29 April 2018

Living and Abiding in the Vine

The seven weeks of Easter are the high point of the Church’s life, the joyous celebration of her risen Lord and heavenly Bridegroom.  Everything else has led to this: the preparation of Advent, the festivities of the ChristMass, the joy and wonder of Epiphany, the repentance and discipline of Lent, and the solemn awe of Good Friday — all is done in anticipation of this blessed Eastertide.  And it is from this Easter celebration that the Church on earth shall yet derive her life and health and strength throughout the years to come, in anticipation of the Resurrection of all flesh.

For all that, even during the weeks of Easter, the Church does not forget the Crucifixion.  She does not turn Her eyes away from the Cross or from the Body of her crucified Lord.  As it is true that without the Resurrection our faith would be in vain, so would the Resurrection itself be for nothing if Christ had not suffered and been crucified for the salvation of all.  At all times and in all places, the Church preaches nothing but the one Lord Jesus Christ, both crucified and risen from the dead.

It is fitting, therefore, that the Holy Gospels throughout the latter Sundays of Easter are from that night in which the Lord Jesus Christ was handed over to His Cross and Passion.  That night when the Lord of all creation humbled Himself as the Servant of all, stooping down to wash the feet of His disciples.  That night when He fed them with His Body and His Blood, as He continues to do for His Church to the close of the age.  That night when the beloved Son of God anticipated His Sacrifice upon the Cross and called upon His Father with tears and sweat like great drops of blood.

It is on that sacred night that He spoke these Words to His disciples, and so also to you: “I Am the true Vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser.”  And again, “I Am the Vine; you are My branches.”

The image of the Vine, and of the Vineyard, is a common one throughout the Old Testament.  In numerous places, God compares His chosen People, Israel, to a Vineyard that He has planted for Himself and cared for in love.  And yet, in almost every case, despite the loving care of God, it is an unproductive Vineyard, overgrown and wild.  Where there should have been a bountiful harvest of many and good grapes, the Vineyard has produced only bad.

The Vine continued to serve as a prominent image of Israel in the time of Jesus, as well.  Jewish coins, for example, were crafted with a vine engraved on one side.  And the Temple, likewise, had the symbol of a vine sculpted into one of its gates.  So, then, as Jesus used the imagery of the Vineyard in several of His Parables, His condemnation of the people’s failure was readily apparent.

By the same token, when Jesus calls Himself the true Vine, He identifies His task and His burden.  As the true Vine of the Father, Jesus takes the place of His People.  He takes upon Himself the sin and guilt of the whole world, and He suffers the condemnation for it all.  Though He has no sins of His own, He is made to be sin in the stead of all others, that He might be the Sacrifice for sin.

For you and for all people, He actually becomes the wild, unproductive Vineyard that you have been, and He gives His Body to be harrowed and plowed under for your sins.  Thus, by His death, the failure of the Vineyard is absolved, and the weeds and wild grapes of sin are purged forever.

As a seed must first be planted in the ground before it can sprout forth as a living and fruitful plant, so is the Lord our Savior planted — as a Seed, by death — into the garden tomb.  And from the dust of the earth He rises again, surging upward into the heavens, a true and mighty Vine, strong and ever-living, flowing with the “sap” of everlasting life.  For He pours out His own lifeblood to cleanse you of your sins.  So does the dead wood of the Cross propagate the very Tree of Life, the Fruits of which are forgiveness and life and salvation in the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus.

Because the incarnate Son of God, crucified and risen from the dead, is the true Vine of the Father, the Vineyard will always meet the Father’s expectations.  Living and abiding in Christ, it yields only the good grapes for which it was intended, since it is Christ Himself who produces them.  And you also belong to that Vineyard by virtue of your fellowship with Christ Jesus, the true Vine.

By the washing of the water with His Word in Holy Baptism, you are buried with Christ Jesus in His death; you are planted together with Him in the dust of the ground.  And so it is that, in His Resurrection from the dead, you also rise and emerge with Him, sprouting and living as a branch of the Vine, firmly grafted into His pierced side.  So do you abide in Him, and He abides in you.

It is to the blessings and benefits of your Baptism that Christ is pointing in this Holy Gospel, when He says to His disciples, “You are already clean because of the Word that I have spoken to you.”  For just as He had taken water and knelt down to wash the feet of His disciples in love on that night of His Passion, so has the same Lord washed you with the waters of Holy Baptism, in which He spoke to you His Word and promise of forgiveness and eternal life.  By water and His Word He has cleansed you of all your sins, that you might live before God in righteousness and purity forever, and that you might bear the fruits of Christ to the praise and glory of His holy Name.

That is a beautiful picture of what it is and what it means to be a Christian.  For abiding in the Vine means that you — as one of His branches — bear His fruit.  Indeed, those who live within the Vine, who draw their life and health and strength from Him alone, do bear fruit in great abundance.

As St. Paul has described, it is no longer you who live, but Christ lives in you.  He is the true Vine, and He faithfully sustains His branches.  He does not fail to bring forth His fruits within your life.

To be sure, there are those who vainly imagine themselves to be “in Christ,” who rest easy in the Vineyard as unproductive branches, dead on the Vine, declining to draw upon His life-giving sap.  Though they presume to be in Christ, those stubborn and self-sufficient branches either attempt to yield fruit by their own powers, instead of relying on the Vine, or they remain content to bear nothing at all.  Like mutinous and renegade branches, they live like separate vines unto themselves, thereby living a façade, and all the while rejecting the only real source of help and consolation.

Do not suppose that you are immune to such temptations and unfaithfulness.  For so long as you live in this world, you are under attack from the devil, the world, and your own mortal flesh.  Far too easily do you let the cares and occupations of this life get you down, and, instead of turning to the Gospel of Christ Jesus, you crowd your days and nights with your own efforts to succeed.

You also have been guilty of producing the wild grapes of worldly living, and so much excess foliage that there has been little if any room for the fruit that Christ would so graciously bestow upon you and bring forth in you.  Thus would you be a renegade and good-for-nothing branch.

But thanks be to God, who has given you the victory in our dear Lord Jesus Christ!  For the Father loves you with an everlasting love, and He prunes away your wild grapes and excess foliage, lest you fall from the Vine altogether and be cast away forever.  He disciplines you and calls you to repentance, until you turn at last, not to yourself, but to the Cross of Christ.

The Word of God, like a pure and life-giving Fountain, is always calling out to you, calling you to return to the strength and nourishment of the Vine.  And as you are immersed into that Fountain of His Word, you are returned to the significance of your Baptism into Christ.  Your mortal flesh is drowned and put to death and buried with all of your sinful lusts and desires, with all of your idolatry and faithless unbelief, and with all of your laziness and neglect.  But so are you also raised up as a new creation in Christ Jesus, bearing the fruits of faith and love as a member of His Body.

