This is the Feast of Victory for our God. Martyrdom of John the Baptist [altar guild].
St. Peter Lutheran Church [chapel]
Revelation 6:9-11, Romans 6:1-5, St. Mark 6:14-29
August 29, 2013
“This is the feast of victory for our God, Alleluia!”
We didn’t sing “This is the Feast of Victory for our God” today. We sang, “Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”
Those are both heaven’s songs. “This is the Feast” is based on Revelation chapter five. There John sees a vision of the divine service in heaven. It is liturgical. First the 24 elders, who signify the prophets and patriarchs of the Old Testament and the 12 apostles of the new, sing a new song, saying
Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth. Rev. 5:9-10
That’s kind of like the pastor’s part in our divine service on earth. Except the 24 elders are not just the apostles and the 12 sons of Israel, nor just pastors. But they are the whole Christian Church, because Jesus did not make just the apostles priests and kings, or just the clergy, but all Christians are baptized into Christ and share in His priesthood and His royal reign.
Next comes what would probably be the choir’s response. The choir here, like our choir, summons the congregation to worship, or leads them. But the choir here up in the heavenly choir loft, or rather gathered around the throne of God and the 24 elders is a choir of angels: numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” Rev. 5:11-12
Then finally in the eternal and heavenly divine service the whole congregation responds together. But in the vision, the whole congregation does not consist of people, or at least not only people. No, the congregation that sings is every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them. And this congregation sings
To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever! Rev. 5:13
And then the four living creatures say Amen. And all the elders fall on their faces in worship before Jesus who sits on the throne.
Like I said, we didn’t sing this. We sang the other one, which is also a song of heaven. “Glory to God in the highest”—the song of the angels when the Son of God was born a man and laid in a manger for us (Luke 2). It is also the song of the crowd waving palms as Jesus our Lord and God rode to Jerusalem; the crowd sings, “Hosanna! (Matthew 21) Peace in heaven and glory in the highest (Luke 19).” In the Gloria in Excelsis the angel’s Christmas song and the crowd’s Palm Sunday song are woven together.
Either one works for the Divine Service. I prefer the older one, the Gloria. But they are both having us sing the songs of the Divine Service in heaven.
So either we are like that crow in Aesop’s fable that puts on peacock feathers, and we’re pretending like we can slip into the heavenly divine service unnoticed. Or we really have a right to sing the words that the angels and God’s holy people sing as they stand around the throne of the Holy One.
No, you can’t put on peacock feathers with God. You can’t sneak into the wedding feast without a wedding garment.
The truth be told we have no right to be at the divine service in heaven—or the one on earth, which is one and the same. The same Lamb Who Was Slain that they worship in heaven in Revelation is the same Lamb who was slain who rode to Jerusalem on the donkey and it is the same Lamb Who was slain Who preaches to you and comes to our Divine Service at St. Peter in His body and blood.
We don’t have any right to come near Him, much less set up the altar for Him—try to beautify it for the all beautiful Lord of hosts.
Wash out the wine stains of the purificators, the blood of Christ, shed for you.
Clean out the cups that held His blood. Pour the water on the earth.
Much less do we have the right to get up in the pulpit and speak His Word, which is a sharp two-edged sword. Take His holy, holy, holy words on most unholy lips; speak or sing the words of His last will and testament.
How can we sneak into this place? We can’t. He puts on us the holy garments that belong to His holy people; He puts the crowns of gold on our heads.
How? He forgives our sins through His Son, who came down from heaven, who kept the law of God for us and Who shed His blood in payment for our sins. He cleanses us of our sins, washing us through water with the Word. He preaches the law to us which slays the sinful nature that is always with us, and then raises us up through the Gospel. He absolves us with a word that we hear with our ears. “As a called and ordained servant of the Word, I forgive you all your sins.”
He gives us as His last will and testament His body and blood which was broken and poured out in death and won the forgiveness of sins.
That’s how we are bold to enter His presence in the divine service, and to dare to offer ourselves and our work to Him Who was before the world began and Who created all things. We come because He invites us to come and calls us children, heirs, and saints, and co-workers with God.
We will sing that on the day of Resurrection, when everything will be completed. Yet we sing it now, as though we already have the victory. “We do,” you say. And you’re right.
It is the feast of victory for our God every time we celebrate the Sacrament of the Altar. Every time we do so we do it in remembrance of Jesus, the lamb who was slain for our sins and who was raised to life for us also, for our righteousness, our justification. For our holiness. For our glorification.
