Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Easter Sunrise

April 8, 2012
The Path of Life
Psalm 16; Mark 16:1–8

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

“Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” (Mark 16:3). This was the question that the women asked one another that first Easter morn. Their Lord was gone forever. That’s what they thought. Their journey to the grave must have been long and lonely. All of the talk about Jesus as the Messiah seemed cold and dead on their lips. But they wanted to do what was right. They wanted to bring the spices and anoint His body. If He could not live, at least He should die with honor and respect as a great teacher.

We all fight this battle. This battle with death. Sometimes the battle seems to be going well. We’re healthy, the kids are doing okay, and tax season is almost over. God is gracious, and there is much to rejoice about. Other times, though, it seems as though death and Satan are winning. A loved one dies. There’s a sickness that just won’t go away. The economy. Jobs. School. Divorce. Fighting at home. Sometimes the fight is long and the battle hard. Sometimes this earthly strife that we all undergo never seems to end. It can feel as though there is no future, no hope for things to ever get better.

We, of course, are not the first Christians to ever have this battle with Satan and sin and death. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 about those who weren’t certain of the resurrection of the dead. They didn’t know whether the dead would rise. They thought you lived and you died, and that was the end. To that fear and concern he wrote: “If in in Christ we have hope in life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).

How often have you been miserable because you have forgotten the most basic, fundamental core of the Christian faith? How often have you lived as if Jesus’ dead body were still decaying outside of Jerusalem somewhere? When we allow the trials and crosses of this life to define us, it is as if we are asking that question with the women at the tomb. I don’t mean that we should always be happy, or that if we simply have a more positive attitude, that things will automatically get better. Heaven knows that there are times when things are hard. We do suffer in this life. And that suffering is real, it is painful, and it may feel as though it will never end.

But Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. And for poor, weak sinners like you and I that is good news indeed. No, it is the very best of news. David exclaimed this in Psalm 16 when he prayed,
For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let Your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:10–11).

The path that we walk this day is the path of life through death. There is no such thing as life for us apart from Jesus’ death and resurrection. But with Christ, there is hope. This hope is not a pie-in-the-sky sort of everything-will-get-better hope. No, God founds this hope upon Jesus’ death and resurrection for us. David prayed again in Psalm 16:2, “I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from You.’ ”

But what if you believe this path is not for you? What if you believe that Jesus’ death and resurrection are not enough, or that you are not worthy of God? To you I say remember St. Paul. Untimely born, out of step with the other apostles, if anyone would have a claim on being unworthy of God’s mercy, it would be Paul. He was a persecutor, a murderer by nearly anyone’s standards, or the least of the apostles, as he would call himself (1 Corinthians 15:9). Yet God had mercy on him, baptized him, and made him as His own child.

This is true for St. Paul, and it is true for you, dearly beloved. Everything you have and are, all of your good you have, is from God Himself, who gave Himself to you so that you might have hope. He gives Himself to you so that you can actually live, not just survive to suffer another day. This is what we pray in the catechism:
That I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true. (Small Catechism, Second Article)

We have talked a lot about forgiveness this Lenten journey. We’ve talked about our need for forgiveness, the destructive effect sin has on our lives, and we have talked about how sin begets more sin all the time. But more important than that, we have heard how God forgives, that He longs to forgive, that His forgiveness covers you, and that His gracious presence in your life is but a foretaste to come of an eternity of fellowship in Him.

So rejoice this day and be glad. The things of this life that weigh you down will pass. God is at peace with you, and you do not need to be afraid of anything that comes your way. Jesus is risen, and that is all that really matters in this life. Believe it for the sake of our risen Savior, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Easter Vigil April 7, 2012

April 7, 2012
Destroying the Enemy
Psalm 118; Exodus 14

In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Our text for tonight is the story of the exodus and crossing of the Red Sea as recorded in the Book of Exodus, chapter 14, as well as Psalm 118.

We gather here tonight to keep vigil, or watch, for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. What makes this night different from any other night? We asked this on Holy Thursday, but we must ask the question again tonight. Why should we gather here and hope and trust that our Lord has risen from the grave? Why should we, modern day people, care two hoots about an event that happened close to two thousand years ago?

We keep vigil tonight because Jesus’ death and resurrection from the dead is the defining event in the history of the world. We see the world through His death and resurrection. If you look at the world any other way, it simply is not reality. Tonight is the night of nights, where we rejoice in the steadfast love of God, who would not leave us to wallow in our sins or suffer death and separation from Him forever.

