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.”

Easter Sunrise 2011

Mark 16:01-08
Easter Sunrise 2011

The earth shook. The angel rolled away the stone. The seal is broken. Death is destroyed. The evil one is cast down. The holy angels rejoice. The tomb is empty. Christ is risen from the dead! He has died for our sins and rose again for our justification. The battle is done. God has won. Why is not all the world rejoicing?

The guards were terrified. They were like dead men. They saw Him rise. Their hatred and their spears were too weak to seal Him in, but still they would not worship Him. Their terror did subside enough for them to take the bribe and tell the lie. They witnessed the resurrection. But all they had was fear and hatred for His love.

Why does not all the world rejoice at the defeat of death, at the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Are there men so cold as to stay in bed this morning? Why would those guards not believe? Why would they shame themselves and say that they were drunk and fell asleep? They´d rather be thought by men to be negligent incompetents than followers of Jesus?

Into the tomb of the Arimathaean, went the Mary´s. They found the empty grave clothes, a blood stained shroud, and an angel with a promise: “He is not here. He is risen. Save the spices and the ointments for the dead. Jesus lives.” He said, “Fear not.”

But they did. They were afraid. When St. Mary Magdalene came back she failed to recognize the Lord. She thought He was a gardener. She wept as though Jesus was dead and His body had been further desecrated. So, too, those two disciples on the road to Emmaus, St. Thomas in the upper room, those other ten who locked the doors, they were all afraid.

Jesus is risen. The tomb is empty. Some had seen Him. Others had seen the empty shelf where His Body had been and heard an angel proclaim the Good News. He even reminded them of what Jesus had said. But, still, they were afraid. They were all afraid.

What was it that those first witnesses of the Resurrection feared? Did they think that they would be held accountable for their Friday betrayals and cowardice, for denying Him or turning away? Or was it yet deeper even than that? Did they recognize that it was not just the sins of Judas, Caiaphas or Pilate that nailed Him to the cross? Did they know that it was their fault that Jesus suffered so and died? Did they feel the earth shake and know that in all fairness it should have swallowed them? Were they afraid that He rose and was coming for revenge? Seeing that Joseph´s adopted Son is true God, were they then afraid for what they had done, for who they were?
Repent, ye fearful men. There is no end of such things for which you should be afraid, according to the flesh. For what if your wife or your friends knew your secret thoughts and fantasies or your many vain ambitions, and what roles you would have them play? What if you had to account for every minute at work? What if your lies were exposed? What if your dark heart was known? Repent. But do not be afraid. For it was His heart and will to suffer, die, and rise again to liberate you from fear and death, from sin and Hell. He wanted to buy you back and set you free.

He rose not for vengeance but for mercy! He is the Alpha and the Omega. This is the way He has always been. He used evil for good with Joseph and his brothers. Israel came through the Red Sea on dry ground. Even after they complained and went after idols God forgave them and brought them to the land with milk and honey. Samson defeated more by his death than in his life. Weak and youthful David killed the giant with his own weapon. The prophet Nathan absolved the adulterous murderer. Namaan was cleansed of leprosy in the Jordan. The three young men came out of the fiery furnace alive. Daniel arose from the lion´s den.

Jonah was thrown overboard. His body stopped the wrathful, killing waves. The men who sacrificed him were spared. But then Jonah came out of the deep, back from the dead, that the Ninevites, even we, might receive God´s Word.

“Peace be unto you” the sign of Jonah said to the fearful disciples in the upper room. “Stop doubting and believe. All authority has been given to Me and I am with you always.”

Behold, I tell you a mystery. You were once dead. You were conceived in sin. You were born in death. You lived in fear and as an enemy of God. But by His grace, you were brought to life through the waters of Holy Baptism. God´s Holy Name and promise were placed upon you. You were joined to His resurrection. Now you are not dead. You are Baptized. You are ever hopeful and eager, awaiting the fulfillment of the promise and the return of Jesus Christ. And there is no stopping your heartfelt Hallelujah´s, even as His Body and His Blood are place within you, even as He declares you righteous from His grace.

The angelic prophecy made in the fields of Bethlehem has come true: peace on earth! Peace has been won through the violence He endured on the cross. Peace is bestowed in His Body and Blood, by the power of His risen Word. You may depart this day in peace for you are not God´s enemy. Your guilt has been covered. Your sins have been removed. There is no one to accuse you. Jesus loves and forgives you.