In fact it is the feast of victory always and forever. He who atoned for our sins and rose from the dead and ascended into heaven is now reigning, seated at God’s right hand and ruling the universe for us, whom He died for. Whom He baptized when we weren’t even asking to be baptized. It is He who rules all things who will give us His body and blood today. He made that happen, not we ourselves. And will He fail also to keep you and make everything work for your good?
So yes, it is the feast of victory even though we are not raised from the dead.
Even though the church is shrinking.
In fact in whatever Christ gives us that kills our old Adam, we really should sing “this is the feast of victory for our God.” As Christians that song makes more sense when we die in this world than when we live.
Look at John the Baptist. He went to jail for telling Herod that Herod was lost for marrying his brother’s wife. They behead him and carry his cut off head into their party on a silver platter. Imagine that. You faithfully preach God’s word. You rebuke the whole world, live out in the desert, wear camel’s hair, and what does God let happen? Some tin-can local petty tyrant cuts your head off to please his wife and to keep from losing face.
That’s the feast of victory for our God? That’s what John gets for his trouble?
Yes. Didn’t you hear our other reading from Revelation? Those who believe in Jesus and hold on to Him and are beheaded for it—where were they? Under the altar in heaven. The altar is where the sacrifices are made. It is the place where God and man meet, where the Holy God receives sinful human beings. There are no more sacrifices for sins being offered in heaven, just as there are none being offered on earth. That has been done. This altar in church bears witness to Jesus’ one sacrifice.
That’s where those who have died for Christ are hidden away. They are hidden under Christ’s sacrifice. They don’t take away the sins of the world, but the Father accepts their offerings through the offering of His Son.
We are not martyrs yet, but we do suffer. We died with Jesus in Baptism and rose again with Him. That’s why we belong in the Holy places and why we are fit to serve there, whether as a pastor or as an altar guild member, who aids the proclamation of the word.
Our lives are also hidden with Christ at the right hand of God. We have the victory already. And when we get tired and say, “How long, Lord?” He refreshes us in Himself. It may hurt while you’re on earth and the devil tosses one thing after another at you. But Jesus gives you Himself and the devil cannot really hurt you. Even when you are weak and broken, the devil is only helping you. He just helps kill the part of you that died with Jesus.
So rejoice. This is the feast of victory; it is all the more when there is suffering, or even persecution. When people not only don’t show up but they show up to throw us in jail or worse. It’s the feast of victory then and even when you are slain for Christ’s sake.
The devil can’t undo the Gospel. He can’t put Jesus’ body and blood back together and take Him off the cross and put our sins back on us.
So. We live in a world where it’s cool to be Herod and Herodias and her daughter. You have to imagine that John the Baptist is going to be hated by them. He’s not going to have any protectors. If you stand with John you’ll have trouble too. Count on it. More trouble than if you lived a godless life.
We may not always have an altar to prepare.
The days may well come sooner than we imagine where we celebrate the feast of victory for our God alone in chains in a cell.
Or where the feast of victory is celebrated not in a church set aside for public worship but in hiding.
Or where we are given the privilege not only of preaching Christ crucified, confessing Him before the world, bearing witness to Him in words but also in wounds, shedding abroad the love of God together with our blood. Then no one will think of children’s sermons or object lessons because the marks of Jesus that we bear visibly will be our object lessons.
But while we do have an altar, and linens to put on it, paraments, an engraved chalice, a nave, pews, a pulpit—while we have those things, we will use them thanks to God and for the good of our neighbor. And how is that done? Not by making everyone comfortable, but by doing everything possible so that John can preach and be heard. So that John can preach the truth, God’s truth, to a world full of trees with an ax already at the root, about to cut down every tree that doesn’t bear good fruit and cast it into the fire.
So that he can preach repentance to a society of Herodiases and Herods, Kardashians and their boyfriends, and tell them plainly that in and of themselves they are going to be damned.
But then so that he can preach clearly and point his finger to the one he came to reveal and who enabled him to die, out of love, as a witness to the love of God—Jesus.
He is the only savior of John, Herod, Herodias, and us; the only one who makes us ready for the feast that God is making only for those who have the right to be called His sons. He is the one whom all creation kneels to and whom every tongue will confess as Lord. He is the one who gives victory to those who have no might, priesthood and kingship to those who were not a people, hiding those who suffer for Christ’s sake under the altar—in Christ at the right hand of God. This is the feast. Alleluia!
The peace of God which passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
- Divine service (15-8-2013): “Seizing opportunities/Die aangryp van geleenthede” (lytteltonnac.wordpress.com)
- Thus Said the Girl, Bring me the head of John (prayerfulanglican.wordpress.com)