Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Easter Festive 2011

Easter Festive Sermon
The Lamb of God Who Gives Us Peace
 (John 20:19–23)

 “Lamb of God, Pure and Holy” (LSB 434) has been our song all throughout the forty days of Lent. But we don’t move on to better things now that we have broken our Lenten fast with this Easter feast. For there is nothing better than this Lamb, who takes our sins away. We see Him in our text, fresh from His grave that first Easter Day, with the marks of death still visible in His hands and side. “Peace be with you,” He says to His incredulous disciples (John 20:19).

And as He said, so it was. Jesus gave them peace then and there that day. Then He sent them forth to breathe out the Spirit’s breath upon the Church in the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins that He earned upon His cross. So we come full circle. We began this season pondering the pure and holy Lamb of God, the victim of our sin. Today we see Jesus the risen victor over death and hell. But He still remains the Lamb who bears our sins away.

Today it is as He said that first Easter evening, “Peace be with you.” Christ’s lasting legacy is peace—the kind of peace that surpasses human understanding, the peace that lasts through the stresses and storms of life, the peace that will see us through the valley of the shadow of death and will usher us into heaven’s bright courts, where we, too, shall stand in glorious risen flesh before the Father’s throne. The Lamb of God gives us peace indeed—a lasting peace.

That is why we extend the feast. The Church’s Easter Day continues long after all the chocolate and sugary treats have been consumed and all the fluffy little chicken toys and Easter bunnies have been safely tucked away for another year. For forty days the paschal candle—the emblem of the risen Christ—will stand near the altar. Its bright flame recalls those forty extraordinary days that the astonished disciples lived with their resurrected Lord, seeing Him with their own eyes, touching and handling His living flesh with their own hands, eating and drinking with Him after He had risen from His grave, and listening to His life-giving, death-destroying Word with their ears.

After Ascension Day you will note that this candle does not go away; it takes up residence near the baptismal font, where it stands as the perpetual emblem of the risen Christ. For our Lord Jesus is not dead and gone, some departed hero. Instead, He lives forever at the right hand of the Father and reigns to all eternity as the head over all things for His Church. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ shall come again. The very same Lord who was put to death for our offenses has been raised for our justification and will come again in glory to claim His Bride, the Church. Therefore we Christians remain faithful to our heavenly husband, though we cannot see Him now for a time.

Although we have not seen Him, yet we love Him; and though we do not see Him now with our eyes, yet we believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy. For in the precious Word of Christ’s Gospel and in His holy Sacraments we are continually receiving the goal of our faith, namely, the salvation of our souls. No wonder the festival continues unabated. All the Sundays from now until Ascension Day are not labeled “Sundays after Easter,” but “Sundays of Easter.” Throughout the Easter season we celebrate with undiminished joy, which is a good thing, because God knows there is so much to rob us of our joy these days. Private and public perils threaten all around. Fear and uncertainty grip the nations of the earth, while wars and rumors of wars echo and re-echo around the globe. Illness and hardship, distress of body, mind, and soul—all these things rob us of inner peace and joy. “Fightings without and fears within” is a good description of our predicament at any given time here in this world, perhaps especially right now.

It was on a day much like this, the evening of that first long Easter Day, that Jesus came and stood among His disciples with His astounding blessing. The doors were locked out of fear, but Jesus entered anyway to speak His words of life and hope. “Peace be with you!” He said to them.

It was the standard greeting of His day, but amplified a notch or two. This was no “Hi, how are you?” or “Have a nice day.” For after Jesus said these words, He showed them His hands and His side. And you know what they saw there in His living flesh? The wounds of death. The holes where nails had been pounded, and the gaping gash where the point of the soldier’s spear had pierced Jesus’ side and from which the blood and water poured out when He died upon His cross. Standing before them was the Lamb of God who takes our sins away, the Lamb of God who died that we might live.

But Christ was dead no more. The visible marks of death were engraved on living flesh and bone. No figment of pious imagination stood there among the disciples, no abstract concept of good triumphing over evil, no fond ambitious hope for the betterment of humankind. None other than the incarnate Son of God embodied in human flesh stood in that locked room. The very same Lord Jesus who had been conceived by the Holy Spirit, who had been born of the Virgin Mary, who had suffered under Pontius Pilate, who had been crucified, who had died, and who had been buried now stood before the disciples, alive and well. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world was now the Lamb of God who gives us peace.

And that is exactly what He did. He came and preached peace to the disciples. “Peace be with you,” He said. That was and remains an extraordinary statement, without precedent or parallel in ordinary social conversation. Jesus was not merely extending a greeting, a wish, or a prayer. This was performative speech. What Jesus said, He did. With the very words He spoke, He gave peace to His disciples and bestowed among them the cessation of all hostility between God and man. It was a spiritual cease-fire, a ratification of the cosmic peace treaty first established at the cross when Jesus breathed His last, commending His soul to God, then calling out in triumph, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

The peace of the Lord continues even in wartime. For the great cosmic battle between God and man is done and over. Peace has been won for us all. Sin is now vanquished; the stronghold of the grave has been breached; hell itself has lost all power to destroy. Life has triumphed over death. Death has lost its teeth; it can scowl and glare, as Luther once wrote, but it cannot bite. The sting of death is gone, for all sin has been removed in Christ our Lord, the Lamb who gives us peace. Once sin is gone, there is nothing in all creation that can ever separate us from the love of God, not even death itself.

So now there remains a Sabbath rest for all the people of God. Each time we hear the life-giving Word of the Gospel of Christ, and every time we eat His flesh and drink His blood, we have His life within. By faith we receive through these divine means all the benefits of Christ’s saving work in the power and presence of His Holy Spirit.

“If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven,” Jesus  said to His disciples (John 20:23). These, too, were not empty words. Jesus actually commissioned these men to serve as His representatives, distributing in the Church the forgiveness He had earned upon His cross. And it is still the same among us. When we hear from the mouth of a pastor, “I forgive you all your sins,” it is not his forgiveness we receive, but Christ’s—the real and genuine article, the actual removal of guilt and shame in Jesus’ name. Not because the pastor says so, but because Jesus says so. He, the Lamb of God who takes our sins away, is the Lamb who brings us peace. And He gives that peace in more than one way in His Church.

“Peace be with you!” We hear these words of Christ before we eat the bread and drink the cup of His Holy Supper. As it was in that locked room that first Easter evening, so it is here this day. Hearts are restored, sins forgiven, lives renewed in Jesus’ name. Although we may daily live and breathe on a virtual battlefield, the peace of the Lord Jesus Christ continues to bring us peace within. This is our shield and protection, our bulwark and defense against all that threatens us. “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you,” says our risen Lord. “I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27).   

That is where we come in, you and I. Left to ourselves in this world we have no peace. Left to ourselves we have not only worry and fear to contend with but also hurt and loss, coupled with a good dose of shame and guilt to top it all off. Left to ourselves we are a mess. But we are not alone.

The Lord Jesus Christ, risen victor over sin and death, has given and bequeathed to His Church on earth His living and abiding peace. This peace is dispensed and distributed in the preaching of His Gospel and in the eating and drinking of His Holy Supper. Then there is peace once more. For in the forgiveness of our sins for Jesus’ sake there is peace for every troubled child of God by faith. Jesus “came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through Him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit” (Ephesians 2:17–18).

So peace to you, this Easter day—the peace of Christ that surpasses all understanding. For Jesus means exactly what He says and gives precisely what He means. The peace of the Lord is with you always. To this we add our glad “Amen. Thy peace be with us, O Jesus. Amen.”

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