He is the firstfruits of them that sleep, the Firstborn out of death. He is the Resurrection and the Life, the Redeemer who buys back His wayward children with His blood. He is merciful, gracious, steadfast and loving. His humiliation is ended. Death is dead. Jesus is not. He lives. He is risen. And, as always, He bestows that hard won victory upon you without cost or price. He did it all for you. He gives it all to you. You have nothing to fear. He loves you and He lives. So rejoice, and be at peace.

Hallelujah! Amen.

Easter Vigil 2011

Easter Vigil 
Matthew 28:1-10

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

Lent is the time of fasting. Our desire these past seventy days was to bring our bodies into submission, to train ourselves to live not by food but by every Word that proceeds from the Mouth of God. No one ever got stronger, the devil was never overcome, by doing what the body wants. Successful armies and athletes are those who know discipline and self-control.

But now Lent is over.

Easter is the time of feasting. Jesus lives. Death is done. Sin is forgiven. Creation is remade. The rules are broken. It does not matter whether you kept the fast or not. It is does not matter what grievous sins you have done. It does not matter how faithful or faithless you have been. Jesus lives! It is the time to feast.

Let no one fast. Let no one repent or hang his head in sorrow or consider his sins anymore. Jesus lives!

Death is dead. Sins are removed. God is pleased. And the body, our one-time enemy is redeemed and restored, its joys are cleansed and sanctified. Eat, drink, and be merry, laugh and rejoice, for Jesus lives. The devil and our old sinful nature are overcome and our effort or lack of it matters not. For grace abides and grace reigns because Jesus lives.

He is risen from the dead, not for our fasting and discipline, not for our patience and submission. This victory has come not to the strong but to the weak, not to the disciplined but to the lazy, not to the saints but to the sinners. Jesus lives not because our sadness pulled Him out of the grave, but for His perfect love, to our unending joy. For this God would have us as His own and has snatched us away from Satan as though we were a pearl of greatest price. Jesus lives. The rules are broken. Camels walk through the eyes of needles, rich men go to heaven. Hateful and rebellious sons are declared holy and pleasing to God, without effort and without price.

Jesus lives and we feast this night in forgiveness and grace. We seek no moderation, no self-control. The Lord our God is generous and extravagant. Our cups overflow. He forgives more sins than we've done. He has crushed the devil on our behalf. He has ended the terror of demons. He has made our cemeteries into bedrooms and gardens and has declared us to be His own. Jesus lives! Salvation and heaven are free, and without strings. There are no prerequisites, no charges, no hidden fees, no background checks, no pedigrees needed.

Tonight we are brought out of bondage. Tonight we are led through the gates of Hell on dry ground. Tonight the seal of the grave is broken, the morning of a new creation breaks forth out of night, and all the sons and daughters of Adam are brothers once again. The curse of Babel is ended. We exchange a kiss of peace, all debts forgiven, all failures forgotten, as we pray together the common language of praise. Tonight the holy angels laugh like mothers watching their babes take their first steps. Creation is remade. The rules are broken. We are the newborn of heaven, who have ridden the Water and the Blood in a Holy Ark and have come to a Temple made without hands, a Cornerstone once-rejected, risen and pristine, holy and perfect, our Bridegroom and our Friend. Tonight is the night of joy, of purest delight.

God is good. His mercy endures forever. He was slain to make us clean. But once again Jesus, our Jesus, Lord of Life, our Savior and our King, our Jesus lives. The rules are broken. Death is dead.

Hallelujah. Jesus lives.

Good Friday Noon

Good Friday
John 18:1-19:42
 Noon April 23, 2011

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

Nails. Thorns. Blood.

Hoisted up upon the cross, lifted up from the earth, hangs the Virgin´s innocent Son. Horror and strife! What have we done? What retribution can we expect? We, of unclean lips, impure hearts, we killed the messengers again and again, and now, we´ve killed the Prince. We´ve been caught - red-handed, with our pants down. There is no excuses for our greed or our lust. The Law demands our death. We nailed God to the cross. What hope is there for us?

And yet, amidst this sorrow and injustice, the Divine grace and mercy of the Christ are quite evident. The Father´s love is revealed. Our hope is in that innocent death. For He is not like us. He is not like His accusers. He is not like cowardly Pilate or the cruel soldiers. Even while He suffers their violence and their scorn, even while He dies, He forgives them. He forgives those who murder Him. He promises a malefactor paradise. He looks after His mother.