You live by faith in Him, in love for God and man in Christ, as a living branch of the true Vine, by abiding in Him, and by drawing on the vital “Sap” that He alone provides.  That “Sap,” so to speak, is supplied to you in many ways.  In Holy Baptism, by which you have been grafted into the Vine, and to which you are returned throughout your life by the Word and Spirit of Christ Jesus.  And the “Sap” is poured out for you in the preaching of the Word of God, which is the Promised Land in which you live, flowing with the milk and honey of forgiveness and everlasting life.  So is the “Sap” given especially in the spoken Word of Holy Absolution, the forgiveness of all your sins in the Name and stead of Christ Himself; for by His Word of forgiveness you are given life.

By each of these means you are nourished and made alive, and so do you bear the fruits of Christ.

And what is more, in the Supper of your Lord, the very Body and Blood of your Savior are given to you for the forgiveness of all your sins and the strengthening of your faith in the most intimate communion with Him.  Here you are given to drink from His Cup of Salvation, overflowing with the life-giving Fruit of the true Vine.  Here at His Table He comes to abide in you with His own flesh and blood, that you might abide in Him and with Him, both body and soul, now and forever.

Here at the Table of your Lord, gathered together with your brothers and sisters in Christ at His Altar — as many branches grafted into one Vine — you eat and drink together as one Vineyard from the Cross of your Salvation.  Here, together as one Body, you are nourished by the Holy Spirit to live and believe in Christ, and to bear the fruits of faith and love to the glory of God.

Having thus been gathered around the Altar of the Lord with your brothers and sisters in Christ, as branches together of one and the same holy Vine, you love one another as He has loved you.  Not in words only, but in deeds and in truth.  You forgive, as you are forgiven.  You sacrifice for others, as Christ has sacrificed Himself for you.  You love and serve your neighbor, as you are loved and served by God in Christ.  For you cannot abide in Him, and He will not abide in you, if you harden your heart and refuse to abide with others in His peace and love and forgiveness.

When your father Adam ate the fruit of disobedience and sin, he was cut off from the Vineyard of the Lord of Hosts, and He was barred from the Tree of Life.  But that is not the case with you, not now.  For though you daily sin much and, indeed, you deserve nothing but punishment, the Tree of Life has been planted for you, and established for you in this place.  The Lord your God has stretched out His arms and wrapped the branches of His love around you.  He has given Himself for you, and He has called you to Himself.  He has grafted you into His Body in mercy.

He has granted you forgiveness by His Word and Ministry of the Gospel, and so you are forgiven.

Not only that, but what is more, Christ stretches forth Himself — His love and His forgiveness — through the life that He now lives in you, wherever He has planted you in this world, even to the ends of the earth.  He reaches out with you, as one of His many branches, to those who are not yet grafted into the Vine.  He scatters the fruits of His Love and Joy and Peace and Forgiveness, with seemingly reckless abandon, so that all might be gathered into the Lamb’s High Feast forever.

As St. John has written elsewhere: “He showed to me a pure river, which is the water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb.  In the middle was the Tree of Life, which bore twelve fruits, each one yielding its fruit in great abundance.  And the leaves of that Tree were for the healing of the nations.”  There shall be no more curse, and His servants shall serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness.  Even as He is risen from the dead, and lives and reigns to all eternity.  This is most certainly true.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

25 April 2018

The Life and Salvation of the Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus

Be sober in all things.  Endure hardship and bear the cross patiently.  Do the work that God has given you to do.  Fulfill your calling as a Christian.

For the Lord your God has poured Himself out as a drink offering, for you and for all people, even to the ends of the earth.  And He pours Himself out for you here — for you and for the many — that you should be crowned with His righteousness, sealed with His blood, and live with Him in His Kingdom, in safety, peace, and happiness forever.

By the baring of His holy arms upon the wood of the Cross, He has redeemed His people and the whole of His creation from the curse of sin and death.

And now He also bares His holy outstretched arms and His merciful hands by causing the Gospel to be preached to all the nations, to make known His salvation to all men and women everywhere, and to comfort His Church, His beloved Jerusalem, even in the midst of her suffering and sorrow.

The Lord Jesus Christ, the almighty and eternal Son of God, in flesh and blood like your own, has fulfilled the entire Law, the Word and holy will of His Father.  He has established faith and love, righteousness and holiness, in Himself, in His own Body, in the perfect unity of His own Person as the One who is both true God and true Man.  It is in Him, therefore, by faith in Him, that all the sons and daughters of man are called and given to live the divine life, to partake of the divine nature, and to abide in peace and joy forevermore within the bosom of His God and Father.

He has broken down the wall of hostility and separation between God and man, which sin erected in the fall of Adam.  The Lord has removed the accusation of the Law and every condemnation.  For He has suffered the death and damnation of sin in His own body, and the wrath of God against all unrighteousness; and having done so in perfect faith and love, in holiness and innocence before His God and Father, He has been vindicated and raised from the dead on behalf of all people.

Because His bloody Cross and Passion have made Atonement for the sins of the whole world, the death of the Lord Jesus Christ has defeated death forever and crushed the devil’s head.

His Resurrection is the Father’s Holy Absolution of the world, which He has reconciled to Himself in Christ, His dear Son.  All flesh and all creation are restored in the flesh of Christ, in His Body, crucified and risen.  So God the Father now beholds the world in Jesus Christ, and it is very good.

All of this redemption, reconciliation, and righteousness, the Lord has accomplished and fulfilled, not for His own benefit, but for you and for all; that you might live in His good and glorious New Creation; that you might live, by faith in Christ, in the love of God forever and ever.

It is into that life and love that God invites you and brings you by His Gospel, which is the Word of Christ, the proclamation of His Cross and Resurrection, the preaching of repentance and the forgiveness of sins in His Name, and of peace with God in His holy and precious blood.

As He brought all of creation into being out of nothing by His Word, so has He also brought about the New Creation by His Word.  And so it is that He brings you out of death into life — out of the darkness of your sins into the Light of His Love, into His New Creation — all by His Word.

It is by His Word that He has given you the new birth of water and the Holy Spirit, so that you are no longer dead in your trespasses and sin, but having been crucified with Christ you are raised with Him to newness of life with God, here in time and hereafter in eternity.  Outside of Christ Jesus you are condemned, but in Him you are alive and shall be saved forevermore.  Remain in Him, therefore, by returning daily to your Baptism through contrition, repentance, and faith, and by living the new life to which He has called you, in love for God and man, according to His Word.

Do not underestimate the importance and necessity of His Word and the preaching of it.  It is His Word that separates the darkness from the Light.  It is His Word that raises you from death to life.  And it is His Word that saves you from every evil of body and soul, until He shall call you from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.

It is when His people disregard His Word and turn away from it that His good creation falls into the curse and condemnation of sin and death.  And, as it is by His Word that you abide in Christ, and by His Word that Christ abides in you, so it is that, when you turn a deaf ear to His Word and refuse to hear it, then you are found outside of Him and condemned in your unfaithfulness.

Where His Word reproaches you for your unbelief and hardness of heart, repent.  Do not become angry or defensive; do not persist in your stubbornness and sin, but repent and believe the Gospel.  Do not refuse to hear the testimony of those who are the witnesses of His Cross and Resurrection, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.  Do not despise this preaching of His Word, but receive it with your ears, ponder it in your heart, believe it, and live according to it at all times.

