The King of Love My Shepherd Is. Misericordias Domini 2018

jesus good shepherdMisericordias Domini—The Third Sunday of Easter

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 10:11-16

April 13, 2018

The King of Love My Shepherd Is

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

In the Old Testament, kings and other leaders were called “shepherds”.  Like a king, a shepherd guides, protects, leads.  But nobody thinks a shepherd is a king.  Kings sit on thrones, in palaces, exalted above their people.  Shepherds stay with their flock, in the cold, in the rain, in the danger from wolves.  Shepherds personally lead their sheep to places where they can eat and lie down in safety.  They personally care for the sick and weak sheep, and they go into dangerous places to seek the lost sheep.

 

Lots of people fear their king and the kings representatives—the police, judges.  But sheep do not fear their shepherd.  They know Him.  He is near to them; they come to him for help and protection.  They know his voice as it calls out to them over the fields because he is always in their midst.  He is their safety and their helper.

 

Jesus could have called Himself “the good King”, because He is our King.  He is more majestic, rich, noble, and powerful than any king on earth.  But He never calls Himself “king.”  He calls Himself “the good Shepherd.”

 

He does this so that we know who He is and what we can expect from Him in His Kingdom, and where we should look for Him.  We should expect Him to be good and kind so that we are not afraid to come to Him, no matter what we have done.  And we should expect Him to be found among His sheep who hear His voice.

 

Even now that He is risen from the dead and exalted to the right hand of the Father, we should expect to find Jesus among His sheep, shepherding them.

 

When we say people are “sheep”, we mean that they are dumb.  People who are sheep are easily led, naïve, easy to take advantage of.  They follow without thinking wherever they are led.

 

That is because sheep only have one quality that keeps them alive—they listen to the voice of their shepherd, stay close to him, follow him.

 

Jesus’ kingdom is a kingdom of sheep.  People who have nothing going for them spiritually at all, but they hear the voice of the good shepherd.  We should not expect to find Jesus among the people we think are spiritual masters, great saints.  If a person is a great saint, if he is holy and strong in faith and good works, it is only because that person knows that he is nothing.  About 1500 years ago there was a Christian hermit who lived in the desert.  When he grew very old, some people came out to him looking for wisdom, and he told them, “When I was young, I used to say to myself, ‘When I am old, I will finally be able to accomplish something good for God.  But now that I am old, I see that there is nothing good in me at all.’”

 

That is where Jesus is found.  He is not found among those who think they are something spiritually.  He is found among people who know that they have nothing.  They have nowhere to go and nothing to bring to God.  They have nowhere to go except to the sound of their shepherd’s voice.

 

What does His voice sound like?

 

To the self-sufficient who trust in themselves, His voice sounds like foolishness.  His voice sounds fanatical to the world when it says that unless our righteousness exceeds the spiritual giants of the earth, we will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

But to His sheep, who say with St. Peter, Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life (John 6:68), His voice has a different sound.  Peace be with you, he said to his terrified disciples on the evening of Easter.  I know my own, and my own know me, He says in the reading today, and I lay down my life for the sheep.  His voice proclaims that He Himself is our peace, the atonement for our sins, our wisdom….righteousness and holiness and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30).  He defends us and answers for us before God and the devil and the world.

 

Shepherds do not abandon their sheep when they run off, or when they do something dumb and hurt themselves, or when they are weak and can’t keep up with the flock.  Shepherds on earth do this because their sheep are their livelihood.  They are worth money.

 

That’s not why Jesus is good to His sheep.  He doesn’t need anything we have.  Yet He chose to come down to earth and live among His sheep.  He wanted to camp out among us like a shepherd does with his sheep, and endure the storms and the wolves and lead us to safety and pasture.  I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep…The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10: 11, 10)

 

So He became a man and lived among us.  Then He laid down His life for us to protect us from the devil, who wanted to separate us from God forever by holding our sins over our heads.  But Jesus died for our sins so that he could not do it.  And that is what His voice says, when it echoes out from the Scriptures, when it is preached faithfully by faithful shepherds.  It tells us that however weak and helpless and dumb we are spiritually, however far we have strayed, we belong to the Good Shepherd.  He does not abandon us.  He does not chase us away.  When we stray, He goes after us until He finds us, even when everyone else has given us up for dead.  When we are sick and weak, He does not leave us behind, but tends to us until we become strong.

 

In the Old Testament reading, God has harsh words for the shepherds of Israel in the time of Ezekiel.  He is speaking to the leaders of God’s people, in particular the ones who were supposed to minister to them and teach them God’s Word, the priests and the prophets.

 

For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I , I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out…I will seek the lost, and bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak…

 

Christians often fall into the trap of thinking that if they are injured or weak, they do not belong to Christ at all.  There are Christians who have a weak conscience, and they continually struggle to believe that their sins are really forgiven.  Then there are those who are injured and have sins that they keep struggling with—a bad temper, maybe, or a lack of zeal to hear God’s Word and seek the lost.  Christians struggling with sins like these, because they are weak, are often tempted to think that they do not belong to Christ at all because they are not strong.  And other Christians see their faults and say, “These people are no Christians at all.”

