Archive for April, 2013

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

April 28, 2013 Leave a comment

C-58 Easter 5 (Jn 13.31-35)












Note:  Okay, so apparently WordPress is handling links to media files differently now.  Instead of a link, there’s an audio player widget here that you click on.  Sorry about that.

Augustana 2013

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!

The text for the sermon today is the Gospel reading for today from John 16.

So, just a few words towards the broader context then for this passage.  This is chapter 16 in John.  These are Jesus last words, if you will, to the disciples the night He is arrested.  He’s washed their feet and reclined at table with them.  Presumably the Last Supper has already been had.  And Jesus is speaking.  Chapter 14, I am going to prepare a place for you.  Jesus promises the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit will come and teach all things (14:26)  At the end of 14, Jesus says, let’s get up and go.  So maybe what Jesus is saying here is on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane or maybe it’s one of those conversations you have on the way out the door when you’re not yet ready to leave the person you’re talking to but you have to start heading that way.  Chapter 15, I am the vine, you are the branches.  Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends. (15:13)  Oh, by the way, the world is going to hate you, because the world hated me so get ready but don’t worry because the Spirit will come, proceeding from the Father and when he comes he will bear witness about me, Jesus says which is similar to what He says in our reading today.  And all of this is said to keep them strong.  Jesus says at the beginning of chapter 16, ““I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.” (16:1-4)

This is the context then.  Jesus knows that He is about to be betrayed by one of His own, arrested, and brutally murdered.  “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.”  It’s all about to go down.  These are things that Jesus has to tell them.  They are things that the disciples may not want to hear but nonetheless they are things that need to be said even if they can’t be fully understood without knowing what happens on Good Friday and Easter morning.  He is saying these things because He’s about to not be with them for a while.  But He will have more to say to them once He is resurrected.  These words are “last words” or at least “last words” for a while anyway.

Now, granted, even though we are now well into the Easter season, our Gospel reading comes from what Jesus spoke the night of Maundy Thursday.  I know that can be little confusing.  We’ve had some post-resurrection appearances of Jesus already and now we’re back to before He’s arrested but there is a logic to it and this is it.  Just as the disciples heard these things before Jesus was arrested and raised and didn’t really make sense of them until afterward, so we too, can now hear these words from our Lord and make sense of them in the light of Jesus’ work on the cross for us, what John calls Jesus’ glorification (how about that? huh?), and Jesus’ glorious resurrection on Easter morning.

How long will it take for these things to begin to truly make sense to the disciples?  A little while.  One of the things I do that I’m sure annoys my dear wife, is any answer of mine that includes “a little while.”  When are you going to be ready for dinner?  “A little while?”  When are you going to finish painting the cabinets?  “A little while.”  I may have a far more specific time frame in mind, but for her, it’s just frustrating.  Jesus certainly has a time frame in mind.  After the next several hours when He is arrested and murdered, rested in the grave and raised.  Then, with the Spirit’s help, they will understand all these things.

“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.”  On the third day, Jesus was raised and the disciples saw him again.  And yet it was a different kind of seeing wasn’t it?  Easter morning, Mary thinks she’s taking to the gardener.  “Tell me where they’ve laid him,” she says.  And Jesus calls her by name, “Mary.”  And Mary sees that’s it’s the Lord.  “Rabboni!” she says.  Mary sees Jesus on Easter morning with her ears.  The evening of the resurrection, two disciples are walking to Emmaus speaking with this strange traveler about the recent events in Jerusalem and then noticing their hearts burn within them as this stranger opened the Scriptures to them and taught them about the Lord’s Christ and then recognized the stranger as the Lord, only after they sat down to supper and He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to them.  They recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread.  Sometimes, I think we fall into the trap of thinking it’s far easier for the disciples to believe everything they saw because they saw it firsthand.  After all they walked with Jesus for three years, watched Him heal, and heard Him teach.  Thomas actually put his hand in Jesus’ side.  And yet, Jesus says, blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe.  Dear friends, we are to see the Lord with our ears, we are to see him in the Word read, studied and preached for us.  And we sin when we fail to listen, shun any opportunity to understand the Word of God better than we do.  We let our fear of being found out keep us from the very Word that brings us life.  Our foolish pride will kill us.  It’s like we won’t come to dinner because somebody might think we we’re hungry.  And do I have time to list how we sin against the preached Word?  Being inattentive to it just scratches the surface.  Too often we expect to be entertained rather than challenged and fed and judge the preacher accordingly.  We’d much rather hear about other peoples’ sins rather than be called to account for our own.  “Chief of sinners, though I be; I’m pretty sure that other guy’s worse than me.”  And yet, the clear model of the Lord Himself was to call all His disciples to account when they erred, not just the other guy.  But here it is.  We are to see the Lord with the eyes of faith, we are to see Him with our ears.