Trust Christ, that He was crucified for your transgressions and raised again for your justification.  Live in Him, and do not allow the devil, the world, or your sinful flesh to rob you of that life.

Wherever in the world He has called you and stationed you to be, live and work there in the joyful confidence of His Gospel, and in the love that His Word directs you to have for your neighbor.

If you are a preacher, preach.  But let none of you suppose that only preachers shall be saved or live by the Word of Christ.  Rather, live in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus, according to His Word that has been preached to you, within your own vocation as a Christian, within your own proper office and station in life.  Know that the Lord your God works with you, and in you, confirming His Word to you by the signs of His grace, mercy, and peace, in your faithful service as a husband or wife, father or mother, son or daughter, sister or brother, student or worker.

Live such as you are, as one whose life is safe and secure in Christ Jesus, who sits at the right hand of God the Father in heaven.  That is where you live by faith, even as you live in love here on earth

And that, too, is very good, for Jesus’ sake.

The goodness of His creation — redeemed by His Cross and restored in His Resurrection — and the goodness of life in this world, is demonstrated by the ways and means with which He causes His Gospel to be preached to all the nations of the world, even to the ends of the earth.

Not angels, but men of flesh and blood like His own, He calls and sends in His Name to preach.

Men like St. Mark the Evangelist, whom we remember with praise and thanksgiving to God on this festival day.  By his hand, the Word of Christ has been recorded and published in all the world.  Surely by such proclamation he was useful to St.  Peter and St.  Paul.  And he is useful to you, also, by the Word that he has written in the Holy Spirit.  With mortal hands he wrote with human words on earthly parchment, and yet those Words he wrote are the Words of Christ, your Savior, alive with His Spirit and full of His forgiveness for the salvation of sinners, including you.

So do the preachers of Christ Jesus, even now, speak with new tongues, so that you may be healed of your sins, set free from your demons, and raised from death to life.  The forked tongue of the serpent shall not deceive you or mislead you, and his deadly poison shall not hurt you, not while you are guarded and kept by this preaching of Christ and His Gospel of forgiveness.  Not because you never fall, but because He has risen from the dead, and He raises you up with Himself.

With His Word He has made of ordinary water a Baptism for you, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit.  Believe it, and be saved.

Believe, too, that the same Lord Jesus Christ who died and rose again, who called and sent Saint Mark to preach and publish the Gospel, and who reclined at the Table with His holy Apostles, making Himself known to them in the Breaking of the Bread — that same Lord Jesus Christ, by the same Word of the Gospel, reclines here at His Table with you, and He gives Himself to you here and now, His flesh and blood for your body and soul, in the same Breaking of the Bread.

His Word sounds from heaven here in this place through the mouth of His servant, and His holy arm stretches out to feed you from His own hand.  There is no poison in His Cup.  It is poured out as the Medicine of Life and Immortality, which He has brought to light through the Gospel.

By His precious Word, sweeter than honey, and by His Holy Sacrament, He reigns as your King.

All praise and thanks to Him for this great salvation, and for the gift of His servant, St. Mark, through whom He has caused His Word to be heard in your ears and your heart, unto eternal life.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

22 April 2018

Sharing the Life and Love of Your Good Shepherd

In His great love for you, the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s own dear Son, your great Good Shepherd, has laid down His life for you.  He has given Himself into death, and He has spent Himself entirely for you and your salvation.  And He has taken His life up again by His exercise of perfect faith and trust in the Word and promise of His own God and Father; for He and His Father are one.  Thus does He raise you up, as well, from sin and death to faith and love and everlasting life with God.

By His Name — by the preaching of the Gospel in His Name — by this Ministry of your Good Shepherd, who cares for you — you are healed and made well.  You are raised up to stand in peace before God.  You are made strong and whole, and so shall you live with Him forever.

Live, therefore, the life that He has obtained for you and given to you by His grace.  Do not pursue and persist in your sins, which lead to death, but live the Life that is yours by faith in Christ Jesus.

Keep His commandments, and live according to them.  Follow Him, as He leads and guides you with His Word, and walk with Him in the right pathways of faith and love, for His Name’s sake.

Believe in Him, the Son of God, your Savior and Good Shepherd.  Believe that He was crucified for your sins, and that He has risen from the dead for your justification; that death no longer has any mastery over Him, and so it shall not master you.  Listen to the voice of your Good Shepherd, and trust His good Word.  Receive His good Gifts.  And live.  Do not fear death, but live in Christ.

So, also, love your neighbors, especially your brothers and sisters in Christ.  For you cannot love the Shepherd without loving His lambs and sheep, whom He calls to Himself by His Word.

But do you wonder what love really is?  What it means, and what it entails.  What it looks like.

You are given to know what love is, to receive and experience true and lasting love, in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd who has willingly laid down His life for you and all His sheep.

You, then, love the Lord and your neighbor by laying down your life for the Body of Christ.  That is what you are to do.  Give yourself and spend yourself entirely for others, especially for those whom the Lord has placed alongside of you in this body and life.  Do not be afraid that you will overdo it or love too much.  Do not flinch at the prospect of giving yourself away.  If you die by loving, what have you lost?  If you lay down your life in love, the Lord shall raise you up again.

If you see your brother or sister in need, then use whatever means and abilities the Lord has entrusted to your stewardship to help and serve and provide for your neighbor.  To love.  But if you do not see or know your neighbor’s needs, then open your eyes, and pay attention, and find out.

Do not speak of the Resurrection and the Life without living.  Do not speak of God’s love and Christian love without loving.  And do not speak of the Gospel and forgiveness without forgiving.

The forgiveness of sins is at the heart of God’s divine and holy love for you and for all in Christ Jesus.  He loves you by forgiving your sins, and by His forgiveness you know love and what it is.  It is an act of divine and utter charity, according to His mercy and His steadfast loving-kindness.  No one takes it from Him, but He gives it freely to all, by grace alone, by the Gospel of Christ.

To forgive those who trespass against you, as your God and Father in heaven forgives you — not for money or merit, but solely for mercy’s sake — that is to live and to love as God Himself does.

The Father has given His Son for you, and the Son has laid down His life for you.  In this way God has known you and loved you with the divine intimacy of the Father and His Son in the Spirit.

The Lord has not held your sins and failings against you, but He has given Himself to deal with them, to suffer the consequences of your wrongdoing, and to set things right for you at the cost of His own body and life, by the shedding of His holy and precious blood in death upon the Cross.

He has not allowed your enmity and lack of love to dissuade Him.  He has not returned tit-for-tat in petty retaliation, as you have so often done in response to your neighbors.  He has not treated you or dealt with you as you have treated others, with impatience, irritation, and spite, but, in spite of your nasty unpleasantness, He has actually befriended you in grace, mercy, and peace.

He has sought you out, His lost and wandering sheep, in order to restore you to His fold, to care for you as your Good Shepherd, on earth as it is in heaven.

