Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sermon -- Easter Day (March 31, 2013)

LUKE 24:1-12 / 1 CORINTHIANS 15:55-57
O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY?

In the name + of Jesus.

M:       Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Cong:  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

     Death is a bully.  It plagues you with fear, because you know that you are going to die one day.  No one wants to die.  People do not want to suffer, but that does not mean they want to die.  If you want the suffering to end, the better option is being healed, not being put to death.  And no matter how much anyone tells you that death is natural, that is a lie.  Death may be normal, in that it happens to everyone.  But death is not natural.  The wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23)  Death is a punishment, a curse.  That is why you fear it.
     Death is a bully, and it taunts you.  It marks you, and you know that you are marked.  Ignoring it will not solve anything.  On the other end of the spectrum, being obsessed with it is no good either.  It is not good to walk around under a cloud of gloom and morbidity, nor is it good to live in ignorance or denial.  Neither one fixes the problem.  And so, death taunts you.  Death wants you to be afraid and to know that you are marked, that you are stuck, and that you are lost.
     Death is a bully; but today, death has seen its teeth knocked in and its hands cut off.  Today, death can blather and heckle all it wants, and we are not listening.  Today, death can rage and taunt and bully for all its worth, but it isn’t worth anything anymore.  For today, Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  Today, Jesus Christ has walked out of his grave.  He lives, and he cannot die again; death has no mastery over him.  Rather, Jesus holds the keys to death and Hades.  Therefore, it is Jesus who now taunts the bully.  “O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55)  Today we rejoice and today we confess: Jesus is Lord.  Jesus is Savior.  For, Jesus is risen!
     This most joyous of days, the very first Easter day, began in a cemetery.  It began with death as a bully.  It began with bereaved women who were going to a tomb and looking for a corpse.  It began with apostles hiding in fear who did not believe that Jesus would rise from the grave.  But the early morning walk to the grave changed everything. 
     On the first day of the week, at early dawn, (the women) went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared.  And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.  They were perplexed about this… (Luke 24:1-4)  Sure, they were perplexed!  They had always thought that death is the last word.  They had no answer for the bully.  But behold! Two men stood by them in dazzling apparel.  And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen.  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.”  And they remembered his words…. (Luke 24:4-8)  Jesus foretold that he would have the last word, and now he did have the last word.  Now Jesus lives.  Now Jesus issues the taunting to death:  “O Death, where is your victory?”  Jesus Christ is risen!
    And now Jesus includes you in his victory.  Death may still feel like a bully to you.  For it still claims loved ones.  It will claim you, too.  But that is only death’s bark.  It is like the vicious dog chained in someone’s yard.  It makes a lot of noise.  It is intimidating.  And you would really be in trouble if it could get to you.  But it can’t.  It is chained to the tree.  And so the worst it can do is bark and snarl.  It cannot harm you.
     This is what Jesus has done for you in dealing with death for you.  St. Paul has taught you the taunting chant against death.  “O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)  Jesus Christ has removed the sting of death for you.  Without sin, there is no death.  But those who have sinned must pay the price for their rebellion against God.  Jesus, however, has come to pay the price for you.  He has taken your sin to the cross with him.  He suffered the wrath of God and died the accursed death.  There is where he dealt with all of your sin, once and for all.  It is forever chained to the tree of the cross.  Of course, the cost was his life.  The wages of sin is death; therefore, Jesus died.  Therefore, Jesus was wrapped for burial and place in a tomb.  He absorbed the full brunt of death’s curse.  He threw himself into the jaws of death for you.  He sacrificed himself for your freedom.
     But how do you know that you are truly free?  How do you know the payment was enough?  How do you know that your chant, “O death, where is your victory?” is not just big words and false bravado?  How do you know that death still doesn’t have the last word?  Answer: Jesus rose from the grave.  The payment for your sins is sufficient.  The power of death is overthrown.  Jesus’ resurrection proves it.  And when you were baptized into Jesus’ name, you were given the benefits of all of Jesus’ work.  His holy life is credited as your holy life.  His sacrificial death has become your death.  His resurrection from the grave is your resurrection.  Through Jesus, you are a new creation—holy and blameless before God, eager to pursue good and to flee from sin on earth, and awaiting the glories of heaven. 
     “O Death, where is your victory?”  Death still taunts.  It still barks.  It still wants to intimidate and bully you.  And it seems that it is freed from its leash every time we get the heart-rending news that a loved one has passed and we stand by a grave site.  Satan still wants you to believe that death has its teeth and that its icy grip is strong.  But do not fear.  The women at the tomb on Easter morning learned that death was overcome.  Though these sin-stained, frail bodies of ours will give out one day, death has not won.  It has no real grip.  It is still chained to the tree.  These bodies of ours, because they are sin-stained, cannot enter the holy dwelling of God.  We will lay them aside.  They will return to dust.
     But just as the Lord formed Adam out of dust, so he will re-form you out of dust.  The angels who sang for joy when God created the world met the women at the tomb to announce the new creation.  He who conquered death, he who holds the keys to Death and Hades will call forth: “O Death, where is your victory?”  Jesus will summon you from your grave.  And just as Jesus rose from his grave, so he will raise you up from yours with a glorious, holy body that will dwell in God’s presence forever.  Never again will you feel the sting of sin or the taunting of death.  For, you will be free from sin and sorrow, from fear and guilt, from death and destruction, from aches and pains, from bullies, from bee-stings, and even from sniffles.
     Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  And he is risen for you.  Therefore, in the face of death, you can taunt, “O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)  Jesus lives and reigns over all things, and he lives and reigns for your good.  Therefore, you shall live and reign with him.  Death is defeated.  Jesus Christ has the victory.  He is risen!  Alleluia!
    