Was there ever love so selfless, so concerned for another? What kind of a man lays down His life for His enemies? What kind of a God takes back those who kill His Son? The Messiah awaited by Abraham, that is who.

Here is the heart and will of Christ: He dies that we live. He dies for our salvation. He endures Hell so that we are spared and have fellowship with Him. He is forsaken, so that we, malefactors all, are accepted! There is no retribution. There is only grace, forgiveness, peace, and hope. We adore the cross and glory in it. For He who killed His Son in our place, even the Father, will not kill us. That is His will and His love. That is the sacrifice that leaves us clean and declares us to be holy and right.

He finishes it. He loves us to the end. The Father´s wrath is placated. Justice has been served. The ransom is paid. It is complete. There is no more. The Cup is empty. The serpent´s head is crushed. The devil is cast down. Man is reconciled to the Father. The Victory is won. Hell has depleted its arsenal. It has nothing more to demand. It is finished.

He commends His soul to God. He dies before they break His legs. The centurion´s spear sets free the water and the Blood. He is dead. The stuff of Life - water and Blood - came pouring out of Him for us. The blood of Abel has now been silenced. Hell´s fire has been quenched. And that Blood that speaks a better thing, is poured into our hearts by way of our mouths, and we are purified, justified, sanctified. We are made one with Him.

Baptism is now valid. The Communion is now real. The absolution takes effect. And faith saves. Because Jesus Christ, of His own perfect and free will, died on the cross for our sins and rose again for our justification. Death is dead. Life lives. The tomb is empty.

Nails, thorns, blood? Yes, and more: empty grave clothes, scars that bear witness of the sacrifice, peace in the upper room, salvation from above, a new family, and a future home. All because Jesus died and rose again. Blessed is He. He does all things well.

In +Jesus Name. Amen.

Good Friday Evening

Good Friday
Sermon: The Lamb of God Who Bore Our Shame
(Isaiah 53:3–7)

In a world driven by marketing and fixated on entertainment, Good Friday seems a little out of step. There is nothing entertaining about the cross, and there is no way to draw a smiley face on the crucifixion. No matter how you slice it, there is just no way to sell the cross. And there is nothing entertaining about this day. But then, that is the way it should be. This day is not called Happy Friday, after all, but Good Friday.

God the Son did not come down from heaven to make us happy. He was not incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary to make us happy. He was not made man and crucified for us under Pontius Pilate to make us happy. It was not to make us happy that He suffered and was buried or on the third day rose again in accordance with the Scriptures. Jesus Christ is interested in much more than our mere happiness. His burning intent is nothing less than our eternal joy. Our Lord Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame, for the one joy that was set before Him—that He might swallow up death forever in His death. And He did this though it meant He had to set aside His glory and embrace our shame to do it. All this, and more, is what puts the “good” into Good Friday.

Jesus is the Lamb of God who bore our shame. That’s what was going on that first Good Friday. Although He is in Himself pure and holy, Jesus was carrying all our shame in that pure and holy body of His that day. That is why He looked so bad on that day we call “good.”

You all know the events of Good Friday very well; how our Lord was nailed to the cross around 9 a.m. and hung there in bitter agony for six hours; how utter darkness descended from noon until He expired with a loud cry around 3 p.m.

It was not a happy scene that day. The holy prophet Isaiah records that “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not” (Isaiah 53:2–3). This sums up the way things played out that first Good Friday, when Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, took on the sin of the world and died a sinner’s death under the wrath and judgment of God, His righteous Father.

It looked for all the world like Jesus was the worst sinner who had ever or would ever live. Isaiah records: “We considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:4). It looked as though Jesus deserved to die; otherwise, why would God be punishing Him?

So we learn an important lesson today/this night: we learn to look for God not in external circumstances but hidden under the opposite. He reveals His glory in His shame, His joy in sorrow, His comfort wrapped in suffering and pain. For things were not as they appeared that Good Friday. It looked as though Jesus was stricken and smitten by God because of His own sin, when in reality it was our sins that hurt Him so. This the prophet underscores in these words: “We considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4–5).

At the cross, amid great agony of body and soul, the Son of God opened up the heart of God for the whole world to see. Things were not what they appeared to be. Hidden under Christ’s agony and excruciating suffering we can see the Father’s love in action. Not one of us would give up his son to save another, but at the cross God the Father sacrificed His Son, His only Son, the Son whom He loved, to remove the curse of sin. At the cross Jesus, the Lamb of God, stripped and mocked and flogged, was carrying in Himself the full burden of all the sins of all the world.

