Sunday, April 04, 2021

Sermon for 4/4/21: Resurrection of Our Lord (Hymns of Lent)


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Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands
I Corinthians 15:51-57 

 

ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

Christ Jesus lay in death's strong bands
For our offenses given…

Jesus was dead. He was wrapped in burial cloths. He was sealed in the tomb, and the religious leaders of the Jews had set a guard to prevent any funny business on the part of the followers of this carpenter Rabbi from Nazareth. Throughout the season of Lent, we heard how Jesus went to the cross as the Savior sent from the Father—sent to suffer and die as the Sacrifice, the Scapegoat who would suffer in the place of sinners. The deed was done. Pilate sentenced Jesus to death, and our Lord went willingly. So yes, Jesus was dead and buried. His tomb was sealed. The guard was in place. It seemed as though the story was over.

No son of man could conquer death,
Such ruin sin had wrought us.
No innocence was found on earth,
And therefore death had brought us
Into bondage from of old
And ever grew more strong and bold
And held us as its captive.

Many sinners had died; that is the lot of sinners. And Jesus, though He was not a sinner, “was made sin for us,” so He had to die, too.

           But Jesus didn’t go to the cross and death as one claiming to be a victim of circumstances beyond His control. He didn’t go kicking and screaming, proclaiming His innocence to anyone who would listen. Pilate already knew the truth; he knew Jesus was innocent, and yet he convicted Jesus anyway. The religious leaders who screamed for His crucifixion already knew the truth; they knew Jesus was innocent, but that only increased their rage. And, of course, Jesus knew He was innocent. That was the whole point. An innocent Man had to die, one Man to die without spot or blemish as the perfect Offering to pay the price for all of creation. With perfect understanding, Jesus knew what would happen to Him; with perfect love, He went willingly.

 

Christ Jesus, God's own Son, came down,
His people to deliver;
Destroying sin, He took the crown
From death's pale brow forever:
Stripped of pow'r, no more it reigns;
An empty form alone remains;
Its sting is lost forever.
Alleluia!

 

The prophet Isaiah, by the power of the Spirit, foresaw what would happen. He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all  faces; the rebuke of His people He will take away from all the earth; for the Lord has spoken.” Centuries before the main event, God revealed His playbook. He told the devil exactly how the battle would be won, and Satan soutght to outsmart God…by doing exactly what God wanted: the devil worked to bring about the death of the Son of God.

 

It was a strange and dreadful strife
When life and death contended;
The victory remained with life,
The reign of death was ended.
Holy Scripture plainly saith
That death is swallowed up by death,
Its sting is lost forever.
Alleluia!

 

Here our true Paschal Lamb we see,
Whom God so freely gave us;
He died on the accursed tree—
So strong His love—to save us.
See, His blood now marks our door;
Faith points to it; death passes o'er,
And Satan cannot harm us.
Alleluia!

 

And, just as the Father planned, just as Satan wanted, Jesus died. What a “strange and dreadful” battle, indeed! Our Lord did not vanquish death though an act of almighty power, but by becoming obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Now Death is swallowed up in victory. Death passes over us, powerless. Satan groans in agony, the cross impaling him. And the graves of the faithful will lie empty forever.

 

So let us keep the festival…

 

Then let us feast this Easter Day
On Christ, the bread of heaven;
The Word of grace has purged away
The old and evil leaven.
Christ alone our souls will feed;
He is our meat and drink indeed;
Faith lives upon no other!
Alleluia!

 

In response to this great victory, how, as Luther urges us, do we “keep the festival?” There is only one way: celebrate Easter in repentance and faith. When our Lord rose up from tomb, He left the sin of the world buried in that desolate cave. Through the washing you received in the waters of Baptism, that’s where your sin belongs. So confess your sin. Turn away from it; leave it dead and buried in our Savior’s tomb; it no longer belongs to you. Look in faith to the crucified and risen Christ, because His last will and testament is yours. Keep the festival by feasting on His body and blood, trusting that you receive the blood-bought forgiveness of sins in this New Testament Passover feast; trusting that He joins Himself to you; trusting that, because He lives, you shall live. Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the name of the Father and of the (†) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen. 