But sitting here at night, remembering with the women and the disciples that our Lord has laid dead in the tomb, the fears of death and the grave can be overwhelming.

The people of Israel were faced with these fears almost 3,500 years ago. Relentless Pharaoh pursued them. He had it in for them. He sought to kill the whole lot of them. Their very lives, their very existence as the people of God was in jeopardy. The armies of Pharaoh were on one side, the Red Sea on the other. What would they do? Would God deliver them? Would they even survive?

This is your lot as children of death. We are lost and hopeless. We, like them so many years ago, are in darkness and left with fear because of our sins. We are surrounded by our enemies like a swarm of bees from the nest (Psalm 118:12). Our enemies, sin, death and the devil himself, seem to press in upon every side. Will God deliver us? Will God see us through this life and into the life to come?

We know the rest of the story of Israel, of course. God opened a path for them right through the middle of the sea, so that they were safe on dry ground. The water that once spelled their death now was their salvation. God saved them through the water, by protecting them and by destroying their enemies.

My dear friends in Christ, tonight we learn what this story is really about. This great story in the history of Israel was but a picture of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and the life that is now yours through Holy Baptism.

When Jesus died on the cross, He was laid to rest in the tomb. For three days He rested in the grave. But after three days, He burst forth from the tomb. God had exalted Him, He had lifted Him up out of the grave and death. As Paul said, “Death no longer has dominion over Him” (Romans 6:9).

Jesus rose triumphant from the grave! Just as the people of Israel passed through the sea of death to life everlasting, Jesus passed through death to life. Pharaoh is Satan, that old evil foe who seeks your life. But you are loosed from Pharaoh’s bitter yoke! Because you are baptized into His name, that journey is now your journey. You have passed from death to life through the holy waters of Baptism. You have traveled with Israel through the Red Sea and death, and have come out dry and safe on the other side. Satan is left at the bottom of the sea with your sins.

This is the song of all creation. His death is your death, and His life is your life. The women brought incense and spices to Jesus’ tomb to bury Him. These spices and incense were used to cover up the smell of death. But the smell that was meant to cover up death is now for us a reminder of life, eternal life in Him.

With Jesus’ resurrection from death the power of Satan is undone, the power of death is finished, the power of hell is gone forever. So rejoice in your risen Savior! “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!” (Psalm 118:24). Pray and watch this night, for we rise in the morning to greet Him with the dawn of a new day, the Lord’s Day, the day of the Resurrection of the Dead.

In the strong name of Jesus. Amen.

Good Friday Evening April 6, 2012

Good Friday Vespers 2012
“It Is Finished”
Text: John 19:30
(Taken in part and adapted from a Good Friday sermon by C.F.W. Walther)

On the sixth day, namely on Friday, God created man and woman in His image and thereby completed the great work of creation. Yet, through the temptation of Satan, human beings fell away from their Creator, and fell into sin, misery, death, and eternal damnation. Creation was marred. Human beings, who had been created to share eternal glory with God, had separated themselves from their Creator. We stood condemned under God's just wrath. Something needed to be done.

And so again on the sixth day, namely on Good Friday, mankind's Creator died on the cross out of love for His people. “It is finished,” cried the Lord of Glory at the end of
His suffering as He bowed His head and died.

What a sad day it is when God dies! But, what a blessed day on which God dies for us! His death for our life. For without the life that Jesus gives through His death, we can indeed live physically and biologically, but not spiritually, not eternally. Without Jesus Christ we are dead while living. Just as the Almighty had to breath into Adam the breath of life before he became a living soul on that first Friday, so we must have new life breathed into us by the Holy Spirit who works through the means of grace, the means that proclaim Christ's death for us on Good Friday. His death which gives us life.