No wonder, then, that He was pierced and crushed—for there Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God, got what we deserved. At the cross, justice was done, but not as it seemed. Jesus was indeed stricken and afflicted by God, but not on account of anything He had done. Rather, it was our sins—yours and mine—that He was carrying on His sinless back, that pure and holy Lamb of God. And there He bore our shame as well.

Sin is rebellion, idolatry, open hostility against the God who in love created us and gave us all we have, who purchased and won us by the blood of His Son, who called us by His Spirit through the Gospel. Violations of His will, therefore, bring not merely guilt but also shame.

We all have known the ravages of shame—that sense of being dirty and filthy, contaminated by things that fill you with remorse and regret. Things you have thought and said and done that leave you broken, humiliated and ashamed deep inside, feeling all alone and isolated from God.

Here before the cross on which is hung the salvation of the world, that ugly shame is removed. For in His cross and by His death, the Lamb of God bore all our shame away. “He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

That healing is yours this very day. The wounds of Jesus are strength for the weary, consolation for the sorrowing, healing balm for the walking wounded. Thank God, there is room at the cross for sinners who grieve and mourn their sin; sinners who know their transgression, whose sin is ever before them; sinners who know the bitter taste left over in their mouths from angry words they have spoken; sinners whose lives are strewn with the wreckage of sin and the anguish of hurt; sinners who feel in their bones the wretched refuse of foul and polluted thoughts and who the know the heft of the awful weight of shame and guilt that comes from sins of thought and word and deed.

But now all that is over and done. Because this is a fallen world, your life might not always be a happy life, but it remains a good life in Jesus, the Lamb who died to save you, the one who bore your shame. For that is all done now, thanks be to God.

After all, notice the thrust of each power-packed phrase in our text: He was pierced, He was crushed, our punishment was upon Him. All of that is now long past. The bitter agony, the bloody sweat, the suffering soul, the dying breath—all of that lies in the past, forever over and done. But the last and best part continues now and lasts forever, and that is what is yours this very day/night: with His stripes we are healed.

Every wounded heart and hurting soul can find its health restored tonight in the Savior once given into death that you might live. There is a cure for all that ails your sin-sick soul in the words of Jesus, for they are Spirit and they are life for you today. “It is finished,” hear Him say. And you can take Him at His Word. Now is vanquished sin and death and hell. Now the whole ugly record of our sin and all its shame is set aside, nailed with Jesus on His cross, done away with in His death. Now the power of darkness is defeated and the fury of God’s wrath is silenced. Now the fears that haunt us are dissolved. Now even the grave itself can never separate us from the love of God in Christ, His Son.

For Jesus is the Lamb of God who bore our shame away. Therefore in awestruck wonder we pray this holy day, “Have mercy on us, Jesus. Grant us Your peace. Amen.”

Maundy Thursday April 21, 2011

Maundy Thursday Sermon
The Lamb of God Who Has Mercy on Us”
(Exodus 12:1–7; 1 Corinthians 5:7b)

We continue with our Lenten series revolving around the hymn “Lamb of God, Pure and Holy,” and tonight we arrive at the final line: “Have mercy on us, O Jesus” (LSB 434). And so we consider the Lamb of God who has mercy on us. 

Not exactly a household word, “mercy.” It sounds a little strange in everyday speech, as in “Mercy me!” It sounds like something your old-fashioned aunt might use as an exclamation. But as words go, it receives precious little usage outside of the Church, where we use it all the time. “Lord, have mercy on us,” we pray in the liturgy, echoing the blind men who sought their sight (Matthew 9; Luke 18). We, too, seek healing and recovery, but our blindness is a matter of the heart, clouded and scarred as it is by sin. Yet in that very cry for mercy at the beginning of the service, we acknowledge that we are waiting for One who is capable of addressing our deepest need. Mercy: the tender loving-kindness of God who comes among us to distribute His healing and life.  

“Lord, have mercy on us,” we pray. It is both praise and prayer, acclamation and petition. With these words we welcome Him and pray His gracious help. So also in the final line of our Lenten hymn: Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world; have mercy on us, O Jesus.