Friday, April 02, 2021

Sermon for 4/2/21: Good Friday (Hymns of Lent)


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Upon the Cross Extended
Isaiah 52:13-53:12

 

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

How should we contemplate the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ on His cross? What a question. Every year we make this Lenten journey to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Every year we stand there at its foot with Mary and the other women, with John, and with the Centurion and his soldiers.

Upon the cross extended
See, world, your Lord suspended,
Your Savior yields His breath.
The Prince of Life from heaven
Himself hath freely given
To shame and blows and bitter death.

We’ve arrived. The cross stands before us, and our Lord is there. Look up.Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! Nails pierce His hands and feet. His head is crowned with thorns. Upon His outstretched arms He bears all the sins of all mankind. And He dies, the weight of our sins causing Him great anguish and agony. He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

 

Come, see these things and ponder,
Your soul will fill with wonder
As blood streams from each pore.

As strange as it might sound to us, with a crucifix on the altar and another as a processional cross, there are Christians who say the crucifix has no place in our sanctuaries. After all, not only is Jesus no longer on the cross; He’s not even dead anymore. And in any case, they say, it is not appropriate to view an image of our Lord hanging on an ancient torture device. The cross is an offense, a scandal in the eyes of the worldly, and certainly we don’t want to offend the world—especially since it is our sin that brought Him to the cross, and certainly we don’t want anyone to be made to feel guilty. More than that, we don’t want to feel guilty ourselves.

Who is it, Lord, that bruised You?
Who has so sore abused You
And caused You all Your woe?
We all must make confession
Of sin and dire transgression
While You no ways of evil know.

 

I caused Your grief and sighing
By evils multiplying
As countless as the sands.
I caused the woes unnumbered
With which You soul is cumbered,
Your sorrows raised by wicked hands.

Sinners that we are, we cannot hide in a crowd, as if we can minimize our own guilt because everyone played their part. We are all, each of us, individually responsible for our sin; we cannot hide or minimize our role in the death of our Lord.

What do you see when you look at the cross? What do you see when you consider the death of Jesus? What do these things represent to you? When Paul Gerhardt wrote this hymn, it was near the end of thirty years of war. The people knew pain and suffering and ugliness of death. They knew the hardships of the plague. Why would their pastor write such a hymn? Hadn’t they seen enough death? As for us, we’ve had a year and more of COVID, and that hasn’t put a stop to cancer or dementia or the flu or car accidents or any of the other suffering we’ve had to deal with throughout our lives. Why would your pastor want you to think about death and the cross in the midst of all this?

But the death of Jesus is different from the death we see in our own lives. Whether it’s in Gerhardt’s day or our own, the people of God are sorely tried—not only by the searing weight of conscience, but also by the grief of warfare and disaster, plague and persecution. As we consider these things, the cross becomes a sign, proof of a God who loves us unconditionally; proof of a God who does not stay in heaven, observing from a distance, who chooses instead to join in the suffering of His people, defeat it, and bring them out of it.

Your cords of love, my Savior,
Bind me to You forever,
I am no longer mine.
To You I gladly tender
All that my life can render
And all I have to You resign.

             

        As we look at our Lord’s cross and death, it will change not only how we look at our own death, but how we look at every day of our life, as well. Knowing that Christ has taken away the most fearful part of death—the prospect of eternal death—we can face death with confidence. And we can share that confidence with as many people as possible. Some people spend their entire lives worrying about how death might come. They fret over what might happen after that. But we know what is coming. We know that Jesus has changed what death means. We know that death is now the gate to eternal life. What an amazing gift this is: a gift of life from death. In thanksgiving we worship our Savior and say:

 

Your cross I place before me;
Its saving pow'r restore me,
Sustain me in the test.
It will, when life is ending,
Be guiding and attending
My way to Your eternal rest.