 

Then there are those who are strayed and lost.  Some people fall into open, grave sin and deny Christ.  They commit adultery, or they become addicted to alcohol, they abandon God’s house and no longer come to worship; or even like Peter, they openly deny Jesus.  They have strayed.  And often they think that they have fallen too far for Christ to receive them.  And Christians and churches and pastors often say and think, “It’s a waste of time to try to bring them back.”

 

But that is not the kind of shepherd that Jesus is.  He doesn’t abandon the weak and the sick.  He is with them.  That is what He calls His kingdom.  His church is not an army of spiritual giants but a flock of sheep who have nothing good spiritually except their shepherd.  He doesn’t abandon the weak and wounded.  He binds them up with the forgiveness of sins, and makes them strong by feeding them with His Word and His body and blood.

 

Nor does He give up on the lost, the strayed, and the fallen.  He seeks them out so that they may have life.

 

Where the shepherd is, there His sheep will be also.  We hear His voice that calls us to good pasture at the altar.  In His goodness He feeds us His body and bids us to drink His blood that we may have abundant life.  And when we become strong from this food, we also become patient with the weak and injured and eager to see those who are lost and strayed return to the flock.  We go out with Him to find them as He found us.

 

We think that we will find God among the strong and noble things of this world.  But the good shepherd is found among what is foolish, weak, and sinful.  We find Him when we hear His voice proclaiming the forgiveness of sins to sinners who seem to be beyond hope.  If you are such a sheep, strayed, lost, weak, injured, hear the voice of the good shepherd who has come to find you today.  I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father, and I lay down my life for the sheep.  (John 10:14-15)

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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What is the Use of Salt?

From Mundabor’s blog, a traditionalist Catholic that I follow:

On the blog “Southern Orders” there was the usual exchange of comments about the Novus Ordo on occasion of the latest scandal (yours truly reported), when the usual Comment Sissy showed up (nickname: “anonymous”; you never know which “anonymous” is “anonymous”) and said the critics of the Novus Ordo were uncharitable, un-this, and un-that. There had been no vitriolic comments, merely a very mild sarcasm.

A good soul, nickname “Templar” (nice one, by the way) intervened with the following words:

I grew up in New York, the Priests from my parish lived exactly 7 doors down from me and our interaction with them was daily and very personal. They were mostly Irish and Italian, most cussed like sailors (refraining only from taking the Lord’s name), used acerbic wit to cut down many a sinner, and wouldn’t back down from a fight if it came to it.

Good Bye good men.

Now we have anonymous posters who wring their hands over bruised feelings, and perceived slights. What you sow is what you reap. We have raised up milquetoast Catholics. Where is the Church Militant? Where are the Warriors? Islam is burying the world through birth rate and butchery, and us Catholics are afraid of some rough language.

The poster hits the bull’s eye in a very pithy way.

We live in times of such unmanliness that by every exchange of opinion that reaches the level of more than mild disapprobation someone – the Comment Sissy; they are everywhere – feels the need to intervene and say how “disparaging” and insensitive other people are.

In former times, such people would have been invited to go play with their dolls; nowadays, the Comment Sissy is socially accepted, and thinks he has firmly taken the moral high ground; it is like a pervert game of political correctness, in which the first one crying “disparaging” has won.

Reminded me of another Catholic priest, about 500 years ago:

I  have  indeed  inveighed  sharply  against  impious  doctrines,  and  I  have  not  been  slack  to  censure  my  adversaries  on  account,  not  of  their  bad  morals,  but  of  their  impiety.  And  for  this  I  am  so  far  from  being  sorry,  that  I  have  brought  my  mind  to  despise  the  judgments  of  men,  and  to  persevere  in  this  vehement  zeal,  according  to  the  example  of  Christ,  who,  in  his  zeal,  calls  his  adversaries  a  generation  of  vipers, blind,  hypocrites,  and  children  of  the  devil.  Paul  too  charges  the  sorcerer  with  being  a  child  of  the  devil,  full  of  all  subtlety  and  all  malice;  and  defames  certain  persons  as  evil  workers,  dogs,  and  deceivers.  In  the  opinion  of  those  delicate-­‐eared  persons,  nothing  could  be  more  bitter  or  intemperate  than  Paul’s language.  What  can  be  more  bitter  than  the  words  of  the  prophets?  The  ears  of  our  generation  have been  made  so  delicate  by  the  senseless  multitude  of  flatterers,  that,  so  soon  as  we  perceive  that  anything  of  ours  is  not  approved  of,  we  cry  out  that  we  are  being  bitterly  assailed;  and  when  we  can  repel  the  truth  by  no  other  pretence,  we  escape  by  attributing  bitterness,  impatience,  intemperance,  to  our  adversaries.  What  would  be  the  use  of  salt,  if  it  were  not  pungent?  or  of  the  edge  of  the  sword,  if  it  did  not  slay?  Accursed  is  the  man,  who  does  the  work  of  the  Lord  deceitfully.

The Freedom of a Christian

Ecumenical moment over.

In A Broad Place. Quasimodogeniti 2018

jesus thomas.PNGQuasimodogeniti—The Second Sunday of Easter

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 20:19-31

April 8, 2018

“You Have Set My Feet in a Broad Place”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

A week ago from last night, we observed the vigil of Easter.  It started after darkness had fallen.  Then the new paschal candle that through most of the year stands next to the baptismal font was lit from a fire outside.  Everyone had little candles in their hands, like we do on Christmas Eve, and they were all lit with the fire from the candle that symbolizes the life of Jesus that conquers death.  Then we processed into the totally dark church.