We have come to the right place tonight to welcome Jesus, as He comes in both Word and Sacrament. We have come to the right place to receive His mercy, since He has plenty of it to give. He gives it to His beloved Church in an exceptional way this holy night. Tonight we commemorate that night Christ founded the Sacrament of the Altar, in which He feeds us with His body broken and gives us His blood outpoured to drink.

This, then, is the night of our deliverance, the beginning of our three-day journey with Jesus from His arrest in the garden, to Pilate’s judgment hall, then to the Place of the Skull, through His cross and death, to His glorious resurrection. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Day—it sounds like four days, but by biblical reckoning it is only three. The Jews begin each new day at the setting of the sun, and anything that happens after sundown is part of the next day. By that calculation, then, it is a three-day journey we commence this Maundy Thursday evening. And it all started with a meal.

We have heard the words so often we can almost recite them in our sleep: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: ‘Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you.’”

In a few minutes we will once again approach the altar, there to bend the knee and receive with our mouths the very Bread of heaven. Under this earthly bread we break and the cup we bless we will eat and drink the flesh and blood of Jesus. And when we do, we will follow His last will and testament: “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). In this Sacrament, the Lamb of God has left us a memorial of His mercy.

It is a memorial far different than any other. The Lord Jesus is the Lamb who once was slain but now is alive forever. And the memorial He instituted is a meal. In this eating and drinking we actively recall, recite, and rehearse His saving mercy.

“What good is that?” we ask. “Give me something I can use, Jesus. I could use some pointers on how to get along in this world. I could use some advice on how to be happy and successful. I could use some instructions on how to find my way through the confusion and turmoil, since my life has become a mess. But mercy? What good is that?” And that is our problem. God sends us His gifts and we keep trying to mark them “return to sender”—or take them back ourselves and exchange them for something we like better.

But there is nothing better than mercy. It is in His mercy that God opens up His heart to the world, sending forth the pure and holy Lamb of God to be slaughtered in our place, which is mercy in action. As a result of His mercy, you and I do not receive the penalty we deserve; instead, God’s own Son took it upon Himself. That substitutionary gift of Jesus and His death is at the heart of the New Testament Meal, the Sacrament of the Altar, the remembrance of God’s mercy to end all other remembrances.

On the night of their deliverance, God’s people Israel ate that first Passover with mixed emotions: with gratitude and joy, to be sure, but tinged with dread—for the angel of death was passing overhead. Imagine a banquet given in your honor but with live ammunition whizzing over your head. These people knew they had received mercy; they had been miraculously delivered from sure and certain death. 

This, then, was Israel’s Passover, the Old Testament sacramental meal of deliverance. In that meal God’s people dined on the body of the very animal that gave them life by dying in their place. It was a communion of sorts—a communion in the body that died to save.

In the Meal we eat this night there is a communion as well. But it is a communion in a living body, the body of the Lamb of God who has mercy on us. Jesus intervened to rescue us from slavery to sin and death. He was made a curse for us and died upon the cross, giving His body and shedding His blood for the remission of our sins. Jesus, too, was a Lamb without blemish or defect. He had no sins of His own but took upon Himself our sins so that He could die to bring down the ancient curse of death and to end the Father’s wrath against all sin and every sinner. That body of His was the sin-offering. His blood is the sign and seal of our redemption. And when we eat the bread and drink the cup of this Supper, it is a communion in the body and blood of Christ, the Lamb.

As Israel once dined on the flesh that revealed God’s mercy and gave them life for death, so the Church continually dines on the flesh and blood that rescued us once and for all. St. Paul drives this home when He calls the Lord Jesus our “Passover Lamb” (1 Corinthians 5:7b). Those lambs who gave their lives to death in Egypt were only a dress rehearsal for the real thing. At the cross, the true Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world gave His body and shed His blood as the ransom price of all the world.

And so at the Lord’s Table this night you and I are given yet again a front-row seat in the great drama that won our salvation. The old song that asks “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” is a sweet thought, but the plain fact is that you and I weren’t there. But tonight the cross comes to us. While we cannot go to Jesus, He comes to us. First at our Baptism and now repeatedly in this holy Supper, the Lamb who shed His blood that we might live says to us, “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” In this sacred memorial Meal, He does more than ask us to remember Him. He Himself actively recalls and gives us once again the fruits of His love and all the benefits of His saving death as He says to us: “Take, eat; this is My body, which was given for you.”