 

In the name of the Father and of the (†) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Thursday, April 01, 2021

Sermon for 4/1/21: Maundy Thursday (Hymns of Lent)

 

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

The death of Jesus Christ, our Lord,
We celebrate with one accord;
It is our comfort in distress,
Our heart’s sweet joy and happiness.

 

When you’re considering the prospect of your death, you think about the people in your life—the people you really care about—and you think about how you can provide for them with what you’ve acquired over the course of your lifetime. It’s called a last will and testament. Knowing that His death was near, knowing that He would rise from the dead and ascend into heaven, Jesus provided for His disciples and for the Church with His testament. As the Words of Institution appear in our Catechism: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: ‘Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament, in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’” This was the reason He came as the Word made flesh: to give His people the forgiveness of their sins at the cost of His own life. Indeed,

He blotted out with His own blood
The judgment that against us stood;
For us He full atonement made,
And all our debt He fully paid.

That this forever true shall be,
He gives a solemn guarantee:
In this His holy Supper here
We taste His love so sweet, so near.

Jesus tells His Church to “do this.” This gift He gives to the Church includes His desire that His redeemed children receive this gift. “Do this…” Take and eat my body. Take and drink my blood. He wants you to partake of His Supper. He wants you to receive the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation He gives you in this holy meal. But we sinners always seem to give a higher priority to our own notions about what we need and how things work, rather than focusing on what the Lord promises to give. In the Lutheran Church, our public confession of what we receive in the Holy Supper cannot be faulted, for we confess exactly what Jesus says concerning the Supper He instituted. Perhaps our biggest concern, then, the false notion we cling to most, is that the Supper might somehow become less special if we receive it too often.

His Word proclaims and we believe
That in this Supper we receive
His very body, as He said,
His very blood for sinners shed.

 

We dare not ask how this can be,
But simply hold the mystery
And trust this word where life begins:

“Given and shed for all your sins.”

Paul does not begin with his own opinion. He does not, like so many churches today, consider it a matter of indifference what one believes regarding the Lord’s Supper. Instead Paul begins with what He had received from the Lord. He says: “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you…” He takes Jesus at His Word, and he calls upon you to do the same. Eat our Lord’s body; drink His blood; receive this gift of life. Receive it. Long for it. Cry out for it when it’s not made available to you.

Paul wrote, As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” Do you believe what Jesus says? Jesus says, “This is my body;” do you believe it? Jesus says, “This is my blood;” do you believe it? Jesus says this is given for you;” do you believe it? He tells you, “This do in remembrance of me;” do you take Him seriously? Or do you think your opinion is more important? Our hymn tells us:

But blest is each believing guest
Who in these promises finds rest;
For Jesus shall in love remain
With all who here His grace obtain. 

 

In the Sacrament we are given Christ’s body and blood. The very body that was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary to bear our sins and suffer our death is given into our mouths. The blood He shed to redeem us now flows into our lips. The Lord’s body and blood proclaim to you the forgiveness of all your sins. As you eat and drink at the Lord’s Table, you confess Jesus Christ to be “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” We may bring no contradiction of Him and His words to His altar. That is why Paul warns the Corinthians that those who partake of the Supper in an unworthy manner are guilty not of bread and wine, but of Christ’s body and blood.

We give attention to faith—not because our faith establishes the presence of Christ in the Sacrament, but because it is only in faith that we may partake of the Savior’s body and blood in a way which is salutary and beneficial. Therefore, Paul says, “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” There is only one way to worthily eat and drink of the Lord’s Supper, and that is with faith in the words of Him who is the Host and Donor. The Catechism says it well: “He is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the remission of sins.’And so, as we prepare to receive this Holy Sacrament, we pray:

 

Help us sincerely to believe
That we may worthily receive
Your Supper and in You find rest.
Amen! They who believe are blest.

 

In the name of the Father and of the (†) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.