 

Then there were several readings from the Old Testament.  All of them pictured some part of Jesus’ descent into the darkness of death and His resurrection.  One of them was the story of Noah, who went into the dark, cramped box called the ark for a year as the wrath of God descended and wiped out all life from the earth.  After he had gone in with the remnant of animal and human lives that would repopulate the earth, the Scripture says, The Lord shut him in (Gen. 7). 

 

In the Gospel reading, the disciples are also shut in.  Eleven men (ten on the evening of Easter), plus others, probably, are sitting in a living room with the doors shut (or locked).  They don’t go out lest people recognize them as the disciples of Jesus, and the chief priests do with them as they had done with Jesus.  They are alive, but in a prison, fearing that at any time there will be a knock on the door that will mean the end for them.

 

Even worse, they are shut up in the darkness of a bad conscience.  Have you ever been in a narrow place where you couldn’t stand up straight, where you were so packed in that you couldn’t move?  It’s like that when you have a conscience that condemns you as a sinner.  You would like to believe that you are at peace with God, but your sins press in on you, bind you up.  Every time you get your head above water another wave of condemnation hits you.  For the disciples of Jesus there were two waves that kept crashing into them.  The first was the events of the last week, the flogging, mockery, and crucifixion of Jesus, which made it seem that their faith in Him had been misplaced.  The second was the way they had abandoned their Lord when they were put to the test.

 

Some of you, most of you know what it is to have done what the disciples did.  You were faced with some temptation or other and you abandoned Jesus.  Maybe it was long ago.  And when the memory of it returns, you are closed in, shut up, fighting for air.

 

Or it is simply the awareness that every day, no matter how faithfully you have tried to live a new life in Christ, you have never quite accomplished it.  You always fall short of what a Christian life should be.  And so you are always in a dark room, like the disciples, fearing that when the knock comes on the door, you will not be ready to stand before God.

 

And others are closed in by the feeling of despair that your faith in Christ is in vain.  When you see how your life and the life of Christians does not seem to be one of “victory on to victory”, but instead one wave of trouble after another, the darkness closes in on you, and you are tempted to think that it is foolish to put too much confidence in Jesus.

 

When I was a little kid, I watched a movie on TV one Saturday.  You may have heard of it; it was called Star Wars.  There is a scene in that movie where the heroes jump into a garbage compactor to escape a bunch of storm troopers who are shooting at them.  They are knee deep in garbage and nasty water trying to find a way out when they realize there is some kind of giant snake swimming around their legs.  One of them gets pulled under, but then for some reason the snake lets him go.  They quickly discover why.  The walls have begun to close in to crush the trash.  They try desperately to brace the walls with big pieces of metal, but nothing works.  At the last minute their robot friends contact them on an intercom and manage to shut down the garbage compactor by hacking into the computer.  Then one of the robots hears them screaming over the intercom and thinks he is too late.  But they are shouting for joy because they have been saved.

 

That was what happened to the disciples.  In their cramped prison, with the doors shut, Jesus suddenly appears and says, Peace be with you. 

 

Instead of the knock on the door that means the end, Jesus comes in without knocking.

 

He doesn’t show them their sins and let the walls close in on them forever.  Instead, He shows them the marks in His hands where the nails had been and the place where the centurion’s spear entered His side, proving He was really dead.

 

Those marks are all there is left to say about their sins, their abandonment of Jesus.  Those marks are the signs that the walls of judgment have stopped closing in on them forever.

 

Then, as if that was not enough, He sends them out of their prison.  Therefore Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you.  Just as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”  And having said this He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven them; if you bind them, they are bound.”  (John 20: 21-23)

 

Jesus has the authority to open up the doors and unlock the chains of darkness, sin, death, and a bad conscience, and the authority to lock people in.  He has this authority because He was bound in that prison for us.  That is how He got the marks of the nails and the spear.  He also burst those chains and broke out of that prison for us.  That is how He stood before them alive after those mortal wounds being inflicted on Him.

 

Since He conquered sin and death, He owns them and is able to release from them.

 

And He not only released the disciples from their sins; He gave them His authority to release others.  He authorized them to forgive sins and to bind, to release and lock up.

 

That is how Jesus comes into the midst of us in the prison of sin and a bad conscience and stops the walls from closing in on us.

 

He comes and proclaims release by sending out first the apostles and then ministers to preach His death and resurrection and the forgiveness of sins.  He entrusts to His believers the power to forgive and retain sins.

 

The message that He proclaims to us is not, “If you do this and that, you will be forgiven.”  He proclaims that sinners are bound and condemned to eternal death.  But to those who feel their chains, He proclaims unconditional release.  You are released, He says, because I have been released.  I bore your sins.  See the marks in my hands and my side.  I was closed in by death and judgment.  But now I am risen.

 

And if you still find yourself to be a sinner and wonder if you are still set free, see these marks.  They are the answer to any accusation made against you.

 

Jesus wears those marks before God His Father.  They always stand before Him.  He cannot see or hear about your sins without seeing the nails that went into His Son’s hands, and the spear that went into His side when He died for those sins.