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sermon -- Easter Dawn (March 31, 2013)

NIKA is the Greek word for "victory."

A MEDITATION ON THE RESURRECTION OF OUR LORD.
GENESIS 7-9

In the name + of Jesus.

     The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5)  Though the Lord was patient, he was not negligent of his word.  Judgment would come.  The guilty would be punished.  The wages of sin: death.
     The Lord would destroy the earth with water.  He would scrub the entire earth clean.  He would drown all wickedness out. 
     But the Lord looked with favor on Noah.  Noah was faithful to the Lord and his word.  So the Lord commanded Noah to build an ark to escape the judgment and the destruction that was coming upon the earth.  Note this well: The Lord did not suspend his judgment.  Instead, he provided Noah deliverance from it.  Noah and his family would find safety and salvation in the ark that was built according to God’s gracious instruction.
     The ark was built.  God’s patience reached its end.  Judgment came pouring down in buckets and bursting forth from the depths of the earth.  Cries for mercy were no longer heard.  The day of judgment had come.  Those who had mocked God’s word with defiant attitudes and deviant behavior learned too late that God will not be mocked.
     But the Lord does not treat the righteous and the wicked alike.  Nor would the Lord snuff out his own promise that a Savior would come from Adam’s line.  The very same flood which brought death and destruction to the wicked also lifted up Noah and his family from the death and destruction.  In the ark, they were safe.  By the ark, they were saved.
     Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 3:21)  The Lord has also saved you by water.  This water unites you to Jesus—putting to death in you all that is wicked.  He drowns in you all sin which condemns.  And by the same water which kills the sinner, the Lord scrubs you clean and makes you righteous before him.  The water which destroys all that is wicked also purifies you.  And by that water, you are brought into the ark of the Holy Christian Church.  In this Church, you are saved.  In this Church, you are safe.
     Note this well: The Lord will not suspend his judgment upon the earth.  The world is still evil.  The intention of man’s heart is still sinful.  Sinners are still defiant and deviant.  The world is again marked for death and destruction.  But, in his mercy, the Lord has provided you a refuge.  By your baptism, you are no longer regarded as a sinner, but as a saint.  By returning to your baptism in daily repentance, you put to death your sin and God daily raises you anew by his forgiveness. 
     The Lord does not treat the righteous and the wicked alike.  He has delivered you into the ark of the Church.  You shall be delivered above the destruction of the earth.  You will be rescued from death.  You shall be delivered to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.  In this new home, you will never again face the temptations of sin, the effects of evil, or the thought of death.  Your baptism has made you children of the resurrection.  Your sins are forgiven.  Your death is not to be feared.  For you are safe in Christ’s Church.  And so we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

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

Friday, March 29, 2013

Sermon -- Good Friday (March 29, 2013)

JOHN 19:30
IT IS FINISHED.

In the name + of Jesus.