Jesus has promised to be with his disciples in His Word.  And it’s the same for us.  The eye of faith hears the Word.  He called you each by name in Holy Baptism.  He speaks to you here today through the words of His servant, His called man, “I forgive you all your sins.”  Thus says the Lord.  He speaks to you today through His Word and proclaims to you all that He did for you, His suffering and death for your sins, even if you’re bored of hearing about it.  He speaks to you at His own table.  “This is My body, given for you.  This is my blood, shed for You.”  Even when you despise it, even when you think you might not need it, even when you’re not convinced it’s really special this time.  Here He is.  The Lord is here.  Do you see Him?  Rejoice.  He has turned your sorrow over sin into great joy.  He is here for you.  Amen.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!



Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter

April 15, 2013 Leave a comment

CatchSermon for Easter 3 – John 21:1-14

Note: I’m greatly indebted for Bsp. Tom Wright’s thoughts on this text from his book John for Everyone.  I find much of what he’s written just immediately preachable. The whole of this sermon is greatly influenced by him; the last third is almost verbatim his except where I have changed some order or edited.  Click here for mp3 audio

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleuia!

The text for the sermon this morning is the Gospel reading to include Jesus’ conversation with Peter that immediately follows our reading this morning.

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” [1]  This is our text.

What is clear this morning in the Gospel reading is that the resurrected Lord Jesus is telling us something about working under Jesus’ direction, about working as forgiven sinners, something about the relation of our work to his, and about working because of our love for him.

If you ever go to the Sea of Galilee, you’ll realize quickly it’s smaller than Lake Norman and it’s not a quiet place mostly because of the tourists but according to those who have been there, you can still get a sense, in the little place called Tabgha, just west of Capernaum, of what it must have been like that morning when the disciples returned from fishing.  This day dawns full of new beauty and possibility much like Easter morning, in fact, the similarities are deliberate, I think.  Jesus had once called them to be fishers of men maybe not far away from this very shore (Luke 5).  He does so again.  In the last chapter He fills them with the Holy Spirit and sent them into the world just as Jesus had been. But it’s still not clear to them what to do, what to do next.  So they go fishing and catch nothing.  Clearly, Jesus is telling us something about our work in his kingdom.  The classic application of this reading is that the disciples have received their commission but are trying to do it their own way.  They have returned home and gone back to fishing and see how, without Jesus, they can labor all night, and still fail.  The only way is for them to admit defeat, to listen afresh to Jesus’ voice, and to do what he says. Then there is no knowing what they will achieve.  I don’t think that’s too far off.  We should always be about doing what God has set before us to do.

We’re often told this time of year, “Live the Easter victory!” which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when you think about it.  Many of you remember back when we won the last war we were in, Word War II.  The good news was that the allies won the war.  If I told you, “Live the Allied Victory over Germany!” how would you do that?  Christ’s victory over death on Easter morning is good news, in fact it is the Good News.  But to tell you live that is rather nebulous.  How then should we live?  That’s a good question.  I’m glad you asked.