 

Those marks always stand before God and speak louder than our sins.  They say, “It is finished.”

 

But Jesus still comes into our midst to proclaim peace to us, to release us from our chains and darkness and our old life.  It is His voice that speaks when the minister, called to exercise the public office of the Keys, says, “As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all you sins, in the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Amen.

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

He is Going Ahead of You. Easter 2018

jesus empty tomb.PNGThe Resurrection of our Lord—Easter Day

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Mark 16:1-8

April 1, 2018

He is Going Ahead of You

 

Iesu iuva

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

The women were the strong ones that first Easter.  They got up early in the morning, at the first opportunity, and went to Jesus’ tomb.  It would have been easier to avoid going to His grave.  We have all heard stories about people who would not go into the hospital room where their father or mother was in their final hours because they couldn’t bear to watch them die.  I’ve done things like that; avoided or put off facing death, facing people who were mourning a death.

 

And it’s what the eleven men whom Jesus had called to follow Him had done.  They all—except for St. John—had abandoned Him when He was arrested.  They weren’t there when He died.  No doubt they were scared that they would have to suffer with Jesus.  But I’m sure it was also because they couldn’t stand to watch Jesus their Lord die.

 

So now on the first Easter the women show great strength because they do not hide from His death.  They go out to finish His burial as soon as the day of rest was over, at first light.

 

Ah.  It’s very sad.  It’s so sad.

 

Our lives are so full.  Our calendars are so full.  We have so much at our fingertips in this world.  Right now your phones are seconds away from your hands, and in them there are games, there are your friends, you can talk to whomever you want.  There is music of all kinds.  You can buy just about anything by tapping the screen a few times.

 

Even those of you who are too old to be tied to smartphones have a life that is so much more full of possessions and activity than your parents had.  They had their work, their family, not much money.  Maybe they had a club they belonged to.  Probably they had their church.  And they had a limited selection of vices to choose from—booze usually, maybe gambling, women.  But we have a million things to do and a million ways to be entertained.

 

But one thing we do not have.  When our full lives with a million options come to an end, we do not know how to die.

 

We don’t face death.  We keep it out of sight, and pretty it up, and lock it out of our minds probably more than any generation before us.

 

Jesus’ disciples also could not face His death.  Tied up with His death was also the shameful fact of their betrayal of Jesus, how they had left Him alone on the cross.  They had not understood or believed Him when He told them that He was going to be killed and rise the third day.

 

Even these women who had not fled and who showed strength and love and went out to His tomb to anoint His wounded and dead body—they had not understood or believed Jesus either.  What are they talking about as they walk?  “Who will roll away the stone?”  They aren’t discussing how He said He would rise.

 

To not believed God is to call Him a liar, or to consider His words not worthy of attention.  They should have known that no word drops from Jesus’ mouth casually.  Every word He speaks comes to pass.  His words are like light and dry ground and ocean and sky—more real than these things.  The earth you stand on and the air you breathe are less substantial than Jesus’ word, because those things came into being because He spoke them.

 

Yet we also don’t believe Him.  It’s why we have other things to do than hear His word and why, even when we hear it regularly, we doubt it.  It’s one thing to understand the message of the Gospel, that Jesus died for our sins on the cross and rose to declare the forgiveness of those sins, the end of our death and separation from God.  It’s something else to draw comfort and confidence from those words so that we have joy in suffering and confidence in the face of death.

 

Not believing God is the source of all your other sins, whatever else they may be.

 

So the angel that surprises the women at the tomb says wonderful words to them, the disciples, and us.  “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified; He is not here, He has risen.”  These words are full of joy and wonder not only for Jesus, but for the disciples who have failed Jesus, fallen away from Him because they did not believe His words, and for us who have done the same.  “Go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee.  There you will see Him, just as He told you.”

 

Hear those words, because God sends them not just to Peter and the disciples but to you.

 

They had all fallen, and Peter had even denied that He was Jesus’ disciple.  But the angel makes angels of the women—messengers.  Go tell them not only that Jesus has risen.  Tell them, “He is going before you and you will see Him.  He is still leading you, teaching you.  He is still your Lord.  You still belong to Him.”  They had failed Jesus when the test came, but that is gone.  It is not spoken.  It’s not held up in their faces.  They are unworthy to have a share in Jesus, who conquered death, because they did not believe Him.  But they share in Him anyway.

 

The bloody wounds in Jesus’ hands and feet that stained His grave clothes were for them.  His death and lying in the tomb is where God put their sins and death, and ours, and also the root of them all—unbelief.  He laid them on Jesus.  And He is no longer there being held by them.  “See the place where they laid Him.”  It’s now empty.

 

He is loosed from your death. The bonds of your sins has been broken.

 

The disciples and you and the whole world has been made new.  It is more solid than the earth you stand on and the sun in the sky.  They will not remain, but the word of this Easter victory, the word of God’s justification of us sinners, endures forever, as long as Jesus lives.

 

Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened.  For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.  Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.  1 Cor. 5:6-8

 

You really are “unleavened.”  You have been cleansed of sin.  These words are more solid than the earth, but the faith with which we grasp them isn’t.  Otherwise we would not fear death at all, and nothing that comes after today would interrupt our joy.