     The last words of Jesus that St. John records from the cross are these: “It is finished.”  We might get the impression that this is the last, dying gasp of a man conceding defeat to death.  And who would blame Jesus if it were?  Here is a man who was abandoned by his closest friends.  Here was a man who was betrayed to his enemies by a trusted companion.  Here was a man who was denied by his boldest confessor.  He was reviled and rejected by the religious leaders of the day.  They did not sing his praises; they trumped up charges.  They condemned him and threatened excommunication to any who would follow him.  They plotted his arrest.  They staged his trial.  They riled up the crowds and badgered Pilate into sentencing his crucifixion.  Along the way, Jesus was scourged and flogged.  He was punched and spit upon.  He was mocked as king, as Messiah, as Savior, and as God.  Though already close to beaten to death, he was forced to carry his own cross.  Finally, he was nailed to it—only to endure more mockery and hatred by priests and soldiers and bystanders.  After six hours of crucifixion where his body was racked with pain and his soul suffered the wrath and rejection of the Father, Jesus was ready to give up his life into death.  So if he said, in a spirit of defeat or even relief, “It is finished,” could you blame him?
     When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30)  It was no last gasp of defeat.  It was a firm and final statement that we can take to heart.  It is the undeniable verdict of one who is undeniably king and Messiah and Savior and God.
     It is finished.  All that Jesus had come to do was now completed.  He had fulfilled the mission for which he was sent.  That mission began when he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.  That is, he became man.  He was made man to do what man had not done.  Man was created by God so that God would love and care for him and so that man, in turn, would love and serve God.  But Adam did not keep God’s commands.  No man has kept God’s commands.  Every person in the history of mankind has been under a curse because they have not kept God’s commands.  So God was made man.  And the man, Jesus Christ, fulfilled God’s commands.  Man has obeyed the Law.  A righteous life was finally lived.  The Law cannot condemn him; for Jesus has done all its works.  Nothing more can be added.  Nothing more needs to be done.  It is finished.
     But the Law also says that the guilty must be punished.  If the guilty were not condemned, God would not be just.  His word would not be true.  God need not be taken seriously.  But God’s commandments stand, along their threats and judgment.  That is why mankind stands under God’s curse.  A death sentence is the just verdict, and hell welcomes all its prisoners.  But a Savior has come.  God the Son makes the exchange—himself for you and for all mankind. 
     Jesus has taken up all the sin of all the ages of all the world.  God has become man so that man would take the punishment due him.  Jesus stood on trial before spiritual leaders, in the court of worldly powers, and under the judgment of divine sentence.  And before each court, Jesus assumed all guilt.  He accepted all responsibility.  He absorbed all judgment.  He was convicted for all.  He was condemned for all.  He was banished for all.  And he died for all.  He has assumed all of the wrath and judgment and damnation and death that can be had.  There is nothing left.  It is finished.
     Jesus’ statement is not just for him.  It is for you, too.  You know that all Jesus had come to do is, finally, for you.  And so his statement, “It is finished,” puts an end to grief and guilt and doubt and fear and even death.
     Being tormented by guilt is finished.  It is not hard to figure out why you are.  Your conscience testifies against you.  And in case you ever forget, Satan is all too happy to remind you, to accuse you, and to taunt you.  You have not done the good you ought.  You have not forsaken the evil you should.  You know better.  You even desire better.  But you have not done better.  You are plagued by your guilt especially when you have quiet, alone moments to ponder life and death.  You are appalled at your own behavior.  How can God love you?  How could possibly reward you?  You want to think you are a good person, but in your honest moments, even you don’t believe it. 
     Jesus puts an end to all of your guilt.  His righteous life answers for you.  He loved his friends, his neighbors, and even his enemies.  His selfless love and his perfect submission atone for you.  You do not have to make spiritual deals or go through mental contortions to prove that you have done enough.  Jesus’ righteousness is yours.  Jesus has made you his saints.  You cannot do better than that, and you don’t need to.  The Law has been fulfilled.  The works are done.  It is finished.
     You do not have to fear.  Fear comes because of judgment.  But Jesus has declared about your judgment: “It is finished!”  Your sin—all your sin—has been taken from you.  Jesus took the guilt of everyone—from the beloved disciple who watched at the foot of the cross to the felon who was dying on the cross next to him.  He has not forgotten you, either.  Your guilt has been transferred to the Lamb who was slain for you.  Your judgment, your death, and your hell were put to death with Jesus.  There is nothing left—no curse, no wrath, no judgment, no punishment.  It is finished.
     Even death has become powerless.  Satan had hoped to devour the whole world by devouring Jesus.  If he could destroy the Savior, then Jesus could save no one.  But it was Satan who was taken by Jesus.  For, in going to death, Jesus has saved you.  He has gone into death and into the grave on your behalf.  And then Jesus rose from the grave.  He left death in the dust.  Satan had hoped to seize Jesus by death, but Satan was left empty-handed.  By his death, Jesus has put an end to sin.  By his resurrection, Jesus has put an end to Satan.  The grave is an empty threat.  Death is conquered.  It may still put a claim on all people, but Jesus has put his claim on you.  The grave must give you up.  Death is done.  It is finished.
     Jesus’ words from the cross were not a dying gasp.  They are certainly not defeat or concession.  Jesus’ words are a solid declaration.  They are words which comfort and sustain you.  They are words which give you an answer to silence the devil.  They are words to thwart every accusation.  They are words to alleviate fears.  They are words to banish guilt.  They even let you face death with confidence and die in peace.  Your righteousness has been achieved.  Your sins are forgiven.  Your salvation is sure.  
     When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30)  Jesus bowed his head and began his Sabbath rest.  At the same, he has given you yours.  You have rest for your souls.  Your place in eternity is certain.  Jesus has fulfilled all things.  His work is done.  Your salvation is complete.
     It is finished.