And so tonight we heard this life-giving Word. We heard our Lord cry out with a loud voice to the Heavenly Father, “It is finished!” But what is it that is here brought to an end? Jesus had been tried like a common criminal. Scourged, mocked, whipped, spat on, and hung on a cross to die the most excruciating death known to man. Could it be that our Lord meant merely that now His suffering had come to an end? Surely, this is true. But it is more.
Could it be that our suffering Savior meant that now all the ancient prophecies and His own prophecies had been fulfilled? He had just stated that He was thirsty in order to fulfill what had been recorded in Scripture. He had also fulfilled the prophecy of the suffering Servant in Isaiah. Also, regarding the prophecy to Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden, His heel was now being bruised and Satan's head was being crushed. Indeed, the prophecies were being fulfilled. But they were not finished. There were still more prophecies to be completed: the resurrection, the ascension, and then the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

No, even more was meant when our Lord cried out, “It is finished!” For finished means more than just terminated or concluded. It means fulfilled, completed, accomplished. This is the completion for which all creation had been waiting since the fall of mankind into sin. There, at that very point and time in history, God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself. “It is good,” said God on that Friday when He finished creation. “It is finished,” God said on Good Friday when He had completed all that was necessary for our salvation. It is accomplished. Our reconciliation and atonement was finished on the cross. There is nothing more that we could possibly do or add to that. No good work, inward feeling, or bubbly emotion could add to what the Lamb of God finished there on the cross. Our great Substitute paid the great price of payment, appeasing God's wrath to the last cent. “It is finished.” All is finished. That is the Good News. It is certain today. It was finished on the cross.

But what does this mean for us, for you and me, today? How do we view rightly and benefit from what was finished on the cross? This is most important. And above all, by the life-giving work of the Holy Spirit, Christ's death on the cross should mean repentance and faith on our part. For there is no better place for us sinners to come to true repentance than at the foot of the cross of Calvary. It is here we see human sinfulness in its highest degree; it is here that we see the most dreadful consequences of sin; and it is here that we see sin as an unbearable burden that we would never have been able to carry.
And so if we really want to see the depths of human sinfulness, we see it here. For who is it who hangs there between heaven and earth, between two criminals, with blood spattering his whole body? Who is He who here is slowly being tortured to death? He is not a criminal, for even one of the crucified criminals says “This man has done nothing wrong.” However, He is more than just an innocent man. He is the Son of the Most High God, the Lord of glory, the Word made flesh by whom all things were created. This is the One whom people took, hung on a cross and killed. That was indeed the most shameful, wicked, and cursed deed that has ever been conceived in human hearts and carried out by human hands. Here we see what the human heart is capable of. Here we see human sinfulness in its highest degree. And even though you and I were not there personally, our sin played a part in that. Shouldn't we be appalled that we are human beings and that we belong to a race that has made itself guilty of such a crime against God? Creatures killing their own Creator! Indeed, we should hang our heads in shame.

Yet, at Calvary we not only see sin in its highest degree, but we also see its most dreadful consequences. For what Christ has here suffered, He endured not for His sins, but for ours. The pains that He suffered, we should have suffered. His forsakenness should have been ours, along with eternal rejection by God. On Golgotha God has written the LAW before our eyes in blood letters: “The wages of sin is death!” Dreadful wages those, that Christ is here paying. But He does so willingly, for these wages are too much for anyone else to bear. For if it had been possible for any creature to bear and atone for the sins of mankind, would God have given His only begotten Son into death to atone for them? If God could have saved mankind any other way, wouldn't He have done so? How great our sin must then be! How can we not repent?

And yet today is not just a day of remorse and sadness, but a day also of joy and gladness, for the blood letters of the cross show us not only that the wages of sin is death, but even more clearly and brilliantly we see that “God is love.” We see the height and depth and width and breadth of God’s love for us. His love which willingly gives His only-begotten Son into death for you. As your substitute. For your pardon and peace. For your life and eternal salvation. And so while we repent of our sin, we do so not in terror and despair, but with a firm faith in God’s grace. For when Jesus cries out “It is finished,” we hear the greatest demonstration of God's willingness to pardon and save us poor, miserable sinners. For in this dying breath, your Lord means what He says and He says what He means. “It is finished.” Your sins are finished. They are forgiven.

For all has been accomplished. Nothing else need be done. Yours sins are many and they are great, it is true. And every one – small or great, deliberate or careless, intentional or unintentional – worthy of death. But they are finished! And so when you feel the weight of your sin, look up and see your Savior who took them from you and gave you forgiveness. If you worry because you don't always have a bubbly feeling to assure you of your faith, then look up and see your Savior who has done it all for you. For the assurance of our faith is not in our feelings, but in the One who died for our sins and said, “It is finished.” And if you are anxious and worried that your sins are too great, then look up and see how much greater is the One hanging there in your place. And believe. Believe Him. Believe and you shall live!