Consider what that means, as even little children know what a shepherd is and does for his sheep.  He guards and protects you from the ravenous wolves and roaring lions who would devour you.  He leads you and guides you by His Word, steering you away from the dangerous temptations of sin, and bringing you into the lush green pastures of His Gospel.  He feeds and waters you in safety and in peace.  He calls you gently to Himself by name, that you should follow Him and live.

Indeed, He leads you into His House and seats you at His Table.  In the face of sin, death, the devil, and hell, He has prepared a Feast for you in His Kingdom, that you should live with Him forever.  He has called you by His own Name, that you should be His own, and all that He has is now yours.

He has made of you a child of His own God and Father, and He has poured out His Holy Spirit into your heart through the forgiveness of all your sins by His Gospel, that you should have peace and hope and confidence in Him.  What is more, not even His own Law, nor your own heart, nor anyone else may condemn you, for He has satisfied the Law entirely on your behalf, He has atoned for all your many and various sins of thought, word, and deed, and He has risen from the dead for your justification.  He is your righteousness and holiness, your innocence and blessedness, forever.

So it is that you live, now, by faith in Him.  Already now, you live with Him in His Resurrection.  As your heart and soul are at peace with God in Christ, by faith in His forgiveness, so does your body also live and work and rest in peace, regardless of what you may face in this life under the Cross.  You live and you love, as your Good Shepherd does, to the glory of your God and Father, and for the benefit of your neighbors in the world.  For your life is hidden with Christ in God.

It never is by your own reason, wisdom, or strength.  You live and love by faith in His Word, as you hear His Voice in the preaching of His Gospel, and as you receive His Life and His Love in the ongoing significance of your Holy Baptism and the ongoing Feast of His Body and His Blood.  For by the Ministry of His Means of Grace He continues to give His own Life for His Sheep; no longer by dying, for He shall never die again, but by living unto God in righteousness as a great and merciful High Priest.  He ever lives to make intercession for His Church before the Father in heaven.  But so does He live to serve His Church on earth at His Font, His Pulpit, and His Altar.

To this end, He calls and sends, not hired hands and mercenaries, liable to cut and run at the first sign of danger or difficulty, but faithful shepherds after His own heart, who care for His lambs and sheep with their very lives, preaching His Word and working His works in His Name and stead.

And where His called and ordained servants deal with you according to His divine command — as He Himself did all that His Father commanded Him — so does He deal with you and care for you in this way.  Wherever His Gospel is preached in its truth and purity, and wherever His Holy Sacraments are administered in harmony with His Gospel, there He is with you, knowing you and loving you, and teaching you to know Him and to love Him by faith in His Word and promises.

Thus you may be certain that He is here with you in the green pastures of His Word, with which He feeds you unto eternal life, and by which He leads and guides you in righteousness and truth.

Here, too, is the water of His Baptism, the anointing of His Holy Spirit, by which He has made you His own, to which He daily returns you in love, and by which He leads you in quietness and peace.

Here at His Altar is the Holy Cross, the Rod and the Staff of His Gospel, by which He has atoned for your sins and redeemed you, and by which He has defeated death and the devil for you.  So it is that you shall not die but live forever in Him.  And so it is that death no longer holds any power over you, and the fear of death no longer drives you into selfishness or shamefulness or sin.  For by His Word of the Cross Christ absolves you, and with His forgiveness He gives you His Life.

Here then is the Table that He spreads before you in His House, and here is the Cup that overflows for you with His holy and life-giving Blood; that by this Feast you may belong to Him and abide in His Body forever, in His goodness and mercy all the days of your life, unto the Life everlasting.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

15 April 2018

The Flesh and Blood Life and Salvation of Christ

Dear child of God, your Father loves you, and He has raised up His Servant, Jesus, from the dead for your salvation.  Therefore, you are justified in Him; your sins are forgiven; and you are saved for life with God.

Why, then, are you troubled and afraid?  Do you not know that Christ is risen, He is risen indeed, and death has been defeated?  There is nothing at all that can harm you any longer forever.  If you are in Christ Jesus, your sins are all forgiven.  You share in His divine Life and eternal Salvation.

Yet, you have your doubts and fears, your troubles and frustrations.  Your life in the world is scary and threatening, whereas the Word and promises of God seem so flimsy.  His gifts appear too small and insignificant to satisfy the deepest longings of your heart.  How often does the risen Lord Jesus seem more like a ghost or a spirit and feel more like a fairy tale than anything of solid substance?

Examine yourself.  Allow the Word of God to have its way with you.  And consider how is it with your heart and mind, with your spirit, soul, and body.  Are you at peace with God in your thoughts, words, and deeds?  Do you find comfort in the death and Resurrection of Christ Jesus?  Are you confident of His forgiveness?  Or do you alternately question and tremble in fear at His presence?

Fear not, little child, for your God and Father loves you.  And consider the character and content of His Love, that He has given His only Son to die for you, and that He has raised Him up again.

Everything that God has ever spoken or done has been accomplished and fulfilled in His Son, Christ Jesus.  In His flesh and blood, which He shares with you.  In His Cross and Resurrection, which He also graciously shares with you.  It has all happened in accordance with the Scriptures.  It is what God intended.  It is what He desired.  It is what He has done.  And all of this for you.

In handing Christ Jesus over to death, the Lord your God has abolished your death forever.  In sacrificing His Son upon the Cross, He has atoned for all of your sins; He has removed them from His sight.  He has reconciled you and all the world to Himself.  And in raising Christ Jesus from the dead, He declares that you also shall be raised to be like Him.  You shall not die but live.

But does all of this seem a bit too ethereal and too elusive, outside of your grasp, and frankly not much help, as you get up in the morning and go about your days, and as you drag yourself back to bed again at night?  After all, your life here on earth is quite tangible.  You can touch it and feel it, you can see it and hear it, and far too often you can smell it, whether you want to or not.  Your body hurts, it gets tired, it falters and fails.  You have duties and obligations that can’t be ignored.  Your days are challenging and difficult.  And by comparison to all of that, Christ seems so unreal, as though His Cross and Resurrection were a nice story, and all of that, but far away and long ago.  Meanwhile, here you are, deeply embedded in the flesh, in the world, surrounded by sin and death.

It is the case that, if you are too much “of the world,” if you know the world too well, then you will not recognize or know the Lord Jesus Christ.  In that event, even when He is standing right in front of you, you will not be able to see Him or receive Him.  For no one who sins knows or sees Jesus.

So, how is it with you?  Do your sins prevent you from seeing and believing the Lord Jesus Christ, though He is present with you in His Word of the Gospel and with His very Body and His Blood?

“If you persist in your sins, you cannot see Him.”  “But if you abide in Him, you have no sin.”  Yet, that Word of the Lord seems paradoxical.  It actually sounds as though St. John were contradicting himself.  Which is it?  Do you have sins, or do you not?  Can you see Jesus, or can you not?

In yourself, you are full of sin and death, from which you cannot free yourself.  And if you claim otherwise, then you’re a liar, and you accuse God of being a liar.  But if you are in Christ Jesus, then you have no sin, because it is forgiven.  It is removed.  The Lamb of God has taken it away.