We’ve come back around again to the Table of Duties in the catechesis and I have to say, I’m continually amazed by the simplicity and the profundity of the catechism.  The Table of Duties are just the Scripture passages that outline our faith active in love.  In our society where duty is said with almost a sneer, it’s a relief to know we don’t have to make this up on our own.  How should you live out the faith?  Well, very simply, according to your station or office in life.  What we might call “vocation.”  Are you pastor or hearer?  Governor or citizen?  Husband or wife?  Parent or child?  Worker or employer?  Child?  Widow?  In a world where children are too often forced to act like parents and parents act like children, where the government fails to govern and protect the peace and the citizens need to govern and protect themselves, where employers have long forgotten their obligations to their workers and they only way you can make it out there is to become your own boss, where everyone is told they must be a minister except the ministers who are supposed to be like everyone else, in that kind of world, in this kind of world, the Table of Duties is refreshing.

Just think about all those things we do, our projects, our tasks and see if God has directed those things or if we have in order to make do as we see fit.  Is it any wonder that we get nowhere?  What would happen if would but do what has been set before us to do, our God-given duties.  Would the long night be over and a new dawn shine forth?  Why is it so hard to see the figure on the shore to listen for His voice to do what He tells us to do?  Sin.  Fear which has its roots in sin.  The classic motivational line is: “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”  That is, what would you do if you weren’t afraid to fail?  And yet we know we fail, we know we fall far short of our own expectations, not to mention the Lord’s standards.  And yet here we see the Lord calling the disciples back not just to work directed by him, but to his own work in this world.  Think of those duties and think of them not merely as to do lists, but exemplars of God’s order for this world and very quickly, the taint of sin dims and we can see something of the glory of the new creation beginning to shine again.  And what’s more is that the Lord brings us, forgiven sinners into that partnership with him to work in this world.

Back in chapter 13 Peter insisted that he would remain loyal to Jesus, even to death. (13:36–37) not a few hours later, Peter follows after Jesus into Pilate’s courtyard and three times denies he’s even one of Jesus’ followers. And we would have thought Pater was the leader.  And the cock crows.  Think back to the smell of that fire, wafting through the chilly April air. Think of Peter going out in shame, angry with himself, knowing that Jesus knew.  Knowing that the ‘disciple whom Jesus loved’ knew.  Knowing that God knew.  And then hearing the next day what had happened to Jesus.  Not even the resurrection itself could rid Peter of his guilt.  Nothing could, except revisiting it and bathing it in God’s own healing.

And now there’s another charcoal fire.  They say the sense of smell is linked closest to memory.  It must have been almost too raw for Peter to have smelled that fire, to have smelled his own betrayal and it seems from the conversation in the next section that Jesus planned it that way.  Jesus wants to restore Peter.  He wants to restore sinners to work together with him in his kingdom.  How often do we have that picture of the Lord, his eagerness to forgive us, to dust us off and give us new work in his kingdom.

This scene between Jesus and Peter is one of the most spectacular interchanges in the whole Bible.  The most remarkable thing about it is that, by way of forgiveness, Jesus gives Peter a job to do. When Peter professes his love, Jesus doesn’t say, ‘Well, that’s all right.’ He says, ‘Well, then: feed my lambs. Look after my sheep. Feed my sheep.’

Jesus’s threefold question corresponds to Peter’s threefold denial. Three for completeness, sure, but three also for reminder. The smell of the charcoal fire lingers. Peter’s night of agony—and Jesus’ own night of agony—returns. But because of Jesus’ agony on the cross, peter’s agony over his sin can be dealt with. Jesus is the Passover lamb who takes away the sin of the world, Peter’s sin included, your sin, my sin.  We’re Lutherans and we emphasize the legal justification by grace alone.  And that’s true, on the record of Jesus, there is nothing officially ‘on the record’ against us. But there may still be plenty in our memories and imaginations: old failings, old sores, old wounds. So Jesus goes to where the pain is, as he so often does (is this why so many resist his gentle advance, like someone putting off seeing the dentist until they can bear the toothache no longer?). He takes Simon Peter away from the others; as we see in verse 20, the beloved disciple is following them at a distance. They are probably walking slowly along the shore. And he asks the question that goes to the heart of it all: ‘Do you love me?’