For on that Friday, the sixth day of the week, it was indeed finished. Our salvation, finished. Our sin, finished. Satan, finished. Hell, finished. Our forgiveness, accomplished. Eternal life, won and given to us. And God saw all that He had done, and it was Good. A Good Friday. A very good Friday indeed.

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

Maundy Thursday April 5, 2012

Maundy Thursday 2012
“Feast of Life”
(Exodus 24:3-11; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Mark 14:12-26)

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

I love the reading we heard this evening from Exodus, because even though it happened a long time ago, it is at the same time so contemporary. It is so “just like us!” For consider what is happening that reading:

First, the people of Israel are chosen by God and rescued from their slavery in Egypt, the culmination of that rescue being their passing through the waters of the Red Sea, which, the New Testament tells us, is their baptism. (1 Corinthians 10:2)

Next, when they get to Mt. Sinai, and they are catechized, for we read that “Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord.” He taught them.

And so once they are taught, what happens next? They speak their confirmation vow: “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” Kind of like us when, in the rite of confirmation, we are asked, “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?” And we promise to do so.

And then, on the basis – not of their vow! – but of the covenant that God establishes with His people by means of the blood sprinkled on the altar and then on the people, what finally happens? They eat and drink with God. They commune with God.

Do you see the pattern? Something very much like that is what still happens among the people of God in the church today! First, God chooses us and rescues us from our slavery to sin, and we are baptized into our Lord Jesus Christ. Then we are catechized, or taught the words of the Lord. And once we are taught, we speak our confirmation vow. And then on the basis – not of our vow! – but of the new covenant, the new Testament, established by God with the blood of His Son, what happens? We eat and drink with God. We have Holy Communion with God!

Now, what happened on Mt. Sinai is not the exact same thing that happens in our churches. The pattern is the same, but what happened on Mt. Sinai with the blood of animals was only the picture, or a pointer to the reality of what would happen later on Mt. Calvary. For on Calvary, it would not be the blood of animals, but the blood of the Son of God which would be shed to establish the new Testament of God with His people. It would be the blood of the Son of God which would be shed for the life of the world. And when that happened, things would never be the same again.

And that is what we are celebrating and commemorating this night – that what happened with Jesus in the upper room with His disciples when He gave the gift of His Supper, was the establishment of God’s new Testament. The picture, the pointer from Mt. Sinai is completed and fulfilled by Jesus, the Son of God, as He eat and drinks with His people, and feeds them the food of the new Testament – His own body and blood. What happens with Jesus is not simply a picture, or a pointer, or a memorial as it was at Mt. Sinai – what happens with Jesus is the fulfillment, the reality. . . . And that means that for you and I, who are gathered as the people of God in this place, what continues to happen here at this altar, as Jesus comes to feed us, is also no picture, or pointer, or simple memorial, but the real thing, the reality. Here, still today, the Son of God comes to feed His people with the food of the New Testament – His own body and blood.

Now that’s hard for some people to accept and understand, because frankly, memorials are easier for us to understand. After all, we have a lot of memorials in our country, and how many right in Springfield? But the Lord’s Supper is not just a memorial, and its important and good that its not! For what happens at a memorial? We think back to a moment in history. We dig into our memory about an event from the past. Perhaps we reminisce. But all the doing is done by us. The memorial doesn’t do anything – its just there. . . . But here in the Lord’s Supper, in Holy Communion, we have something much different. We have not just a picture or a memorial, but the reality. Jesus is here for you. His body and blood are here for you. We are really and actually in the presence of God and eat and drink with Him. As we heard read twice earlier, Jesus said: “This is my body . . . This is my blood.” And Jesus said what He meant, and meant what He said.

And that is not only important for us, that is good for us! Because it means that the benefits that we here receive in Holy Communion – the forgiveness of our sins, life, and salvation – do not depend on us and what we do; on our ability to remember, or reminisce good enough. No, the benefits depend solely on God and what He does. And why is that good? Well think back to the beginning of this sermon and the “confirmation vows” I mentioned. The people of Israel that day at Mt. Sinai said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And standing before God’s altar we say, “We intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it.” . . . But how long did it take Israel to break its vow? And how steadfast have we been? What if our standing before God, and receiving His blessings really depended on our keeping our vows? Then where would we be?