 

Nevertheless, come with your fear and your trembling faith and say, “Lord Jesus, I would like to believe what you say firmly, but my heart is too weak.  But I come with my doubt and eat Your body and drink Your blood, asking You to make my hear wider, so that the joy of Your Easter may enter in, that I may follow after where you have gone ahead as your disciple.”

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

Soli Deo Gloria

Shut In. Easter Vigil 2018 Gen. 7:16

March 31, 2018 1 comment

easter vigil.PNGVigil of Easter

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Genesis 7:16 (Daniel 7, Gen. 22, Ex. 14)

March 31, 2018

Shut In

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

And the Lord shut him in.  Gen 7:16

 

All the readings for the vigil are ominous except for the first.  Abraham is told to go offer his son as a burnt offering.  Isaac asks, “Where is the lamb?”, seeing the knife in his father’s hand.  “The Lord will provide Himself the lamb, my son.”

 

Then at the Red Sea.  Israel is trapped between Pharaoh’s chariots and the deep waters.  They cry out and Moses says to them, “The Lord Himself will fight for you; you have only to be still.”  Then they have to walk into the sea, with the surging, massive walls of water towering over them on either side.

 

Nebuchadnezzar tells the three young men, “If you are ready to bow down to the god I have made, well and good.  Otherwise you will be thrown into the burning fiery furnace, and what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”  They say, “Our God is able to save us from the fiery furnace.  But even if He doesn’t, we will not bow down to your idol.”

 

But Noah has to go into an ark of gopher wood along with 2 of every kind of animal, into a cramped, dark, soon to be foul-smelling box.  It’s probably better than trying to stay outside in the rain.  But Noah doesn’t know how long he will be locked into this tomb with the remnant of God’s creation as His wrath wipes out every living thing from the face of the earth.  And even if God tells you he will bring you out again, who doesn’t feel afraid when asked to go into a dark hole, like a coffin, even if they promise you they will bring you out later?  He has to trust God.  Then Genesis says: The Lord shut him in.

 

Imagine the sound: the ark door slamming shut.  The roar of the blazing furnace when its door is opened.  The sound of Abraham tying the knots that bind Isaac to the altar, the sound of the knife leaving its sheath.  The sound of the roaring wind and waters at the Red Sea as men, women, and children walk in their midst, where no human foot has ever walked.

 

These all have the sound of finality, like the last things the people hearing the may ever hear.

 

Final like the sound of the book slamming shut in the Tenebrae services.  This was the sound the women heard at Jesus’ tomb as Joseph and Nicodemus rolled the great stone in front of the entrance and sealed His body in.  The end.

 

And it was the end.

 

But the one who was sealed into the tomb Himself is the end, and the beginning.  His are time and eternity.  He is the alpha and the omega.  The world’s beginning, in all its goodness, came from his mouth, just as with the cry of His voice it will end.

 

And the sound of His grave shutting was the end of the world that had been before.  It was the end of the wicked, their death-knell.

 

When the ark opened again, God’s enemies, Noah’s enemies were no more.  Israel’s enemies lay on the shore.

 

So when Jesus was sealed into the grave and death.  It was the end of His enemy and ours.  He descended into hell and destroyed our oppressor.  He went down in exaltation with the double-edged sword that comes out of His mouth and ran it through our enemy and oppressor, and the devil’s power seeped out of him like blood on the word that is preached to us, the word of Jesus’ death for our sins.

 

When the book closes on our life, and the door of the ark is shut, and the knots are tied, the knife is raised, the walls of water loom over us, close us in, and we hear the roar of the furnace, it is the end for us—of the vestiges of our slavery, of our unholiness.  We are sailing through the flood and the fire into Jesus’ resurrection.  When we pass through, the fire cannot burn us.  The devil cannot touch a hair on our heads.

 

We aren’t scared when we read about Noah going into the ark or Shadrach and the others going into the furnace because it has already happened and we know the ending.  But it was different for Abraham and Isaac as the old man arranged his son, his only son on the wood.  He had to see past the eyes of his son, looking at him, and see what he could not see, see the lamb that God would provide by faith.

 

So it is for us.  We have seen the lamb whom God provided die, and we have seen Him rise.  But we must also see what we cannot see; see Him opening the door that He has shut on us, with which He has shut us in.

 

We are already in the dark hold of the ark.  We were shut up with Jesus, closed in with Him, buried with Him in Baptism, so that we may rise with Jesus and come out into a broad place, into a new world, as people belonging to that world, who are all brothers of Jesus the righteous.

 

But while you are shut up in the darkness and hear the roaring of the waves, destruction all around you, fear not.  It will not harm you.  The Son of God who is with you in the flame will not allow a hair of your head to be singed.

 

He is the eternal, consuming fire, but He does not burn you.  The light shines quietly on you and gives light, just as the paschal candle gives the light of the fire outside, but we are not burned.  The consuming, eternal fire shines in His flesh, and from the light in Him we have been set alight.

 

All unseen, while all was still dark, He descended into hell in victory and shattered the ancient foe forever.  And now the window of the ark has opened, the stone has been rolled away, and He has risen, bursting open the grave.  “Death is swallowed up in victory.  Oh death, I am your pestilence, Oh hell, I am your poison.”  They cannot hold you because they cannot hold Him.