If you are in Christ Jesus — which is where He calls you to be, and where you are by faith in His Gospel — then you are righteous, and you practice righteousness, as He Himself is righteous.  For He is your Righteousness.  So it is that you shall be like Him, and you shall see Him just as He is.

If you would know Him this way, if you would abide with Him, and if you would rest in His Peace, then remain here in His City, in the midst of His Jerusalem, that is to say, within His Church.  For here you are clothed by His Father with the Holy Spirit through His Word of the Gospel.

It is by the preaching of His Cross and Resurrection that He comforts you and lifts you up from your doubts and fears to hope and joy and gladness in Him.  That is the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of all your sins in His Name, that you should believe and trust in Him, and live in Him by faith, with peace in your heart through the hope and promise of His Resurrection.

Such repentance, faith, and life with God are accomplished in your body and life by the preaching of the Cross and Resurrection, because it is by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus that He has accomplished everything for you.  His dying and rising are your repentance, faith, and life.

Repentance is not just in your heart and head.  It is not just feeling sorry for your sins.  It is to be crucified, dead, and buried with Christ, and raised with Him in His Resurrection.  It is to be united with Him in that which He has already done and accomplished for you and for all, in order to die to yourself, to your sins, and to the world, and brought into life with God in Christ Jesus.

All that He has done and accomplished for you in His own Body of flesh and blood, He does and accomplishes in you, in both your body and your soul, by and with the preaching of His Word.  For His Word is powerful and active; it does and gives exactly what He says.  Your sins are forgiven.  God no longer looks at them.  With Him they no longer harm you, because He does not count them against you.  Your sins harm you only when you abide in them, and not in Christ, your Savior.

Cling, then, to His Cross and Resurrection, to His forgiveness of sins, to His Life and Salvation, by clinging to His Word and the preaching of it — just as that lame man clung to Peter and John, not for silver and gold, but for the Word of Christ Jesus and the healing authority of His Name.

Cling to His Word, and call upon His Name, although He comes to you and deals with you by the way and means of His Cross, which neither the world nor your own fallen flesh can comprehend.  You embrace His Cross and the Word of His Cross, not by your own reason, wisdom, or strength, but only because Christ in His mercy opens your eyes, your ears, your heart, and your mind, to understand the Scriptures.  To understand the Holy Scriptures is to understand Christ, crucified and risen from the dead.  For the whole Bible is the Book of Christ Jesus, and He is the One who opens that Book to you.  Not to make you smart, but to make you alive, and to make you His own.

The preaching of His Cross does crucify you.  It puts you to death and buries you with Him.  But at the same time, His Word of the Cross also removes all of your sins and raises you up with Him.

And Christ Jesus preaches this Word to you in flesh and blood like your own.  For He was not only crucified in the flesh, and not only did He shed His precious blood for you upon the Cross, but He is also risen from the dead forever in His own Body of flesh and blood.  He has known the curse of your sin and death, He has suffered your blood, sweat, and tears in His Body, that you might receive and know His Life and His Salvation in your own body of flesh and blood forevermore.

So, then, He is not far distant and removed from you.  In fact, He and His Word and His Gifts of the Gospel are more tangible, more real, and far more permanent than the world around you.  He and His Gospel are likewise more real, more solid, and more true than your sins and the sins of your neighbors against you.  His Cross and Resurrection are decisive.  His crucified and risen Body is the dawning of the New Creation, from which and to which He preaches His Gospel to you.

He preaches to you as the One who has borne your sins in His own Body, who has carried all your sorrows and felt them in His heart, mind, and soul, as He sweated those great drops of blood in the Garden, and as He trembled at the prospect of bearing the sins of the world, including all of yours.

He has suffered all that you suffer.  He has undergone every temptation that you face.  He has died the death that you have deserved.  He has endured the damnation of hell that you have merited by your sins and unbelief.  And He has satisfied the entire Law of God, which would otherwise accuse and condemn you.  He has done it all.  Not from the safety of some far distant place, but up close and personal, in His own flesh and blood.  He knows hurt and hunger and thirst, and tiredness, and abandonment, and sorrow, just as you do in your life under the Cross, in this poor life of labor.

He has done and suffered everything for you, that He should be your faithful and merciful High Priest in all things pertaining to God.  He is your Advocate and Defender.  He has come close to you, He is here with you, and He has made Himself to be like you, so that you might be with Him where He is forever, and that you might be like Him in His Resurrection from the dead.

That is why He comes to be with you here.  That is why He stands before you here in His Church.  That is why He is gathered together in the midst of His disciples, where they are gathered together in His Name, that is to say, gathered by the preaching of His Word, and around His Word, and for His Word, and in His Word, for the eating and drinking of His Word in His own Flesh and Blood.

He is here with you in His Church, and He addresses Himself to you.  He speaks from His great heart of love to your own heart and mind, to your body, soul, and spirit.  In the midst of your pain and confusion and difficulty, He’s here talking to you.  And by His Word to you, He removes your burdens, and He grants you the peace and hope that are found in His Resurrection from the dead.

It is true that He does call you to repentance, and that is a challenging Word, because it’s not just a mental exercise.  He actually calls you to turn away from your sins, from the grudges that you’re bearing, from the gossip that you persist in sharing, from your selfishness and greed, from your quick temper and short fuse, from your impatience and anger, from your laziness and negligence.  He calls you away from all of that.

Dear child of God, do not sin, for Christ has died, and Christ is risen, He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!  Thus does He call you from your sins back to God, from the death of unbelief to the life of faith.  And He has opened that way of repentance, faith, and life, for you and all, by His Cross and in His Resurrection.  Do not complain that it is impossible.  He has already done it.  Repent, therefore, and believe the Gospel.  Stop pursuing your sins and pursue the righteousness of faith in Christ.

It is not “too good to be true.”  It is as sure and certain as the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead, as solid and steadfast and true as He is.  So it is that He reaches out to lay hold of you in both body and soul, your flesh and your bones, with His own holy Body and His holy, precious Blood.  All of this He does for you, that you should receive the fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore from His own hand, in your heart and mind, in your soul and spirit, and so also in your body.

As He ate with His disciples then, after He had risen from the dead, so does He graciously invite you to eat with Him here and now — indeed, to feast upon Him, the true Passover Lamb of God.

It is true that, for now, you cannot see the wounds in His Body, the marks of His Passion in His hands and feet and side.  You cannot see them with the eyes in your head.  But here you are fed from His hand, as He gives you to eat and to drink the Fruits of His Passion, His holy Body given for you, His precious Blood poured out for you.  Those Gifts are here, as Christ Himself declares.

He causes His Word to be preached to you here in this place, in this city, that you may know Him and receive Him in the Breaking of the Bread, and that you may know and love the Gifts Christ freely gives you by and with His Word.  So that, hearing and receiving, trusting and believing, you may abide in Him, and be purified in Him through His forgiveness, and raised up to newness of life in Him, both body and soul, in perfect health and strength, at peace with God forevermore.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

08 April 2018

Peace with God in the Word and Wounds of Christ

Take comfort in the fact that, although he is perhaps best known as “Doubting Thomas,” he is in fact remembered by the Church as Saint Thomas, an Apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ.  A disciple.  A fellow Christian like yourself.