And so God did not leave it up to us. He did not simply establish a memorial here for us, and tell us to gather together to think about all that He has done for us in the past. No! In Holy Communion, we don’t just think about the past, He brings the past to us. He brings the cross of Calvary here to us, transcending time and space, and makes us not just those who remember, but participants. But it is not our work, but His work. It is not our remembering, but His remembering. It is not our thoughts journeying back in time, but His journey to us. For He is the One who came to us, and comes to us still. From His body in a manger of hay to His body in a manger of bread. From His blood poured out on a cross to His blood poured out in a chalice. And that true body and blood, given personally and individually to you and me, makes all the difference in the world. Because it is real, and it is powerful. It forgives sins, it gives life, and promises eternal salvation to all who believe.

And we need that personal touch – in the individual absolution, in Holy Communion – because, no article of faith is as hard to believe as the forgiveness of sins. It sounds too good to be true. . . . But God wants you to know and be sure – absolutely sure – that he has saved you, and forgiven you, and wants you to have no doubts. And so here He gives you His pledge, He gives you His very body and blood, He gives you forgiveness one-on-one, because it is for you. Or think of it this way: which would you rather receive – a third-class, bulk mail, flyer addressed to “occupant,” or a first-class, personal letter address specifically to you? . . .

This is for you. The New Testament in Jesus’ blood. And here, as you eat the body and drink the blood of your Lord Jesus Christ, you become one with Him – His flesh in your flesh, His blood now running through your veins. And you have the most intimate communion with Him. There is no way on earth to get closer to Him than this. And now joined with your Savior Jesus Christ, as you live in Him and He in you, His Father calls you His child, and we call His Father our Father. And you have a new life. We who are “dying to live” are given a new life to live. For joined to Christ we die to sin with Him in His death on the cross, and then we rise with Him in His resurrection from the dead to live a new life. . . . Joined together with Christ, that’s the reality in which we now live.

So hear His words again this night, and believe. And believing, come and receive, His body and blood, His forgiveness, His life, and His salvation. And this eating and drink of your Lord’s true body and blood will keep and preserve your faith steadfast, unto everlasting life. And filled with His gifts, depart in His peace.

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

Daily Bible Readings April 1-7, 2012

Confirmation Questioning and Reception Join us for the Junior Questioning is at 3:00 pm on Palm Sunday (April 1). A reception for this years confirmands will be held at 4:30 pm. Junior Questioning is at 3:00 pm. We want to welcome our newest confirmed members into our church family. The reception is sponsored by the Mission Board and Thrivent. All are welcome.

Please Pray For: Don Fuchs, Barb Fuchs, Juanita Rankin, George Van Huss, Crystal Ray, Ruth Hedrick, Walt Hedrick, Erna Van Winkle, Mary Kay Schmidt, John Haynes, Margaret Branham, Mary Ehrat, Art Ehrat, Katie Ketchum, Colin Starks, George Shepherd, Donna Smith and Bill Hoff.
Military: Please keep in your prayers all Military persons, especially Brittany Worth who is deployed to Afghanistan.
Hospitalizations: Please notify Pastor GeRue about any sickness or hospitalizations.

Each Gospel highlights different aspects of Our Lord’s Passion. Unique to St. Matthew's Passion is the message from Pilate's wife: “Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him.” What does it mean? Pilate's wife was tormented in her soul and conscience. Jesus and His Gospel are unsettling to sinful man. We either embrace it in faith or we flee from it. Pilate’s wife, like so many, did not want to face the reality of her own sin and the need for salvation that only this Man could provide. It was too much for her to bear. “Let us have nothing to do with Him! I cannot bear him!” Like so many, Pilate's wife recognized the righteousness of Christ, but still she was unwilling to let go of herself and embrace Him in faith. Unique also to the Passion according to St. Matthew is the prophecy that proceeds out of the mouth of the people at the end of the trial before Pilate: “His blood be on us and on our children!” Indeed, this is the way
it must be or we cannot be saved.