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

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sermon -- Maundy Thursday (March 28, 2013)

LUKE 22:15-16
JESUS FULFILLS THE PASSOVER.

In the name + of Jesus.

     Jesus said to his disciples, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” (Luke 22:15)  This was not mere excitement from Jesus, as if he were saying, “I can’t wait for Passover this year!”  At this time, Jesus was 33 years old.  He had celebrated many Passovers prior to this one.  Jesus had a great desire for this particular Passover.  This one was different.  “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.  For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:15-16) 
     Jesus knew that his hour had come.  The kingdom of God was at hand.  The Passover Lamb would be slain for the last time.  And Jesus, our true Passover Lamb, would fulfill the Passover for Israel, for the world, and for all time.
     The Passover was celebrated to recall God’s gracious deliverance from Egypt.  When each family had gathered in their homes for the feast, fathers were to teach their children what the feast was for.  The Lord had instructed them: “When your children shall say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” (Exodus 12:26-27)
     Annually, the Israelites commemorated the Lord’s deliverance.  Annually, the Israelites slaughtered lambs and feasted.  Annually, they sang the Psalms, the great Hillel, and praised God for his mercy and his goodness.  But each celebration was only a remembrance of a past deliverance.  The angel did not return to strike down anyone.  There were no great deliverances from the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, or the Romans.  The Passover, while great history and salvation history, was ancient history.
     But the Passover did point to future salvation and deliverance.  It pointed ahead to the Christ, to the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.  An unblemished Lamb would again be slaughtered.  Blood would again flow, providing deliverance from death and salvation for those shackled to sin and guilt.  A Lamb would again be put on a spit and roasted.  In this case, the spit was the cross.  The fires were hell, and the burning was God’s wrath.  But God’s people would be delivered by this Lamb, by his death, and through his blood.
     The first Passover was a great deliverance.  Subsequent Passover celebrations looked back at God’s deliverance and looked ahead to a greater deliverance.  “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15), he said.  The hour had come.  Jesus would suffer.  He would die.  He would fulfill the Passover.
     Now, consider the love and mercy of our Savior as he reclines and dines with his apostles.  We often put these men up on a pedestal, presuming that their place at the Lord’s table was well-deserved.  But Jesus did not gather around him the brightest and the best.  Jesus was pleased to share his table with sinners.  He summoned to himself brash and uneducated fishermen.  He called to his side a revolutionary political zealot and a state-employed tax collector—both ends of the political spectrum there.  And while you may think, “Well, sure, that’s what they were before he called them,” they demonstrated their faults and flaws throughout their lives.  Jesus dined with men who in one hour boasted of their allegiance and in the next hour deserted him.  All fled when he was arrested.  One betrayed him.  One denied him.  And none of them believed that on the third day he would rise again.  Yet, Jesus brought them to his table.  He loved them, and they needed his deliverance and salvation.
    Dear Christians, there is no difference today.  Once again, the Lord’s table is set.  Once again, the Lord prepares a feast.  Once again, you are invited to eat and drink the sacred meal.  But it is not because you have proved yourselves greater or better than any one else.  Like the apostles, you have proven yourselves disobedient, fickle, and weak.  When you had a chance to confess your faith by your words or actions, you wilted under the pressure.  You gave in because you feared the hatred of men more than the wrath of God.  Life is easier when no one is asking you, “Are you one of his?  Surely you are, for your words and actions give you away.”  When you had a chance to stand firm in the faith, you found it easier to flee and slink away.  You call yourself a Christian, but you are not worthy of the title.