And those two little words “for you” bring us confidence and consolation in this hour. For God’s love is no shadowy abstraction, some warm fuzzy feeling. It is concrete reality. Now sin, death, and hell have been overcome, since Christ, our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed for us. Now we may know for certain that we are not alone in this world, that all the burdens and sorrows of life that threaten to overwhelm us can never rob us of the love of God in Christ our Lord.

His love, you see, is big enough to include the whole sorrowing, hurting world, but it is exact enough to address each and every one of us personally and individually. God’s love is not a general “to whom it may concern” message, some sort of vague “have a nice day” bulk mail flyer or electronic spam memo. In this Supper His love has your own name on it.

So take heart this night. Death and destruction may loom and lurk on every side, but everything that troubles you and all that robs you of your joy is eclipsed tonight in this banquet feast of love. Now sin and death and hell are defeated. Heaven intersects with earth at this altar, and in this eating and drinking we have a foretaste of the feast to come, the wedding banquet of the Lamb and His beloved bride. “Yes, I am coming soon,” He says (Revelation 22:20).

“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus,” we reply. “Come soon.” Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world. Have mercy on us. Amen.

Palm Sunday Sermon 2011

Palm Sunday
Matthew 21:1-9, Matthew 26:1-27:66

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

 The hour is nearly upon us. The Son of Man will make His exodus from this world. He will be glorified. The sea parts and we pass through safely as the angel of death passes over. But the sea comes crashing down on the Son of Man. The angel of death takes Him as our substitute. He is destroyed with Pharaoh, as though His heart were hardened in the blasphemy of which He is accused. He who knew no sin is counted as guilty. He is destroyed. And that destruction is His glorification.

He has sorrows and pain and dies. But do not be sad for Him. This is the way He loves the world. Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone: but if it die, it brings forth much fruit. And He has. He has brought forth much fruit. He has brought forth you. You are the fruit of Jesus' death. You are the reward for His victory. You have been plundered out of Hell. He did not abide alone. He was lifted up from the earth and then He fell into the ground, dead, and was buried. But that on purpose, deliberately, that He would bring forth much fruit, that He would bring forth you.

He that loves his life shall lose it, while he that hates his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. Follow Him. He goes to the cross. His hour is nearly upon us. So is yours. You go to your crosses, to your vocations, to your sorrow. But you do not stop there. You see through them to the other side. Jesus lives. The hour of His death is finished. He is risen. Now the hour of His final glory, when every knee shall bow and tongue confess that He is Lord, draws near. See through your sorrow, through your crosses to the other side. Rejoice in the corn of wheat that has given its life to feed you, to bear fruit. You have crosses, indeed. You suffer injustice, false accusations, gossip, slander. You are betrayed, disobeyed, mocked. You are hurt and you are dying. But there are worse things than the loss of bodily life, than betrayal and denouncement by friends, even than the loss of a loved one. Lose your life and gain it. Go the way of the cross, the way of Jesus. For the cross of Jesus Christ is not only His glory, it is also yours.

Still, your soul is troubled. Your sins have done this to Jesus. You are not only a victim. You are also a criminal. You are cause of His sorrow, of His suffering. The soldiers do the bidding of your sins. You crucify Him. You are the guilty one, the Barabbas who has been set free. What shall you say? “Father, save Him from this hour?” But for this cause He came. He came to lay down His life as a ransom. Say instead, “Father, glorify Thy Name. Save Thy people. Give me to Jesus. For Thy Name is upon me. Glorify Thy Name by my rescue, by forgiveness, by grace.”

Rejoice, O Christian. Now is the judgment of this world. The lying prince who seduced you is cast out. His skull is crushed. He does not rule you. He cannot harm you or accuse you. The Lord Jesus, your King has come, has been lifted up from the earth to draw all men unto Himself. He has drawn you. He is your Lord, your King. He rules by grace. He brings salvation. And where He is, His servants are. He is here. He rides into our midst in lowly forms, coming in simple bread and wine. He comes for you in His Body and Blood, crucified and raised. Come, and be with Him. For even as the living are those who have died, so also His servants are those whom He serves.
Face this holy week not as a time to mourn for Christ who is alive and reigns at His Father's right hand, but as a time to mourn for your sins and to celebrate the great love of God that sent Him to Jerusalem for the forgiveness of sins. Ride on, Lord Jesus, ride on. Bring us with you as you take death captive and conquer sin, for where You are we would be. You are our King, the Son of David come for us. Save us, Lord. Save us now.

In + Jesus' Name. Amen.