He doubted, yes.  But of course, St. Thomas was not alone in doubting.  As we have heard, day after day throughout this past week, all of the disciples doubted.  Not just once, but multiple times.  When their risen Lord appeared to them and spoke His Word to them, they were slow of heart to believe.  They were foolish.  They were stubborn.

It is only by the grace of God in Christ, by His Word and Holy Spirit, that any of them — Thomas included — were turned away from their doubts and restored to faith and joy and peace and life in the Resurrection of their Lord.

So, Thomas was not alone in his doubting back then.  And you also have your own doubts and fears, even now during Easter.  If I were to sit down and visit with any one of you individually, I could probably identify some of your particular doubts.  I know most of you pretty well, and at least some of your hurts and frustrations.  If I don’t know you very well, then we should sit down and talk, that I might get to know you better.  And in our conversation, I would begin to hear the doubts and fears that plague your heart and mind and permeate your words and actions.

Such doubts and fears are part of the inheritance we all share as the children of Adam & Eve.  They belong to our lot as sinners, as mortals who will die.  The doubts from one person to the next differ greatly, of course.  The doubts of men tend to be different from those of women.  A husband’s doubts are different than his wife’s.  Parents have different doubts and fears than their children, and children have different fears than adults.  Pastors, too, have doubts and fears, which are often different than those of their parishioners.  But all of us have doubts.  All of us have fears.

The doubts and fears in your heart, mind, and life are rooted in your sinfulness and sins, which cut you off from God and separate you from Him, though He is the very One you need the most.  You’re afraid of Him, though He would be your dearest and best Friend, because His holy and righteous Law exposes and condemns your sins and threatens to punish you for them.  So, you do your best to flee from Him, and you try to hide from Him, all to no avail.  And in your heart of hearts, you doubt very much whether there will ever be any hope or help for you at all.

All of your doubts, whatever their particulars may be, are finally the fear of death and the power that it holds over you.  For you are dying.  And your loved ones are dying, or else they have already died.  You can feel it more and more in your body, and there is nothing that you can do about it.  You cannot save your loved ones from dying, and you cannot keep yourself from dying.

Whether you realize it or not, and whether or not you would admit it, all of your doubts and fears are centered in your fear of death; because all of your pursuits in this world, no matter how much money you have, and no matter what else you gather and accumulate — none of it will last, and none of it will ever be able to save you from death.

In that same respect, all of your doubts and fears are an implicit denial of the Resurrection, as though it never happened.  That was Thomas’ problem, because he thought he “knew better,” that when you die, you stay dead.  So he thought, even though he really should have known better than that!  He had heard the Gospel from his Lord Jesus.  He had witnessed Lazarus come forth from out of the tomb.  And yet, St. Thomas doubted, and he was afraid.

You also have your doubts and fears, as did all of the disciples to begin with.  As I have said, and as you have heard, St. Thomas was not alone in his doubts.  He was alone, however, with his doubts and fears at first.  He was missing in action when the rest of the disciples were gathered together in that Upper Room.  They were afraid of the Jews, but at least they were together; and it is in the gathering of His disciples that Jesus appears.  But where was Thomas?

Perhaps he was following the advice of his non-Christian friends: “Get over it, and get on with your life.”  “It won’t do any good to grieve or mourn.”  “Come on, pull yourself together.”  Men, in particular, are always tempted by the desire to make it on their own, to figure things out and work things out on their own.  Maybe that’s what Thomas was doing, or trying to do.  On the surface of it, then, he might have looked like the strong and competent one.

But whatever he was doing, he was not there with the other disciples when they were gathered together on that first Easter Sunday.  And as a consequence, for yet another week, St. Thomas lived in doubt and fear instead of peace and joy.

Now, it’s not as though he were no longer a disciple of the Lord Jesus, though his absence and his doubts would have harmed and jeopardized his faith and life.  I’m sure he wanted with all his heart to believe that Jesus had risen.  He surely desired that peace which surpasses all understanding — that same peace which is so elusive in your life, as well.  But he could not find it on his own, and neither are you able to find that Peace on your own.

The prayer for St. Thomas, and the prayer for each and all of you, echoes the prayer of that father at the foot of the mountain, when Jesus had come down from His Transfiguration.  That man was desperate for his son to be healed, for the demon to be cast out of his son.  He asked the disciples of Jesus to do it, but they could not.  So then he asked Jesus if He would help him, please, if possible.  To which Jesus replied, “All things are possible to faith.”  And that man cried out with a prayer that surely resonates with every Christian heart: “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!”

And Jesus does.  He comes to make Himself available to you in the gathering of His disciples.  Where His Church is gathered in His Name, there He is also.  He makes Himself accessible to you.

The other disciples (minus Thomas) were gathered together in fear, that is true, but even so, they were gathered together.  Heed that example, and be gathered together with the Lord’s people in the Lord’s House on the Lord’s Day for the Lord’s Liturgy.  For in that gathering is where you also receive your strength and hope and peace.

Even if you don’t believe that you need it for yourself, consider your brothers and sisters in Christ.  They need you.  They need to be gathered together with you.  And, truth be told, you really do need them, as well.  For it is there in the midst of His disciples that Jesus appears.  And His Word to His Church is a glorious Word: Peace be with you!

When wars rage on this earth, and political battles, and personal conflicts, the notion of “peace” takes on all sorts of connotations.  But there is a deeper Peace than temporary ceasefires.  There is the Peace of reconciliation with God, which is yours only by way of His free and full forgiveness of your sins.  And here for you there is that true Peace with God in the Lord Jesus Christ, who does not finally condemn you forever but forgives you and raises you up in His own Resurrection.

Jesus was there in the midst of His disciples on the First Day and the Eighth Day of the week.  And He is here for you in the midst of His disciples, likewise, week after week on the Lord’s Day — the Day of His Resurrection — and as often as we eat “this Bread” and drink “this Cup” in the proclamation and confession of His death until He comes in glory at the last.  Already here and now He comes with His Word and Holy Spirit, with His Body and His Blood.

What St. John has described, in his telling of this Holy Gospel, is the Divine Service, which you also receive here.  For it is by His means of grace that the risen Lord Jesus comes to you, by the water and the blood from His riven side, by the flesh and blood of His own hands, by and with His Word of the Gospel and His Life-giving Holy Spirit.  That is how He comes to you, and that is what He brings to you.  And by His means of grace He restores your weak and wobbly faith.  He removes your doubts and fears.  He bestows His deep Peace by the forgiveness of all your sins.

Such Peace is elusive.  You will not find it anywhere else than here in Christ Jesus.  For He has risen from the dead.  The One who died for you has also risen for you and your salvation.  So does He open His wounds to you in His Font and at His Altar.  They are the sign and seal of your forgiveness, the fruits and benefits of the Atonement that Christ has made for all of your sins.