     And yet, Jesus loves you.  And yet, Jesus has put his name on you.  And yet, Jesus has taken up your sin for you.  And yet, Jesus has secured deliverance for you.  And yet, Jesus poured out his blood for you, and covers you in his blood so that you are not slain.  Because you have been baptized into the blood of Christ, the curse, the wrath, and the punishment of God pass over you.  For, the Lamb of God has been slain on your behalf.  Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, has taken away the sin of the world.  He has mercy upon us.  He grants us peace. 
     Jesus Christ has fulfilled the Passover.  A great deliverance has been provided for you.  That great deliverance is again celebrated with a feast.  But this feast is no mere reenactment or recollection of events past.  In this feast, Jesus Christ brings you the benefits he has won for you.  For here is the Lamb of God.  Here is the blood of Christ.  It is exactly as he said: “This is my body.  This is my blood.  For you.  For the forgiveness of sins.”
     Jesus Christ fulfills the Passover.  That is why he was eager to celebrate this particular Passover with his apostles.  It is the whole reason he came.  It is where he pours out his salvation for sinners.  It is where he bestows his love and mercy upon you.  He said, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.  For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:15-16) 
     Dear Christians—and he is pleased to call you by that name, for he loves you—the kingdom of God has come to you.  For the kingdom of God comes through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  That is where he has secured your forgiveness, and here is where he delivers that forgiveness to you.  Once again, we will feast on the sacred meal.  Once again, we will commune with Jesus Christ.  Once again, we will eat the Bread of Life and drink the fruit of the Vine, which is Jesus Christ.  Once again, our Lord will say: “For you, for the forgiveness of sins.” 
     Dear Christians, the kingdom of God has come to you.  While you are not yet in the heavenly kingdom, your Lord Jesus Christ delivers his heavenly kingdom to you.  Here, heaven comes to earth and we feast, if just for a moment, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.  For, heaven continually celebrates.  The holy Church always rejoices in the victory.  There is no fasting in heaven; the feast goes on.  And when we meet, the feast is here.  The Lamb has been slain.  The blood has been poured.  Salvation is here.  Death passes over.  Life is yours.  And Jesus earnestly desires to have you at his table.

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

For God so loved the world...


Here is a meditation to cover both Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  (Sermons for each will be posted later.) 

The Martin Luther College Choir sings a version of "For God So Loved the World."  Click here.  Sung from The Chapel of the Christ, Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Notes on the Triduum


INTRODUCTION
TO THE TRIDUUM

                 The enormous significance of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection has always been the central focus of Christian worship.  Prior to the fourth century, Easter Day itself included all three emphases, but thereafter they were distributed over three days of special observance, which Augustine called “the most holy Triduum of the crucified, buried, and risen Lord.”  These days have long been understood as the climax of the Church’s year. 
                Since the last half of the 20th century, Lutherans have been rediscovering the richness of the ancient Triduum (pronounced TRIH-doo-um) and adapting the traditional services associated with it for use in Evangelical-Lutheran worship.  In keeping with their origins, the Triduum services are closely connected with one another.   We observe the Triduum as a single service that extends over the “three holy days.”

MAUNDY THURSDAY
The theme of Maundy Thursday, best expressed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ according to St. John, is the novum mandatum or “new command” of Jesus that his disciples “love one another.”  The institution of the Lord’s Supper sets forth the depth of Jesus’ love and gives power to the Church to live out his command.  For the Triduum, Maundy Thursday marks the end of Lent proper.  The service begins with the sermon and an exhortation regarding the end of Lent.  This unusual arrangement allows the minister to explain the meaning of the Sacrament and the liturgical actions that are to take place so that they may proceed uninterruptedly and vividly from this evening through Good Friday to the Easter Vigil.  The action of ceremonially stripping the altar prepares the chancel and the congregation for Good Friday. 