 

While you are shut in, He will be your light in the dark, cramped hold, as the flood rages around you.  His hand that shut you in will open it again for us into a new world after we have come with Him through the great deeps, and in Him conquer.

 

Let us gladly die with Jesus.  Since by death He conquered death,

He will free us from destruction, Give to us immortal breath.

Let us mortify all passion That would lead us into sin;

And the grave that shuts us in

Shall but prove the gate to heaven.

Jesus, here with You I die,

There to live with You on high.  (LSB 685 st. 3)

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

And Was Buried. Holy Saturday Tenebrae 2018

jesus burial.PNGHoly Saturday Tenebrae

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Matthew 27:57-66

March 31, 2018

..And Was Buried

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

There are two parts of the Creed that almost never get preached.  “And was buried.  He descended into hell.”  How often are these preached?  Almost never.

 

That’s why we are observing Holy Saturday today.  Because, surely, of all years, this one for us at St. Peter is one where we would benefit from hearing Christ’s burial preached.  And you who are here today are mostly members of the altar guild.  This year two of the altar guild’s saints died and were buried.  Others who we loved and who were pillars of this congregation also died and were buried this year.

 

How do we deal with this?  Apart from Christ, we just do it.  Death is part of life, and you have to go on as best you can, soldier through it.

 

You women on the altar guild have a lot in common with those women who were the only ones left with Jesus when He died on the cross.  The disciples fled.  Only John was left.  But none of them had the authority to bury Jesus.  You could not take someone off the cross and bury them unless Pontius Pilate gave permission, because part of the penalty of crucifixion often was that the person crucified was not buried.  His body was left to become food for the birds and to serve as a warning and an example.

 

So the women watched as two members of the Sanhedrin buried Jesus, wrapping His body in a linen cloth.  But they went home that evening and prepared spices and ointments to anoint His body on Sunday.  They would have to wait, because they still believed that it was against God’s Law for them to give Jesus the common honors of burial on the Sabbath day.

 

But you are like them.  Because it falls to you to make sure the house of Jesus is adorned, treated with honor, treated with dignity.

 

There are no doubt many people who say or think, “What is the point of all the work the altar guild does?  The point is that God’s Word is preached, that we receive Holy Communion.  What does it matter how the linens are arranged, whether there are lilies on Easter, whether there are flowers and candles?  These are all just decorations.”

 

That is what some people said when a woman broke open an alabaster jar of expensive, perfumed ointment and poured it on Jesus at the beginning of the week of His death.  “This is a waste.  We could have sold that and given the money to the poor.”

 

And today people say, “What difference does it make whether you bury me after I’m gone?  You can just throw my body in a ditch.  Or just cremate me.  It’s much cheaper.  What’s the point of the ceremony of a funeral?”

 

Perhaps people who say these things would be right if there was no resurrection of the body.  But Jesus rebuked the people who criticized the woman who anointed Him.  “She has done a beautiful thing to me.  She did this to prepare me for burial.”  So Jesus commends her for preparing His body for burial.  It may seem like a waste to us.  After all you don’t need to be perfumed and embalmed to be buried, since your body is going to return to dust regardless.

 

But the people of God hoped for the resurrection of their dead loved ones.  By their actions they said, “These bodies matter, because God will raise them from the dead.”

 

And Christians did a new thing that the Old Testament saints did not.  The Jews typically had tombs, like Joseph of Arimathea—family burial places.  That is what we see throughout the Old Testament.  The kings from David’s house were buried together, but not with everyone else.

 

But from the earliest days of the Church, Christians buried their dead together.  Christians were buried together in cemeteries—which means “sleeping places.”  That’s what the catacombs under Rome were.  Imagine the danger involved in having a Christian burial place when your religion is illegal, and if you are caught practicing it you could quite likely be tortured and finally sent into the arena to be torn apart by lions or bears.  And yet the Christians did it anyway.  And when Christianity became legal, they began to bury the dead Christians in the church yard—around the church.  Even our church has its cemetery, even though it is full and it is a distance from the church.  The old church books call it Gottesacker—“God’s Acre.”

 

Why did the Christians for so long think that God needed an acre in which to put the bodies of dead Christians together?

 

Because, as St. Paul says, 7For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

 

If we were not Christians, we would die alone and to ourselves, just as we also live for ourselves alone.

 

But we live and we die in Christ, who lived and died for us, in us, so to speak.  In our life, in our humanity.  He entered into our sin and wretchedness and died in it.  That is why the women had to watch Jesus suffer and die on the cross.

 

And He also entered into the grave.  He entered the grave that human beings began digging and placing their dead in.  And human beings began doing this—Adam and Eve did it with Abel, no doubt, and Seth did it with Adam and Eve—because they believed God’s promise, given long ago, that Eve’s offspring would crush the serpent’s head.

 

A son of a woman would destroy Satan’s power, would destroy sin.  And having destroyed sin He would also destroy death and conquer the grave.

 

So Jesus is placed in the tomb to conquer it.  Later tonight, with the smell of lilies in our nostrils, the church will light up and alleluias will sound from our throats, the bells will peal.  The ancient darkness, we will sing, has been forever banished.