Contained in Jesus’ restoration is not a pat on the shoulder, ‘There, there, now.  Everything’s gonna be okay’, but rather a command.  A fresh challenge.  A new commission. Time to learn how to be a shepherd. Time to feed lambs and sheep, to look after them.  Not only is this a fresh commission. Not only is Jesus trusting Peter to get back to his true calling, and to turn his undoubted though hitherto wobbly love for Jesus to good account. It is more: Jesus is sharing his own work, his own ministry, with Peter.

It is Jesus who has the task of leading and feeding his sheep and lambs, guiding them to and from pasture, keeping them safe from predators.  Good Shepherd Sunday is next week.  He knows them and they know him. He has now given his life for them. But the commission of 20:21 was quite specific. ‘As the father sent me, so I’m sending you.’ There’s no getting away from it. And this is what it means. Peter is to share Jesus’ task of shepherding the sheep.

Here is the secret of all Christian ministry, your work and mine, lay and ordained, full-time or part-time. It’s the secret of everything from being a quiet, back-row member of a prayer group to being a platform speaker at huge rallies and conferences. If you are going to do any single solitary thing as a follower and servant of Jesus, this is what it’s built on. Somewhere, deep down inside, there is a love for Jesus, and though (goodness knows) you’ve let him down enough times, he wants to find that love, to give you a chance to express it, to heal the hurts and failures of the past, and give you new work to do.

These are not things for you to do to ‘earn’ the forgiveness. Nothing can ever do that. It is grace from start to finish. They are things to do out of the joy and relief that you already are forgiven. Things we are given to do precisely as the sign that we are forgiven. Things that will be costly, because Jesus’ own work was utterly costly. Things that will mean following Jesus into suffering, perhaps into death. This last week, more Christians have been killed around the world, simply for worshipping Jesus. ‘Someone else will dress you and take you where you would rather not go.’ Peter will complete his task as a shepherd by laying down his own life, in turn, for the sheep.  Peter went from strength to strength. He was still muddled from time to time, as Luke reports in Acts.  But he became a shepherd. He loved Jesus and looked after his sheep. No one could ask for more. Jesus never asks for less.[2]

But even this is not something different from the call that drew the disciples in the first place. ‘Follow me!’ Now that Jesus has taken the steep road to the cross, and has proved that death itself is defeated by the life and joy of the new creation, he can ask for everything from those he has rescued, and know he will get it, because the Lord Jesus Himself leads the way.  Amen.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Jn 21:15–19.

[2] Tom Wright, John for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 11-21 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 156-66.

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Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter

April 8, 2013 Leave a comment

easter2Note: This sermon started out with a paragraph or two from the Concordia Pulpit Resources for this season and I am indebted to that author for priming the pump this week.  The bit about the hollow bunny came from him.  But then I went my own direction.  As usual the audio can be hear by clicking the link 32 Sermon for Easter 2.mp3

Acts 5:12-20

Augustana, 2013

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Are you still greeting your friends and relatives in the holy joy of our Lord’s Passover?  For many people, even for many Christians, Easter is nice.  It’s kind of like one of those hollow chocolate bunnies, it tastes good when you first bite into it but it kinda falls apart pretty quickly.  And in our culture where we don’t celebrate the continuation of holidays like the twelve days of Christmas, the week of Sundays Easter season is doomed.

Sometimes it’s because the message of Easter is just too much.  Even among church members the idea that Jesus was raised bodily from the dead seems like “church talk” rather than reality.  When trouble comes in life, the message “He lives! He lives who once was dead!” rings kinda hollow.  Today’s Gospel reading should be a message of confidence but instead Thomas has become doubting Thomas instead of “Ain’t-gonna-believe-in-no-ghost-Jesus Thomas.”  Or you might actually agree with those who say that it wasn’t really necessary for Jesus to be bodily raised.  Lots of us—probably all of us at times—fall into one trap of unbelief or another but as if the message of Easter were not clear enough, God even sends His holy angels to proclaim to the apostles and to you, “Stand your ground and tell people the full message of this life!”

The full message of the resurrection of Jesus is what gives us that comfort in troubling times, that joy, that confidence in times of doubt and despair.  It’s the ground on which we, the Church, stand and that ground is solid and most certain.