GOOD FRIDAY:
THE SERVICE OF THE SEVEN WORDS
                As the middle service of the Triduum, Good Friday is prepared for by Maundy Thursday.  In turn, it leads into the Easter Vigil.  The absence of a benediction the previous evening and again on Good Friday underscores the connectedness of the Triduum service.  Good Friday is not a “funeral” for Jesus, but an austere celebration of the Lamb and his sacrifice.  The bare altar, symbolic of Christ, is the focus along with a large, rough finished wood cross. 
                The Service of the Seven Words is a service that reviews the seven times in which Jesus spoke at his crucifixion.  Each reading is interspersed with silence for meditation, prayers, and hymns.  The Service of the Seven Words is intended as the primary Good Friday service and his historically been observed sometime during the “hours of the cross,” between noon and three o’clock.  It may also be used in place of the Service of Darkness (Tenebrae) as an evening service, as is  the case at Good Shepherd. 

EASTER VIGIL
                The climax of the Triduum comes in the Vigil of Easter, a service of watching and waiting which utilizes prayer, Scripture, and hymns.  The Vigil is composed of four parts.

I.                     The Service of Light focuses on the Paschal Candle, the representation of the unconquered life of Christ.
II.                   The Service of Lessons uses Old Testament texts that foreshadowed our deliverance and rescue by Jesus.
III.                 The Service of Holy Baptism emphasizes our baptismal connection to the crucified and risen Christ.
IV.                The Service of Holy Communion proclaims the risen Savior and our blessed reconciliation to God.

                In the ancient Church, the Vigil began on Saturday and continued through to Easter Dawn.  It was at dawn that the cry rang out: “Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!”  We honor the spirit of the Vigil, beginning our Easter Vigil at an early hour on Easter Sunday.  With the service of Easter Dawn, we conclude the Triduum.  Our Festival celebration is held at our regular hour of Divine Service, at 10:00 AM.
May the Lord bless us as we observe these “three holy days,” the Triduum.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Holy Week Geography


Today is Holy Tuesday, sometimes called "Busy Tuesday."  On this day, Jesus taught in the temple and was challenged by his opponents in a final theological onslaught.  Jesus, of course, rebuffed all of their challenges, pronounced condemnation on the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy, and warned of the destruction of Jerusalem and of the end of the world.  See?  Busy.

You might be interested in a map of Jerusalem which shows the places that Jesus went during Holy Week.  You can find a Google Map of Jerusalem here.  It is interactive, pinpointing the particular locations of each event.  Unfortunately, you can only zoom in so far, so it is not exactly a street level view of things.  But it gives you some idea of where Jesus was throughout the week.  I suspect that this is even cooler if you have been to Jerusalem.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Holy Week Timeline


Today is Holy Monday.  It is the day in Holy Week on which Jesus cleansed the temple and cursed the fig tree that did not bear fruit.

The Gospels spend a great deal of time focusing on the events of Holy Week and the resurrection.  In Matthew's Gospel, it is one quarter of the book.  In John's Gospel, it is roughly one half!

If it helps you to keep the events sorted out in your mind, you can find a Holy Week Timeline here.  You can click on it to enlarge it for better viewing.  It included various colored lines so that you can track the whereabouts and activities of some of the main characters.  Scripture references are also included.  Pretty cool!  (From BibleGateway.com)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sermon -- 6th Sunday in Lent / Palm Sunday (March 24, 2013)

LUKE 19:28-40
THE KING REVEALS GLORY AND BESTOWS PEACE.

In the name + of Jesus.