 

When we bury our dead, we do not bury them as those who have died alone.  We bury them in Christ.  They go into God’s acre because their dead bodies are the Lord’s. They are His planting for the resurrection, and He will raise them from their graves in the glorious freedom of the sons of God.

 

They have died not to themselves but to the Lord.  They are not their own.  They are the Lord’s.  He bought them with His blood.  He placed His seal of ownership on them when they were baptized, His Name, and He sanctified their bodies.  Their bodies, though still sick and corrupted by sin, are nevertheless holy.

 

When they are buried, their graves are not unholy places of decay and death.  They are sanctified and holy because Jesus’ body rested there first and then rose in life.

 

He purchased them to be His own and to be united to Him as members of His body.  So, with Him we die and are buried.  And with Him we will rise.  He is the firstfruits of the resurrection of the dead.

 

We are not waiting for God to fulfill His promise.  His promise has been fulfilled.  The resurrection of the dead has come, because Jesus has risen from the dead.

 

That is why Christians buried their dead together.  They are not so many separate people who have died alone with their separate graves.  They are members of one body—the mystical body of Jesus, who died and rose again.  They are members of the same body that we are, who come together to eat His body and drink His blood; so they were buried together, preferably near where we who still live gather as the body of Christ.

 

Today, unfortunately, it is not so.  We do not have this picture before our eyes when we bury our dead.  Increasingly funerals are no longer in church, but private family affairs.  That is too bad.  It is sad, because have seen more than one person who stopped coming to church because a pious loved one died, and the pain of remembering them in church was too much to bear.  Or they didn’t have a loved one’s funeral in the church because they were afraid that if they did, they would break down every time they came.  They could not put the death of their loved one together with the church and with Jesus Christ.

 

That is unutterably sad to me.  On Holy Saturday we see that Jesus has entered fully into our death.  He has been placed in our tomb.  When we die, our tombs will be Jesus’ tombs.  For we are the members of His body.

 

The women who followed Jesus spent the Sabbath in pain, longing to go to Jesus’ grave and anoint His body.  But when they went they did not find Jesus’ body there.  He was placed in our tomb, but He conquered it, and left it empty.  Death was swallowed up in life.

 

So it will be for those who rest in the tomb with Jesus, who are baptized into Him.

 

Jesus, my Redeemer, lives;
I, too, unto life shall waken.
Endless joy my Savior gives;
Shall my courage, then, be shaken?
Shall I fear, or could the Head
Rise and leave His members dead?  (TLH 206 st. 2)

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Laying Him Bare From Thigh To Neck. Good Friday–Tenebrae. March 30, 2018

Good Friday—Tenebrae (7pm)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Lamentations 2:8-3:9; Hebrews 4: 16-5:10; Habakkuk 3:1-12jesus crucifixion grunewald isenheim.PNG

March 30, 2018

“Laying Him Bare from Thigh To Neck”

 

Iesu Iuva

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Mine eyes do fail with tears, my bowels are troubled, my liver is poured upon the earth, for the destruction of the daughter of my people; because the children and sucklings swoon in the streets of the city.  They say to their mothers, “Where is corn and wine?”  When they swooned in the streets of the city, when their soul was poured out into their mother’s bosom.  Lamentations 2:11-12

 

It’s good this is in King James English.  Otherwise we might all be crying as we hear Jeremiah’s lament.

 

The prophet is sick as he looks at what is going to happen to the daughter of his people, Jerusalem.  My liver is poured out on the earth.  He vomits as he watches, until nothing is left except bile coming out of his mouth.  He sees children and babies dying of hunger during the siege of Jerusalem.  Babies die on their mother’s breasts because their mothers can no longer produce milk.  And little children say to their mothers, “Why is there no food?  What happened to all the corn and wine we used to have?”  Anyone with children can imagine what it would be like to try to answer this question from their small children who are too young to understand.  And watch them fade with hunger, and finally faint in the streets from it, and die.

 

This has probably happened to people in my lifetime thousands, millions of times, in places ravaged by war.

 

It just has never happened to us.  Just like it hadn’t happened to Jeremiah’s people, to the nation that was in a covenant with God.  But finally in Jeremiah’s day, all their years of forsaking that covenant with God caught up with them.  Jerusalem was destroyed.  The temple was destroyed.  Children died.  Those who didn’t die were taken in chains to Babylon.

 

What happened then is going to happen again.  As judgment came upon Judah, so it will come on the whole world for all its centuries of casting aside God’s Law and ignoring the Gospel of His Son.  And the hunger, the chains, the death that will come will not last for seventy years.

 

That’s why Jesus told the women who followed Him as He carried His cross to Golgotha: Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but for yourselves and your children!  For the time is coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’

 

What our Lord says is true, but it is so painful that we cannot bear to think about it.  It would be better to never be born than to be damned, better to never have a child than for that child to be lost forever.  Yet that is the road most people are on.  Can’t we see it?

 

And even before the last judgment, the years leading up to it will make people wish they had never been born.  There will not only be physical suffering and a famine of bread, but a spiritual famine that will make the eyes of Christians fail with tears and pour their livers on the earth.  People will starve because they will not be able to find the bread of God’s Word.  The walls of Jerusalem will be broken down, and the hosts of the devil will pour in with their glinting weapons, with teachings that destroy souls.

