of the Resurrection of the Lamb rings in your ears and all around you in His Church, there is still that tune of darkness and death in your heart?
It is because the Lord your God, your Savior, reveals Himself to you and sings to you by His Cross.
The Cross is laid upon your faith and life in suffering with and for Christ Jesus. The same Cross that is preached to you, which marks your forehead and your heart from the waters of your Holy Baptism, and which you bear as a disciple of Christ Jesus — that same Cross confronts and crucifies the sin that remains in you, that is, in your flesh. And because you are a sinner in a sinful world, and because you are a stranger in a strange land, you are crushed and confused by the Cross.
As you hear the Word of the Cross, and as the Cross is laid upon your heart and mind, your body and life, you stumble and take offense. You too often find yourself not much like Stephen at all. You are cowardly instead of courageous. You decline to speak when you should, yet gossip against your neighbors, and curse and swear by the Lord’s Name. You are bitter and resentful, instead of compassionate and kind. Eager for revenge. Defensive and defiant. Not given to prayer.
Your heart does not feel like singing, and you don’t. Instead, you worry and you fret. You’re anxious and afraid. You cannot hear the Song, and you cannot sing along, because the sinful flesh that has been cut away from your ears and from your heart keeps growing back. In fact, it gets tougher and calloused with scars. It resists the Word of Christ, and it dulls the Song He sings.
That’s why God keeps on preaching the Cross to you, and lays the Cross upon your body and life in this world. Because it takes the sharp, two-edged Sword of the Cross to pierce and cut through your sinful flesh — that is, to “circumcise” your ears and your heart, again and again and again.
You are cut to the quick by the Word of the Cross, not for despair, and not for the gnashing of teeth, but for repentance. And that same Cross which crucifies you, puts you to death, and buries you in and with Christ Jesus, also raises you up, in and with Him, through His forgiveness of sins.
It is by His free and full forgiveness of your sins, by His sweet Song of the Gospel, that He calls you and brings you to a living faith in Him, out of the darkness into His glorious light.
Wherever in your life you find that you are still in the dark; wherever in your life you find that you are still dead in your trespasses and sin; wherever in your life you are burdened, and despairing, and unable to sing, the one and only remedy is still that New Song of the Gospel which Christ keeps on singing to you and for you, and by which He keeps on calling you back to Himself.
That is His good work, and that is His gracious gift. As it was for St. Stephen and all the holy martyrs; as it has been for all of the faithful who have gone before you; and as it is for all of the faithful who are with you now, so it is that He calls you to Himself by the Song of His Cross.
By that Song He calls you into life through the new birth of His own death and Resurrection. That’s why you hunger for His Word like a little baby; because He keeps on giving you that new birth of repentance and faith. The Song of His Cross circumcises your ears to hear, your heart to believe, and your lips to confess the Word of Christ the Crucified.
You share His “royal priesthood” in your prayers and thanksgiving, and in the New Song of your mind and heart, your body and life, because Christ Jesus loves you, and He lives in you, and He glorifies His Father in you. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And He is the New Song, which the Spirit sings to you and for you, in you and with you, here at the Lord’s Altar, around the Lamb upon His Throne, in the Holy of Holies made without hands, eternal in the heavens.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.