     When the Messiah entered the world, angels joined in chorus: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14)  When the Messiah entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, disciples joined in chorus: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!  Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38) 
     Glory in the highest!  For, the Lord has entered our world.  The Lord has come to redeem sinners.  Glory in the highest!  For, the King of the Universe has revealed himself as a most merciful God who delights in delivering you from sin, from death, and from hell.  You must recognize that you are guilty of sin and that you cannot save yourself from it.  Even though you know it is wrong to covet, to lie, to slander, to cheat, to lust, and to seek pleasure from sources other than from the gifts God has given you, you do these things anyway.  You do not stop.  You are drawn to them again and again.  Therefore, you have earned your punishment.  The Lord would be just and right to send you to hell; for that is the judgment deserved by people who have defied the Lord throughout their lives. 
     But, “Glory to God in the highest!” (Luke 2:14; 19:38)  A Savior has been delivered to you.  He was delivered by the Virgin Mary at Bethlehem.  He is delivered by the Lord to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  It is a day when the crowds had already been gathering in Jerusalem for the celebration of the Passover.  It is a time when the Israelites were commemorating the Lord’s deliverance from slavery and death in Egypt.  The Israelites in Egypt were delivered from their foes.  They slaughtered a lamb to feast on as they celebrated the Lord’s deliverance.  The blood of the lamb was smeared on their doorposts so that the angel would see it and death would pass over them.  The blood of the lamb delivered them from death. 
     The Sunday before the Passover was the day when the lambs to be slaughtered were chosen by the Israelites.  The Sunday before the Passover is when the Lord entered Jerusalem—the Lamb of God marked for slaughter.  Jesus is the Lamb of God, chosen to be slain for the people.  Jesus is the Lamb whose blood would provide deliverance from sin, from death, and from hell.  Glory to God in the highest!  The King comes to his people.  He reveals God’s glory to you.  He comes to be slain for sinners, for you.  Through Jesus, judgment, death, and hell pass over.  God is most merciful.  This is his glory—that God loves and redeems sinners.
     Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)  Jesus did not come just to be a sacrifice.  He also came to be a King.  Throughout his life, Jesus walked everywhere he went.  But on this occasion, he borrowed an animal to be his mount.  As a king, he would ride into Jerusalem to establish his kingdom.  Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold, your king is coming to you… (Zechariah 9:9)  And although Jesus came as Israel’s king, he still comes in humility.  He would not establish his kingdom by slaying, but by being slain. 
     It certainly is a different kind of kingdom.  Kings usually do not make history for their compassion, but for their conquering.  Kings and emperors, princes and presidents demonstrate their powers through threats.  They have their influence in destroying others.  We remember kings who devastate and conquer.  We remember captains of industry, not the rivals they bury.  Even vandals get a thrill out of knowing that they have stolen a stranger’s time and expenses.  Man’s power and influence is almost always seen in destroying property, reputation, or lives. 
     That is how we think of authority: Who can exercise the most power?  We muster what little power we have to mess with people’s lives—whether that means you cut them off in traffic, you make them wait for you just because you can, or you berate them.  The world knows that there is no power in turning the other cheek, only in striking back.  You have bought the lie.  You find a perverse joy in knowing that you made someone bow to you.  And your glory is telling your friends how you ripped someone apart and got your way.  Repent; for you are not mighty.  You are dust and breath.
     Jesus is a king—the almighty Sovereign who lives and reigns over all things.  But Jesus’ power as King is not seen in destroying people.  And the kingdom he comes to establish is not reason for you to recoil or to retreat.  On the contrary: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! … Behold, your king is coming to you… and he shall speak peace to the nations…. (Zechariah 9:9-10)  Jesus is most certainly a King, but he has come to bestow peace.
    