Saturday, March 31                                                                     5:30 pm      Worship Service
Sunday, April 1        9:00 am                                                  Bible Class
                                 10:00 am                  Palm Sunday Worship Service
                                 3:00 pm                                                 Questioning
                                 4:30 pm                             Confirmation Reception
Monday, April 2      7:00 pm             Holy Week Bible Study, Witness”
Tuesday, April 3      7:00 pm              Holy Week Bible Study, “Mercy”
Wednesday, April 4 7:00 pm  Holy Week Bible Study, “Life Together”
Thursday, April 5     9:00 am                                     Ladies Bible Study
                                 7:00 pm                        Maundy Thursday Worship
Friday, April 6         12:00 noon              Noonday Good Friday Service
                                 7:00 pm                                     God Friday Service
Saturday, April 7     5:30 pm                  Easter Vigil with Confirmation
Sunday, April 8        7:00 am                                 Easter Sunrise Service
                                 8:30 – 9:45 a.m.                             Easter Breakfast
                                 9:30 am                                          Easter Egg Hunt
                                 10:00 am                               Easter Festive Service

Daily Lectionary
April 1                                         Zech. 9:9-12; Phil. 2:5-11; Matt. 21:1-9
April 2                                 Isaiah 50:5-10; Isaiah 50:5-10; John 12:1-23
April 3                                   Jer. 11:18-20; Jer. 11:18-20; John 12:24-43
April 4                                Isaiah 62:11-63:7; Luke 22:1-23; Luke 22:42
April 5     Maundy Thursday: Exodus 12:1-14; 1 Cor. 11:23-32; John 13:1-15
April 6                       Good Friday: Isaiah 52:13-53:12;  John 18:1-19:42
April 7           Holy Saturday: Dan. 6:1-24; 1 Pet. 3:17-22; Matt. 27:57-66

Looking Forward to Easter
Job 19:23–27; 1 Corinthians 5:6–8; Mark 16:1–8
Christ’s Resurrection Means That We Will One Day Be Raised
“Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7). By the shed blood of Christ, the Lamb of God, eternal death has passed over us. Now we pass with Christ through death into life everlasting. For Christ the crucified One is risen! The stone has been rolled away from the tomb, revealing that the tomb could not hold Him (Mark 16:1–8). Now our Redeemer lives eternally to save us from sin and Satan and the grave, and we can live in the sure hope of our own bodily resurrection with Christ. “After my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:26). Feasting on the living Christ, who is our meat and drink indeed, we boldly say: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? . . . But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:54–55, 57).

Palm Sunday Sermon April 1, 2012

Palm Sunday
March 31-April 1, 2012
Zechariah 9:9-10, Philippians 2:5-11, Mark 11:1-10

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

Today and all this Holy Week, we will once again ponder Jesus’ passion. We will ponder the fact that He who entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday hailed as a king, leaves Jerusalem later that week condemned as a criminal, carrying His own cross. And we will ponder that great fall. . . . But far more important this week than how you look at Christ, is how Christ looks at you. That He looks at you as a person worthy to suffer for; worthy to be humiliated for; worthy to die for. Surely, you do not consider yourself worthy of that – that your King whom you rebel against, and sin against, would come and lay down His life for you! And yet it is exactly that that we ponder today and this week. That is exactly what happened. That Christ, in His great love, looks at you and sees a person worthy of His own life! He would rather you live, than He live!

And so we heard first thing today of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday – or what is also sometimes called His “Triumphal Entry.” And with that entry, we see what kind of a King Jesus is, how He looks at us. . . . For compare His entry with the “triumphal entry” we saw on television this week – the entry of our troops into Baghdad. They entered with armor and might, with weapons of force and bulletproof vests, and toppled a symbolic statue with chain and strength. It was an impressive demonstration, designed for all to see who was the strongest, the conquerors. . . . But our Lord’s triumphal entry was quite different. Seated on a donkey’s colt, with palm branches, His entry was not designed to instill fear, but to show Him as a king at one with His people. Come to serve His people. Come not to fight, but to die. For “though He was in the form of God, [He] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”

For He is a King who desires not to be served, but to serve His servants. He is a King who desires not to save His own life at the expense of His servants, but to save their lives at the expense of His own. For that is how your King looks at you – as a person worthy of suffering for, and being humiliated for, and dying for. . . . Later, after He is arrested and put on trial, He will be accused of being a King; that will be the charge against Him that eventually results in His crucifixion. But if they only knew what kind of a King He was! A serving King, a dying King. Come to bring revolution not on the earth, but in the hearts of all people. That we may live in His Kingdom. . . . They accused Him of being a King in order to kill Him. What a great irony! Because little did they know, that is exactly why their King came!