It might not appear that way, at least at first.  The Gospels are both certain and sure that Jesus was raised on Easter morning and brutally honest that the disciples did not know what to make of that message.  Only the women went out to the tomb and they went not so see Jesus risen, but to finish preparing His body for burial.  What was certain up to the time of Jesus was that if someone died, that person stayed dead.  You wouldn’t expect to bump into that person on the way to market or on the road to the next town over.  And if you did see that person alive, it would be attributed to hallucination a trick of the mind like when you see someone who is the spitting image of someone you know who has died at least in your mind’s eye.  No, Easter morning and the rest of the week, really, can best be summed up with words like grief and doubt and confusion.  And yet, for forty days over 500 hundred people encountered the risen Jesus.

And as we have seen so shall we see how patient Jesus is with His disciples as they begin to wrap their heads around what this means.  He does chide them for their doubts.  He does harken them back to what He told them on more than one occasion before His arrest and death.  But He is patient too.  He knows our weaknesses, how we are more certain of “what we know” than even God’s own truth.  Jesus who healed and forgave sinners is patient with those who follow after him.  Jesus is patient where we might not be.  I have to tell you a story I heard about another preacher last week.  This is second-hand but I think it’s fairly accurate.  The preacher at some point in the sermon said he noticed there were a great number of CEO Christians present.  The expression was a new one to me which caught my ear.  Christmas and Easter Only is what he meant.  And from what I was told he went on to chastise them.  I doubt any of them are back this week.  But that occasion, this occasion, begs the question, what do we do with such folks?  The angel’s message today is clear.  “Stand your ground and proclaim the message of this Life.”  And so is there a point at which the Lord’s patience runs thin?  If we keep on reading in Revelation where we left off today, the answer is clear.  There is coming a time when lukewarm faith will not cut it.  Yes, Jesus is patient but He expects the message of the Life, the message of His resurrection from the dead, to have some effect on those who hear it.  And as we know it does.  The disciples go from huddling in the upper room locked for fear of the Jews to great preachers of the Easter message, Jesus, God’s Christ, is risen.  Our first reading this morning has jumped ahead a few chapters to see them already locked up for standing their ground and preaching the “full message of this Life.”

Oh and look what happens!  The apostles preach and get locked up and the angel of God springs them from jail.  How great!  How glorious!  But what happens the next time?  Will God’s faithful always get sprung from jail by angels?  The clear answer is no, not even back then, certainly not in recent history, certainly not today.  So is this the full message of Jesus, “Get in trouble in the name of Jesus and He’ll send His angel to spring you from jail?”  Many today say it is.  The death of Jesus and the lives and deaths of the apostles and the martyrs who came after them tell us the same.  No, the full message of this Life is Jesus’ victory over death, victory in the face of death, victory through death into eternal life.  The Sadducees had thought the battle with Jesus was over because they did not see Him after He died and they didn’t believe in the great day of resurrection anyway.  But Jesus said otherwise and the disciples preached otherwise.  No the full message of this Life is the preaching of Jesus’ victory over death.

I think we need to be very clear here and very specific when it comes to what the message of the Gospel truly is.  Some would say, that the Gospel is about getting right with God through repentance and the forgiveness of sins.  They look at the boldness of the apostles here and say, “See how the spirit of the living Christ lives in them and makes them bold to preach?”  And they’re not wrong but they’re not fully right either.  All too quickly that line of thinking can become a limited resurrection, “See how Christ was raised in their hearts?”  That’s a resurrection of the spiritual Christ rather than the resurrection of body of Jesus of Nazareth, who is both Lord and Christ of God, and lives now in resurrected glory sitting at the right hand of the Father.  The message of Easter is the Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and He is the firstfruits of the resurrection, the proof that just as He rose so shall we too.  This is the full message of this Life encouraged by God’s angel.  Anything less is less than full.  And we should never settle for anything less than the full message of this Life.