When he was born, the heavenly chorus sang, “On earth peace.” (Luke 2:14)  When he entered Jerusalem the earthly chorus sang: “Peace in heaven.” (Luke 19:38)  Heaven and earth join together to declare the peace that Jesus brings.  And the peace that Jesus delivers to you comes from him being slain for you.  Jesus subjected himself to all belittling and beating.  He exposed his face to fists, his beard to spit, his back to scourging, and his wrists to nails.  When his enemies made accusations against him, he remained silent to the charges.  He accepted blame and guilt.  For, Jesus was not looking to flaunt his power or defend his innocence.  He was looking to redeem you.  So the Lamb of God was slain on your behalf.  His blood atones for your sin and covers your guilt.  Therefore, death and hell must pass over you.
     Jesus speaks peace.  God is not bent on destroying you.  His kingdom is not about oppression, but mercy.  His kingdom is not about guilt, but joy.  His kingdom is not one of death, but life.  His kingdom is not about you having to measure up, but it is about being forgiven because you have fallen short.  Having been redeemed by Jesus’ blood, you strive to be faithful members of his kingdom.  You want to be good and noble and honorable and obedient.  But you do not have to fear if your works are good enough or if your flaws and failings have cast you out of his kingdom.  For the blood of the Lamb still marks you.  You are forgiven.  You are redeemed.  The King has granted you his royal and divine pardon.  His peace conquers sin, death, and hell.  The King reveals this glory and bestows this peace.
     Heaven and earth still sing his praises today.  In just moments, we will feast on the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He will have mercy upon us.  He will grant us peace.  The saints on earth with join the company of heaven.  The choirs of heaven will sing the song of earth: “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  The choir on earth will sing the song of heaven: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of heavenly hosts!  Heaven and earth are full of your glory!”  We sing the song of the King, for he has revealed his glory: He is the King who rules by forgiving sins and showing mercy.  He bestows his peace upon you.
     Rejoice!  For Jesus, your King, has come.  He is gentle and humble, but he reveals a glorious kingdom.  He forgives wickedness.  He conquers death.  He buries hell and opens heaven.  He prepares a feast in which he delivers salvation.  And he saves you so that you may join his eternal feast.  Your King has delivered you into his blessed kingdom, and he bestows an everlasting peace. 

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

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Why does coming to church matter?

It is becoming much more common for Christians (and that term may be pretty shaky in these instances) to stay away from Church and to tend to themselves.  They cut themselves off from those who gather in the name of Jesus to receive his Word and Sacraments.  When encouraged, urged, and finally admonished about their church attendance, they brush it all off, claiming, "I believe in Jesus.  That's all that's needed."  Translation: "I'm not coming to church.  I don't need/want it."

These people may pat themselves on the back for their great faith.  (Trust me, most do.)  They are convinced that having a cursory knowledge of Jesus and the Bible is great faith.  Strangely enough, the longer they have been away from the Divine Service, the greater they claim their faith to be.  They may even run across other Christians who do the same thing.  Each commends the other for their freedom and wisdom in not merely neglecting Word and Sacrament, but for outright ignoring it.

They are lying to themselves.  As Martin Luther notes below, merely thinking about Jesus does not save you.  You will find no forgiveness in your own ponderings and meditations.  It may not be long before you are pondering and meditating the imaginations of your own heart.  This amounts to creating your own god, who ends up being (gasp!) just like you!

Dear Christians, do not be deceived.  Do not buy the lie.  This is what the Lord said to the Pharisees who knew Jesus better than you do but ignored him anyway: "Whoever is of God hears the words of God.  The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God." (John 8:47)  God's people love to hear God's word, and they gather together to hear it read and preached and to feast on his holy meal.  They flock to it because they know how much they need it.  They love Jesus because he has loved them, because he has lived and died for them, and because he pours out his gifts of mercy and forgiveness to them in the word and sacraments.  God's people know that their life is found alone there.

Those who don't come to hear the word and partake in the sacraments make a different confession: They are not of God, no matter how great they insist their faith is, no matter how many works they boast, no matter how much love they ascribe to themselves, and no matter how sincere they seem.  Those who say they bear the name of Christ do not deliberately avoid him.  They betray themselves.  They are not God' people.  And they will find no mercy, for they spurn his love and forgiveness.

So why does coming church matter?

Martin Luther says: “We treat of the forgiveness of sins in two ways.  First, how it is achieved and won.  Second, how it is distributed and given to us.  Christ has achieved it on the cross, it is true.  But he has not distributed or given it on the cross.  He has not won it in the supper or sacrament.  There he has distributed and given it through the Word, as also in the gospel, where it is preached.  He has won it once for all on the cross.  But the distribution takes place continuously, before and after, from the beginning to the end of the world.  For inasmuch as he had determined once to achieve it, it made not difference to him whether he distributed it before or after, through his Word, as can easily be proved from Scripture…  If I now seek the forgiveness of sins, I do not run to the cross, for I will not find it given there.  Nor must I hold to the suffering of Christ, as Dr. Karlstadt trifles, in knowledge or remembrance, for I will not fid it there either.  But I will find in the sacrament or gospel the word which distributes, presents, offers, and gives to me that forgiveness which was won on the cross.” (Luther’s Works, American Edition, Vol. 40, page ___)