It seems only right that what began in a garden should also begin to come to a conclusion in a garden. For it was in the Garden of Eden that sin began, when sin took hold of the sinless Adam and Eve and bound them in its grip. And from then on, not only them, but every person descended from them, including you and me, would live in that grip of sin, unable to set ourselves free. . . . And so too in the Garden of Gethsemane, sin would again take hold of the sinless one, Jesus, and try to hold Him in its grip. In Eden, Satan used a serpent, in Gethsemane, he used Judas. But his goal was the same. . . . Except this time, he would fail! For although Jesus would die on the tree of the cross, sin and its evil henchmen named death and the grave could not hold Jesus in their strong hands. For He was stronger. And so whereas Satan used the fruit of the tree to bring death to all people, Jesus turns the tree of death into the tree of life, and gives the fruit of His cross for all to eat and drink and live! And whereas Satan gave with deception and lies, Jesus gives in truth, saying – as we heard and will hear again in a short time: “Take, eat, this is My body; Take and drink, this is My blood.” The fruits of His cross given for the life of the world.

Also interesting in what we heard in the reading is that Jesus once again separated Peter, James, and John from the other disciples, and had them follow Him higher up the Mount of Olives. And I wonder what was going through their minds, because Jesus had separated them out once before, to go up the Mount of Transfiguration, and what glory they saw then! And I wonder if they thought that same thing was going to happen again! . . . But in reality, the glory they saw then pales in comparison to the glory that is about to unfold before their eyes now. For now they are about to see the glory of Jesus bound and arrested. The glory of Him bound to the cross. And they glory of Him bound into the grave. And although that doesn’t sound glorious, that is Jesus’ true glory. Because only by seeing Him bound do we understand how Jesus sees us – and that is as people who are bound in sin, and who need to be set free. And so Jesus allows Himself to be bound as we are bound, so that in His breaking free and conquering sin, death, and the devil in His resurrection, we too would be free.

So as the disciples sleep, Jesus prays. He would not be caught unawares. He does what we are unable to do. He drinks the cup of suffering and death that we are unable to drink, and gives us the cup of the New Testament in His blood, to give us life. And what began in a garden now begins to come to a conclusion in a garden – for that is His Father’s will, that he take our place with us in death, that we might have His place, with Him, in Heaven.

Peter denies Jesus three times. He denies being with Him, he denies knowing Him, he denies being associated with Him in any way. And these denials are carefully portrayed and spelled out for us, and not only in Mark’s Gospel, but also in Matthew and Luke – and not just to tell us something about Peter, but to tell us something about Jesus. For after Peter’s third denial, Luke includes the detail: “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.”

Remember I said earlier that far more important this week than how you look at Christ is how Christ looks at you. So what do you think was in His eyes when just then He looked at Peter? And what do you think is in His eyes when He looks at us? For we are not so different than Peter, denying our Lord. Denying perhaps by what we say, like Peter, but perhaps more often by what we do not say, when we choose to stay silent and not speak. Or perhaps we deny by what we do, or by what we choose not to do. As we confessed earlier, “We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.” So how does Christ look at us?

Perhaps we find the answer when Jesus was looking down upon us from the cross. Looking down at those who denied Him, at those who put Him there, at those too scared to approach from a distance, at those who were making fun of Him and taunting Him, at those who were afraid to stand up for Him, at those who were false witnesses against Him, at those who shouted “Crucify Him.” Jesus looked down at them as He looks at us, and spoke what was in His eyes and in His heart – “Father, forgive them.”

That is how Jesus looked at Peter, and how He looks at us – as sinners in need of His forgiveness. And not just little sinners, or insignificant sinners, or not-so-bad sinners. No, but filthy, rotten sinners, who stink and reek of the death and decay of our rebellion and selfishness and sin. He sees it all. We might wish that we could hide some of our sin, but no, He sees it all. And still He looks at us and says, “Father, forgive them.” . . . Luther said that no article of faith is as hard to believe as this, because they do not touch us as this one does. For to believe that God is Almighty, that the Son of God became a man, that the Holy Spirit comes to us, to believe in the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion, the gift of the Spirit in Baptism, those may be hard to understand, but yes, we believe them. But why would He forgive me, after what I’ve done; after what I’ve left undone; because of who I am! Why would He do that for me? Surely I must do something, I must make up for it, I must become worthy . . .

No. The Lord turned and looked at you, and said “Father, forgive them.” And you are forgiven. Faith knows not the why, but simply clings to that promise. So do just that, not only this week, but every week – cling to that promise of forgiveness and life through Jesus death and resurrection. And so clinging, you will rightly ponder Jesus’ passion, His passion accomplished not just for all, but most especially accomplished for you.
In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.