I know I sometimes preach rather, ah… fervently.  I know, it’s almost like I actually believe this stuff to be universally true.  And I know that can put some folks off—especially folks that are more used to a moralistic Christianity or a Christianity of niceness, what has come to be called moralistic therapeutic deism.[1]  I often rail against it because I was a true believer.  We Lutherans even have our own version of this.  I’m working on a name for it but I’m calling it rightness of doctrine Lutheranism but that’s for another sermon or two.  But here’s the real reason I’m so zealous: I’ve seen too much death.  I’ve seen too much unfuneralfied death and the grief it causes.  I’ve seen the kind of death that make most men wonder whether there is a God, the kind of death that destroys the god of the Christianity of niceness.  And here’s what I can’t do.  I can’t put death in a pretty box and ignore how ugly it is or call it a part of life or in the case of war or violence even blame it on those evil people.  I can’t do that because death is the wages of sin, not the wages of those evil people’s sins either, me.  God’s judgment is fair.  I’m a sinner.  The Jews didn’t put Jesus on the cross any less than I did.  Jesus went to the cross Good Friday not because of Judas’ betrayal so much as mine, because I was unwilling to bend to the Word of God.  And here’s the truth: it’s the same for all of us.

And here’s more of that message.  Jesus, God’s own Son in human flesh went to His cross gladly for me, for you.  He went to suffer the penalty of death for our unbelief, for our half-belief, for our substitution of being right for true righteousness.  And then on the third day He was truly, bodily raised from the dead.  The truth is: there is no other life.  Oh, I suppose there is some manner of “spiritual” life in those other quasi-Christianities floating around and they might fly in the face of funeralfied death but not in the face of ugly death.  I said I preach this message like I just might believe it and it’s because I have to, because there is no real life other than the life of Jesus risen from the grave on Easter morning.  And if the message of this Life makes me a little zealous, my wonder is why has it not made you so?  Peter and James and John and the apostles even Thomas and Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus and Joanna and the other women and some five hundred more saw Him alive.  They spoke with Him and ate with Him and went fishing with Him and watched as He ascended into heaven.  And they heard His command to make disciples who believed the full message of this Life.  And they received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to not only believe this full message of this Life but to proclaim it, even in the face of persecution and doubt and death.  It’s time to get zealous and if it puts people off, so be it.  Stand your ground and proclaim the message of this Life.  Jesus Christ has died.  He has risen.  He will come again with great glory.  Amen.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Amen.

He is risen indeed for you.  Amen.  Alleluia.

Sermon for Easter Morning

April 8, 2013 Leave a comment

easterNote: This is the sermon preached at the Festival Divine Service on Easter morning.  As usual you can click here for mp3 audio 31 Sermon for Easter Morning.mp3

Augustana, 2013

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia.  Amen.

Every winter folks complain about the war on Christmas, where is the hue and cry about the war on Easter?  There are far more bunnies and eggs in the shops than icons of the resurrection.  Why aren’t the stores playing Easter music?  There are far more March Madness stories than there are Easter stories in the news.  I think it’s a conspiracy, a war on Easter.

Okay, so it’s not a conspiracy.  And the war on Easter is something I just made up but for how many of you is March Madness more than Lent and Easter?  Or if college basketball is not your thing, pick something else—shopping for the new Easter dress rather than preparing your heart to celebrate the paschal feast with sincerity and truth.

Do we even acknowledge today for what it is?  Yes, Easter is the highest day in the Church Year, but that’s faint praise.  Easter is truly only second to the Last Day.  Think about that for a second.  Easter, truly, is second in significance, really, only second to the Last Day and we might be able to make a case that it’s even more important because it is on account of Easter that we will stand and be blessed on that great day, on the Day of the Lord.  It is on account of the Lord’s resurrection from the grave on Easter morning that we will stand on the Last Day and be blessed by God.  That first Easter morning, and all the ones that have come after it, is the sole basis for our hope that when we are buried we will not stay in the grave.  The angel’s message is, “He is not here; He is risen.”  Easter is not just about celebrating some vague sense of something new and springlike; Easter is about the end of death.

I’m struck this year by the loss of so many loved ones so many of you have suffered this year.  We’ve not lost many of our congregation but many of you have lost so many of your  people, brothers and sisters and other family members.  Easter is personal for you because the Easter message is Christ Jesus’ victory over death and what is true for Him is true for all who believe in Him, who have been baptized into His death and into His resurrection.  Easter is about the end of death.