 

And these days are already upon us.  Can’t we see it?  Those of us with children, grandchildren.  Do we have tears in our eyes as we see the gaping holes in the walls of the church and the demons howling through the gap?  How few of them will remain in the church a few decades from now?  And those who remain—where will they go to have their babies baptized, to receive the body and blood of the Lord, to hear the pure, saving word of God?  Will they have to drive hours?  Will they have to choose between going to a church with corrupt teaching and worshipping God in their homes?

 

This is where our world is.  If we had hearts that were not mostly dead, we would cry like Jeremiah, be sick like Jeremiah.  Yet neither you nor I feel much.

 

It is too much to bear, and we have so little faith that we do not pray about it very often or for very long.  So we turn on the television, fire up the internet, get busy with this and with that, and get numb.

 

Another prophet about the same time as Jeremiah, Habakkuk, had a different reaction.  He did not weep.  He prayed and asked God to renew the work of vengeance He had done in the Exodus in his own day.  We will be singing Habakkuk’s prayer shortly.

 

And God gave Habakkuk a vision of the day when He would answer his prayer.  God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran…His brightness was like the light; rays flashed from His hand; and there He veiled His power.  Before Him went pestilence, and plague followed at his heels.  He stood and measured the earth.  He looked and scattered the nations…The sun and the moon stood still in their place at the light of your arrows as they sped, at the flash of your glittering spear…You went out for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed.  You crushed the head of the wicked, laying him bare from thigh to neck.

 

Oh, that would be wonderful, would it not?  To see our God come out to save us with His unspeakable power, and destroy those who are destroying us?

 

Do you realize that that is what Jesus did today?

 

The compassion of Jeremiah that is lacking in us is not lacking in Jesus.  He went out for the salvation of His people to Calvary to be brutally killed.  Because though the daughters of Jerusalem were not weeping for themselves and for their children, He was.  He did.

 

Jesus our Lord sees very clearly what is in store for you and your children and your neighbors because of your sins.  He not only sees it.  He feels the agony of the hell that opens its mouth to swallow you, the agony ahead of the unrepentant, from which you and I hide our faces.

 

What Jeremiah said about himself in the 3rd chapter of his Lamentations was fulfilled in Jesus:

 

I am the man that hath seen affliction and the rod of His wrath.  Surely against me is He turned; He turneth His hand against me all the day… He hath hedged me about that I cannot get out, and made my chain heavy.  Also when I cry and shout, He shutteth out my prayer.  He hath enclosed my ways with hewn stone…

 

Paul says to you who believe in Jesus: As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No.  For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you…was not Yes and No, but in Him it is always Yes.  (2 Cor. 1)

 

In Jesus God says yes to us and holds nothing back from us of His grace, love, riches, glory.

 

But when Jesus prayed to His Father in Gethsemane, God’s answer was “No.”  No, Jesus could not escape the judgment of God, the hell of our sins.  Until, with the sun gone black, Jesus screamed from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?”  God shut out Jesus’ prayer.  He closed Jesus in, not merely with mockers and enemies, but with our sins and their unending punishment.  He could not get out.  The heavy chain of our sins that sinks us down to hell was fastened on Him.  Until He died and was enclosed with the hewn stone of the tomb.

 

He was the man. Pilate brought Him out to the crowd covered with blood, bruises, spit, with a reed, a robe, a crown of thorns.  “Behold the man,” Pilate said.

 

Behold the man who has seen affliction and the rod of God’s wrath, and removed that rod from your back forever.

 

For God appointed Him a great high priest after the order of Melchizedek.  He was appointed to be priest not because he was born in a priestly family or because he went to school, but because of the power of a life that cannot be destroyed.  He is the king of righteousness.  His righteousness makes Him a priest who lives forever, able to reconcile you to God once and for all, to settle with Him for you.

 

So the author of Hebrews tells us that we should boldly, confidently come near the throne of grace to receive from the one who presides over that throne grace and mercy in our time of need—for ourselves, children, and neighbors.

 

We should not let ourselves shrink from facing the terrible plight of the people around us who are on the way to hell, or timidly draw back because of the terrible coldness of our hearts, but boldly go and lay before Him our hearts and the lost ones we cannot save ourselves.

 

You do not have a high priest unable to sympathize with your weaknesses, but one who was tempted with them all.  Even more, who was condemned for the temptations you gave in to.  He plunged into the endless death, the bottomless pit of condemnation that belongs to your sins and those of your unrepentant family and neighbors.  Do you think he doesn’t care about them, that he won’t hear you when you plead for them?

 

Do not think that.  Don not believe it.  Rejoice in the privilege you have been given.  You have a great high priest who not only offered a sacrifice that removes your sins, but gave Himself to be the sacrifice.

 

When He did that the might of the Lord Habakkuk saw in His vision was at work.  His power was veiled on the cross, but there He became the plague and pestilence of hell.  He shook the earth with His death and it gave up its dead.  The sun stood still and was darkened at the flash of His spear as in fury He crushed the head of the wicked one, laying him open from thigh to neck.

 

When He went out to Golgotha under His cross He went out for the salvation of His people, for your salvation.  And what He set out to do in omnipotent might He performed.

 

Hear His cry from the cross, the cry of victory—your victory cry.  “It is finished!”

 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

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