Though death lays hold of you, it cannot keep you.  For the Law cannot condemn you, and the devil cannot have you.  You are the Lord’s.  He has not only created you, but He has redeemed you, purchased and won you, at a costly price, namely, that of His own holy and precious Blood.

In His love for you, therefore, in the Ministry of His Gospel — by the sending of men in His Name, as He Himself has been sent by God the Father — this Christian faith and life finds its heart and center in “the Office of the Keys.”  In Holy Absolution — which is the Word of Christ Himself, spoken by His servant — your sins are forgiven before God in heaven.  It is that sure and certain.

And it is by that Word of forgiveness, by that Word of Holy Absolution, that Jesus recreates you in His Image, in the Likeness of His own crucified and risen Body.  He breathes Life back into your dried-up, dead and dying bones.  He raises you up from the dust of the earth.  What Adam lost, Christ has regained for you and for all people, and He gives you that gift of His Life and Salvation by the Word and ways and means of His forgiveness of sins.

He gives you His Word of the Gospel, and He breathes His Holy Spirit into your body and soul, that you might be a living being, and that you might live forevermore with Him who is the Living One, the Author and Giver of Life.  He thereby gives you true and lasting Peace, even as He raises you up in Himself to live by His grace in faith and love.  Such are the fruits of His forgiveness.  And that is the whole point.  That is what you need above all else.

Here at the Lord’s Altar is your Spiritual Food and Drink.  Here is the very Breath of Life, the gift of the Holy Spirit in the preaching of the Gospel.  Apart from these means of grace, you do not live at all.  And yet, here you are, and by these means you do live, holy and righteous in the presence of God.  That is Christ’s desire for you.  It is why He gave His Life and shed His Blood for you.  It is why He has caused His Gospel to be written and proclaimed to the ends of the earth, that you and all might believe that this same Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God in the flesh; that He died for you and rose again; and that, believing in Him, you should have life in His Name.

That is why St. John and the other holy Evangelists wrote down the Word and works of Christ, those precious Words of the Holy Gospel.  Not to be preserved in a book like a museum artifact, however.  But to be preached to the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people.  To be administered and distributed from the Altar of Christ and at His Font in the midst of His disciples from all nations.  To be spoken by pastors to the people of God in many and various circumstances.  That Christ and His Life might be put into the ears, into the hearts and minds, and into the flesh and blood of His children.  That your body should no longer be a body of death, but a body destined for the Resurrection, for the Glory of Paradise, and for Life with your Father in heaven forever.

By these Gifts Christ freely gives, and by these Gifts alone, you are brought to faith in Him — and you are nurtured and sustained in that faith, even in the midst of all your doubts and fears — through the forgiveness of all your sins.  And by this faith and forgiveness you have life, and you have it more abundantly, unto the everlasting salvation of your body and your soul.

That, dear friend in Christ, is what is set before you here and now.  For Jesus is here with you in the midst of His disciples.  And what He gives to you is the Peace of God, just as He has spoken.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

07 April 2018

Forgiveness and Life for Sinners Like You

You have heard the testimony of those to whom the Lord Jesus appeared after He had risen from the dead.  And yet, it seems that you can hardly bring yourself to believe that it is true.  Or perhaps it is more difficult for you to believe that it actually makes any difference for you and your life.

There are those times, to be sure, when the news of the Resurrection warms and gladdens your heart.  But then there are those other times when your sinful heart is cold and hard, and you refuse to embrace the Gospel.  Then you go on mourning and weeping, as though sin were not forgiven, as though death were not defeated, and as though there were no hope or help in all the world.

It is hard for you to believe, because there is nothing quite so contradictory as the Resurrection of Christ Jesus.  It occurs in the midst of sin and death and unbelief, which seem so irrefutable.  And you have nothing to hang on to but the Word of the Gospel, which offers exceedingly great and precious promises — but which also seem entirely too good to be true.  After all, you still get sick and die.  You struggle to cope and make ends meet.  You wrestle with temptations and fall into sin.

Let’s face it, the honest fact of the matter is that your faith can be quite feeble and flickering at times.  By God’s grace you believe — but God help your unbelief, because you cannot help or convince yourself.  Your poor little Christian faith and life can be downright scary and precarious, actually; and then there is that Word of the Law, that he who does not believe shall be condemned.

How sobering is that, when Jesus has just reprimanded your unbelief and hardness of heart!

But in this way He calls you to repent.  To despair of yourself, yes, but to believe in His Gospel.  He turns everything around, and He makes all things new, including you, your faith and life.  That is what He has accomplished by His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead; and that is what He proclaims and gives to you by the preaching of His Gospel, the forgiveness of all your sins.

Consider the evidence, and take to heart that the Lord Jesus is the Savior of sinners like yourself:

It is the sinful woman from whom He cast out seven demons to whom He first appears, and whom He sends to announce His Resurrection.

It is those first two disciples of Emmaus — who were so foolish and slow of heart to believe, who were so brokenhearted and sad — to whom He reveals Himself in the Breaking of the Bread.

It is the hard-hearted, unbelieving eleven disciples, who had deserted Him in His Passion, whom He sends out as His holy Apostles to preach the Gospel to all creation.

You see?  He harbors no grudges.  He does not despise, reject, or cast off His struggling followers.

Nor does He cast you away from His presence.  Far from it!  Instead, He calls you to Himself by preaching His Gospel to you.  He forgives you all your sins, and He remembers them no more.  He casts out all your demons, and He cleanses your body, soul, and spirit with the gift of His Holy Spirit.  As He did in your Holy Baptism, so does He do again and again by His Holy Absolution.  He raises you up from doubt and death to fear, love, and trust in Him, to live by faith in Him.

He reveals Himself to you here at His Table, where He feeds you with His life-giving Body and Blood.  And because this same Lord Jesus Christ, who died for you and rose again, is with you and accompanies you on the way, there is nothing in heaven or on earth that shall be able to hurt you.

Despite the frailty and weakness of your mortal flesh, sickness, sin, and death will not have the last word concerning you.  The Gospel has the last word concerning you, both body and soul.  You, too, shall rise and live in perfect peace and health, forever and ever.  This is most certainly true.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

01 April 2018

The Ending Is Just the Beginning

One of the things I remember from my childhood, is how my Dad would often skip to the end of  a book and read the final chapter first, before he started at the beginning.  To each his own, I guess.  Mom and I could never quite understand that approach.  But the thing of it is, coming at the story backwards is how the Church has always heard and received the Holy Gospel of her Savior.

Think about it.  You have already known how the story would end — or, rather, how it continues.  It comes as no surprise at this point.  You’ve known from the start, during Advent and Christmas, Epiphany and Lent, and even on Good Friday.  Does that ruin the story or wreck the surprise?  By no means.  Knowing the truth of the Resurrection is the necessary key by which you are able to understand the Incarnation, Life, and Death of Jesus our Lord.  Knowing the Resurrection does not invalidate the rest of the story up til now.  It rather enables you to hear and receive the Cross and Passion of your Savior for what they truly are.