I know what it looks like.  I know what it looks like all too often.  Death looks like it has won.  We make trip after trip to this funeral home or that one.  That’s how the first Easter morning began.  The women were taking the spices they had prepared to the tomb.  They were going to the funeral home.  Preparing a loved one for burial was a much more hands-on affair back then.  But back then, death was far more real and less funeralfied, you know what I mean?  They even put astroturf over the dirt pile.  Funeralfied.  Jesus had spoken about resurrection prior to His death, twice actually, but the disciples didn’t understand what He meant by it.  In Jesus’s day, resurrection was something that would happen on the Last Day for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and for all the righteous of God.  There would be no mistaking that Day when it came and so the women were not expecting resurrection when they went to the tomb that morning to finish burying Jesus.  Nobody had ever dreamed that one person would die and be bodily raised again on the other side of the grave while the rest of the world carried on much as it had before.

Usually about this time in an Easter sermon I thump on about how there are many Christians today who don’t believe Jesus was raised in His body that day.  They are spiritualists, we might more accurately call them Gnostics, but few know what a Gnostic is, so “spiritualist” makes a good handle.  They don’t believe they will be raised in their body on the Last Day either.  They’ve turned the Last Day into something else entirely—their own Last Day.  And when they die they think their soul just flies up to heaven forever.  They don’t believe Jesus was raised in His body and they don’t believe they will either.  Even though that’s not what the Scriptures, Old and New, say.  Although I really shouldn’t blame them, they’re not that much different from the women and the rest of the disciples on that first Easter morning.  But Easter morning really does change all that.  There really is a resurrection of the body; Jesus was raised.  Next week we’ll hear the account of the week after Easter when Thomas put his finger in the place where the nails were and his hand in the place where the spear was.  And if Christ was raised in His body, that’s your promise that you will too.  Death will not have won because, we know, death has not won.

The mood of Easter morning then, is one of great astonishment, confusion, maybe even, but as the Good News begins to sink in, great joy.  “He is not here but has risen.”  The Good News of Easter morning is that death no longer has the power it once had.  Jesus Christ, eternal Son of God and true man, the one who was crucified Friday for the sins of the whole world, had not remained in the grave but has shown us the way through death and the grave to the resurrection from the dead for us and for all who believe.  “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”  Remember?  “He is not here; he is risen just as He said He would.”  It is the certainty of Christ’s resurrection that gives us strength and confidence in the face of loss and tragedy whether in our own lives or in the wider world.

From the beginning, the message of Easter was the message of Christ’s victory over death.  That’s the Good News—the conspiracy of sin has been wiped out; the madness of death no longer reigns.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!  One of the oldest easter hymn texts in our hymnal is from John of Damascus, from the late 7th century.  He writes:

The day of resurrection!

Earth, tell it out abroad,

The passover of gladness,

The passover of God.

From death to life eternal,

From sin’s dominion free,

Our Christ has brought us over

With hymns of victory. (LSB, 478:1)

Alleluia.  Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  Amen.

Sermon for Easter Sunrise

April 7, 2013 Leave a comment

Resurrection-717493Note: this was the last of the sermons I adapted from from “Our Suffering Savior.” I followed the published version rather closely, so only the audio is provided.

Click here for mp3 audio 30 Sermon for Easter Sunrise.mp3

Sermon for the Vigil of Easter

April 7, 2013 Leave a comment

Paschal-ErspamerNote: this sermon was preached by Pastor Greg Alms from Redeemer, Catawba.  I’ve heard Pastor Alms preach well before but I think this sermon is really good.  I commend it to you.  He also has an excellent blog

Click here for mp3 audio 29 Sermon for Holy Saturday.mp3

Sermon for Good Friday

April 7, 2013 Leave a comment

saint-joseph-of-arimathea-01Note:  This is the sermon from the series “Our Suffering Savior.”  So only the audio is posted here.

Click here for mp3 audio 28 Sermon for Good Friday.mp3