The Feast of Easter and the Resurrection of our Lord are the proclamation of His Victory on the Cross.  His empty tomb is the evidence, the proof, and the guarantee that death will not have the last word — not for Christ, and not for those who live in Him.  Thus do we celebrate His conquest.

After seven long weeks of holding her breath, the Church again exhales, “Alleluia!”  We sing and chant and praise the Lord with all the exuberance we can muster, reveling and rejoicing in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.  And this our song shall be throughout the seven weeks of Easter now before us — as it is ever and always the hymn and chant of heaven itself.

The Church rejoices and celebrates this morning, precisely because the Resurrection was so necessary — not for the Christ, who is ever and always the Son of the Living God, but for you and all of us poor sinners.  It is for you that He was crucified, dead, and buried; therefore, it is also for you that He has risen triumphant from death and the grave.  Otherwise, apart from Christ, you are imprisoned by your sins, captivated by Satan and his evil charms, and tyrannized by death and hell.

It all takes you back to the very beginning; which is why the “surprise ending” should come as no surprise at all.  Already back in the Garden of Eden, when Adam & Eve had followed the serpent’s temptation to disobey the Lord, He spoke to them a curse and a promise, the Law and the Gospel.

In choosing to reject His Word, our first parents brought death and pain, heartache and struggle into God’s good Creation.  Food is henceforth obtained only with blisters and sweat, and children enter the world by way of great anguish and labor.  It was not God’s intention or design but man’s sin that made it so — man’s willing and willful submission to the leadership and lies of the devil.

Even so, out of His great love for Adam & Eve and all their children, the Lord did not leave us to sleep in the bed that we had made for ourselves.  His own dear Son entered the world, born of the Woman, born under the Law, in order to redeem those who were under the curse of the Law.  That New Man, Jesus Christ, the new and better Adam, allowed Himself to be attacked by the serpent, that by His death He might destroy the power that death held over the sons and daughters of man, and crush the head of Satan under His bruised heal, and so bring forgiveness by His Blood.

Because the victory He gained was not for Himself but for fallen and perishing people like you, it came not with a show of divine strength, but rather by His divine suffering of your mortality.  In order to become the Second Adam, He suffered death with all who suffer and die in the first Adam, including you.  He made Himself like you in all things, bearing your sins and sharing your death, so that His Resurrection and His Life should become yours; that you might be like Him.

Hence, the proclamation of the Gospel this morning — to the holy myrrhbearers, Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome — that the crucified Jesus of Nazareth is no longer in the tomb where His Body had rested.  He has gotten up.  He has risen from the dead, just as He said.  The women will not anoint His Body as they planned, because His Body is alive and glorified.

His Resurrection declares that He has saved His people from their sins.  He has earned forgiveness by His sacrificial death, a more-than-sufficient Atonement for the entire world.  It offers a Word of Absolution for you, no less than for Peter the denier.  Christ’s death was not the end of the story, but the end of death’s power; for death bit off more than it could chew when it laid hold of Christ, the sinless and eternal Son of God.  Nor was the Cross a victory for Satan, as it might have seemed at the time; it was the Lord’s decisive crushing of that vile serpent’s head.  And that great Victory of Christ and His Cross is publicized to all the world by the proclamation of His Resurrection.

The question, then, is why the fear and silence on the part of those women?  Scholars have puzzled for years over this seemingly very strange conclusion to St. Mark’s Easter Gospel.  And yet, it’s not so strange if you think about your complicity with the powers of sin, death, the devil, and hell.  As it is, the crushing victory of the Cross has also brought an end to the tyrannizing rule of your own old Adam.  It crucifies you, puts you to death, and buries you in the tomb with Christ Jesus.  And that is a painful process, because it means that you must relinquish all of your self-confidence and self-reliance, along with everything else you are and have, in order to rely on Christ alone.

It truly is a terrifying thing, what a tremendous influence sin and the devil have exercised on your heart and mind, your body and life.  For as frightening and hateful as death and the grave are for your fallen flesh, in your sinful unbelief you are actually more comfortable and satisfied with those dark powers than you are with Christ and His Resurrection.  Perhaps it is because your death is the one thing you have merited for yourself, and in your pride you resist the utter charity of life in Christ.  Whatever the logic, that is the pattern and practice of sin, as it has been from the beginning — to refuse the life that is freely offered by the Lord, in favor of self-reliance and a supposed “independence,” even though independence from the Lord your God is nothing else than death.

It is for that very reason — because of the death that you have chosen in your sin — that Christ had to suffer and die for the forgiveness of your sins and your salvation.  And that is also why you must enter His tomb and bury your old Adam with Him, before you experience His Resurrection.

The Cross and Passion of our Lord, and even His Resurrection, are never easy things for sinners to face, even though they offer nothing more nor less than grace and life and every blessing.  Instinctively, you cling to yourself and to your own meager resources.  The proclamation of the Gospel is thus far more and far different than a simple communication of facts and information.  The story of Christ is rather a death-dealing conquest of the false “life” that Adam & Eve and all their children, right down to yourself and your children, have willingly and eagerly embraced.

Simply knowing the facts, and even believing the facts of the Gospel to be “true,” is not enough.  The Reality of Christ must become your own reality, and you must be transformed with Christ into something new and altogether different than you have been.  To embrace His Cross & Resurrection with faith and confession (instead of silent fear) requires more than knowledge.  It requires the Spirit of God, that by His grace you believe His holy Word and live a godly life by faith in Christ.

That brand new life with God is the gift and benefit of your Holy Baptism, which is in truth your own participation in the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, your personal Good Friday and Easter.  It is your Baptism into Christ which makes the story of the Gospel more than just a history lesson or a fascinating collection of interesting trivia about Jesus.  It is your Baptism into Christ which makes the Feast of Easter a celebration of your own Resurrection from the dead.

It is for you as it was for that familiar “young man” of St. Mark’s Holy Gospel.  For you also have been stripped naked of your old sinful ways in the Cross and Passion of your Lord Jesus Christ.  All your wealth and riches (of whatever sort you have had and relied upon) have been liquidated and given away, that you might take up the Cross of Christ and follow Him, even unto death.  So it is that you have also entered His tomb through the waters of your Holy Baptism, whereby you are cleansed of all your sins and dressed in the pure white robes of His perfect Righteousness and Holiness.  For having died with Him, you know that you shall rise and live with Him, as well.

“He is going before you!”  That is the Word of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus, spoken by His servant to you and to all who enter His tomb.  And as He is going before you, so shall you follow after Him through death into Life.  For Christ Jesus is the Firstborn from the dead, the First Fruits of the New Creation.  And He is with you even now, anointing your body with His Spirit and His Blood for the true Sabbath Rest which remains for you and for all in His Body and His Blood.  It is by the grace of His Gospel that you follow Him throughout your life, even unto death, with sure and certain confidence in His Resurrection from the dead.  And that hope shall not disappoint you.

For Christ has risen from the dead; He has risen indeed, just as He said. Alleluia!

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.